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1Re: [eBook-List] vitally important issues to society

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  • brownh@hartford-hwp.com
    Jun 11, 1999
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      I've lost the context of the point, but it seems as though you are
      asking for a specific example of how business categories can clash
      with social values.

      I can't very well use XML specifically, for I was considering the
      implications would be at some future time when XML, or some machine
      readable language like it, is likely to become universal.

      So let me recall a simple example from the immediate past. There was
      in the US back in the '70s an anti-Apartheid Movement. It took place
      at a time when there was heavy investment in South Africa, and so the
      folks involved in the struggle launched a campaign to encourage
      "divestment" in South Africa because the funds invested there propped
      up a cruely racist regime.

      The uniform response to the divestment drive was that money managers
      have fiduciary responsibility in law to ensure the maximum return on
      the investments they control. While they often agreed that the South
      African government was unsavory, they insisted that by law they were
      compelled to invest there because of the high return on investments.

      Meeting a stone wall, the anti_Apartheid movement took the matter to
      court and eventually prevailed. It turned out that investment
      decisions were not to be based on a narrow maximization of profit, but
      could legitimately take other considerations into account that would
      address the broader concerns of the owners of capital and of society
      at large.

      What it came down to was just what defines optimal decisions. Optimal
      in relation to how wide a spectrum of needs? Optimal for whom? Optimal
      if it flies in the face what is good or proper? US neoliberalism,
      which tends to cling to the old narrow optimal decision theory, is
      taking quite a beating in the world today, especially in Southeast
      Asia, but also in Africa (facing some potentially destructive trade
      legislation now being debated in Washington), in the WTO (unable to
      pick a leader because the the deep tension between neoliberal US and
      much of the rest of the world), etc.

      So when we define a vocabulary that engages many others, it is really
      a political act, even if that vocabulary has only to do with the
      conditions of commerce.

      Haines Brown
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