A sensible alternative to ESG  – Asia Times

A sensible alternative to ESG  - Asia Times

Capitalism Reconnected, a book by Jan Peter Balkenende and Govert Buijs, is a must-read, a tour de force of analysis and policymaking.


The book is an accurate assessment of our world currently, both in Europe and globally. Intellectually, it rests on very firm foundations of fact – historic and current. 

Second, it delivers on giving the reader practical but farsighted, idealistic but feasible, implementation proposals for businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations.

It is a roadmap laying out before us organizational structures and key performance indicators at the macro, meso, and micro levels of human endeavor. It assigns roles and responsibilities with clarity and conviction, making collaboration among multiple actors much more feasible.

Third, the book is values-based. It gets to the very heart of the human experience on this planet, generation after generation. The authors correctly recognize that outcomes (global warming, economic inequality) result from behaviors. and behaviors are the residual of values. 

But its call for values is not unrealistic, ideological or myopic. The book just provides comforting common-sense approaches to understanding and policymaking.

The book is a deft exercise in what Aristotle called phronesis – practical wisdom, and virtue. Aristotle said that the mark of a prudent person is the ability to “deliberate rightly about what is good and advantageous.” Such deliberation has as its end action in the arena of human goods. 

The insights of Capitalism Reconnected should supersede ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) as the mantra for our times. ESG is but gossamer, a display of prettiness to attract but is only a superficiality that falls apart in a slight wind or light rain.

Balkenende and Buijs would “reconnect” capitalism with its natural and inevitable stakeholders: society, values and moral purpose, government, and nature. 

The pillars they propose to hold up such a dynamic equilibrium are: ideals, inspiration, modernizing economic theory, creating and using indicators for actions and outcomes, and enlisting multi-actors in the work to be done. In erecting these separate but mutually supportive pillars, the authors seek a dynamic mix of liberty, equality, and solidarity for every society.

The different actors needed for this production of the common good in their minds are: business, finance, consumers, political institutions, civil society, communities, media, research and education, imaginative reflection, and nature.

One important use of Capitalism Reconnected would be to provide criteria for leadership.  What kind of person, with what qualities of mind and orientation of personality, can take firm hold of these recommendations and put them successfully to work? 

One looks around the world and sees few, if any, presidents, prime ministers, party leaders, or lingxiu (people’s leaders) who are up to this calling.

While the authors focus on recommendations for Europe in our new world order of post-moral internationalism centered on the United Nations and the rule of law to protect human dignity, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have jointly announced the new global order to be one of giving deference to “civilization states” that have the moral autonomy to do as they want.

The conclusion of Balkenende and Buijs is that Europe is such a “civilization state” and so must define with clarity the nature of its unique “civilization” and from that moral and political vantage point contribute to the wealth of nations and peace among nations. 

They rightly posture Europe between the unruly narcissism of the United States and the grim autocracies of Russia and China as a potential influencer promoting moderation and the common good.

They present the case for Europe having a “Third Way” that would champion human dignity, regenerativity, inclusivity, and co-creativity.

Also, very remarkable and impressive to this reviewer is the skill of the authors in integrating realities into a “field theory” of cause and effect, which enables us to find a kind of natural law driving human behavior and therewith empowering all of us to adroitly move levers of causation to bring about more wholesome conditions. 

Balkenende and Buijs integrate “discourses” one with the others of economics, politics, culture, the environment, business, government, values, civil-society dynamics.

They eschew silos and tunnels, seeking openness in analysis and collaboration in creating new realities. They seek, for example, a balance between globalization where each is subordinate to all and a particularism that seeks to protect the autonomy of each with local or regional specialization.

Their goal is a collaborative geo-economic power dedicated to the protection of the dignity of all. They want to see evolve joint efforts to achieve long-term sustainability for an inclusive economy.

They speak of keeping the “upsides” of market economics and avoiding its “downsides,” of the human person “in community,” and of wealth creation within the limits set by planetary possibilities, there being a limit on what nature has provided for our use and enjoyment.

Capitalism Reconnected by Jan Peter Balkenende and Govert Buijs is published by Amsterdam University Press. Balkenende is a Dutch minister of state and was from 2002 to 2010 prime minister of the Netherlands. Buijs is a political philosopher who currently holds a research chair at the Faculty of Humanities of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.