Prof. Dr. André Habisch
1. Does the world market society promote or obstruct the achievement of global humanitarian living conditions?
From an economic perspective, it has more potential to promote global humanitarian living conditions. But the results are ambiguous: the economic situations in key emerging nations have improved considerably, but social inequality has been on the rise in developed countries. The worst living conditions, however, are still to be found in those regions or countries that do not belong to the world market society.
From an ecological perspective, our joint living conditions are increasingly deteriorating. The Rockström Commission has pointed out the capacity limits of the Earth’s complex ecosystem; according to the results of the commission, we have already exceeded the load limits with regard to biodiversity, environmental gas, and the nitrogen cycle.
From a social perspective, living conditions are changing through individualisation and the erosion of traditional forms of community. Not everyone has managed to escape the consequent loss of social integration by building post-traditional networks. But here too, isolation has increased primarily among those who are poorly integrated into the world market society.
Living conditions are also deteriorating from a spiritual perspective. A meaningful life and being personally rooted in both values and communities of values are becoming scarce resources. Personal identity is increasingly being defined by one’s economic function – which is becoming a problem in crisis situations such as the loss of one’s job.
The world market society cannot lay the blame for problems in the global order and the failure to meet its humanitarian goals solely on politicians. The forces of the world market society itself are also involved.
2. How much privacy do we have left between government surveillance and commercial data collection, and what is that privacy worth to us?
Here we are dealing not only with ‘informational self-determination’ but also with the freedom and worth of the individual as a guiding principle of economic and political action. Privacy is a public asset. It has to constantly be reproduced through political and economic decisions and weighed against other values. The free and democratic constitutional order obliges both the state and the economy to respect the dignity of every human being. Neither government surveillance for the purpose of preventing terrorism nor commercial data collection are, in and of themselves, at odds with this; to some extent, both are necessary for political and economic order. The problems are the careless handling of personal data, manipulation and deception that border on fraud, discrimination, and even state criminality. Another problem is the shrinking of spaces of unconditional acceptance and solidarity. For example: telemarketing calls from call centres are bringing the communication logic of the market society into people’s homes; and whenever possible, they make use of knowledge of people’s personal weakness in these calls. For many people, however, telemarketing calls represent the outside world’s only attempts to contact them (and these calls must be very lucrative, if companies keep making use of them in spite of government bans). With regard to smooth transitions, it is ultimately a question of the ethos of responsible corporate management, responsible journalism, and responsible surveillance activities that weigh privacy against legitimate economic and political security interests. But are the actors involved being prepared in any way for this aspect of their profession?
3. Has the world market society led to new forms of human trafficking, or does it instead represent an opportunity to implement international standards for decent and humane labour conditions?
With human trafficking as well, the core problem is disregard for the dignity of the human being. In a certain respect, every type of ‘human resource management’ involves aspects of human trafficking. But the instrumentalisation of people in and of itself is not the problem – we instrumentalise one another all the time; the problem, rather, lies much more in reducing the other person to a mere instrument that is no longer necessary after it has been ‘used’. Kant argues to this effect in a differentiated manner with his formulation of the categorical imperative: the other person should never be treated merely as a means, but must also always be treated as an end in itself. What differentiates the respectable employer from smugglers, pimps, and human traffickers? – The fact that the employer knows the hopes, aspirations, and ambitions of his employees and takes them into consideration in his management behaviour, whenever possible; that he only enters into a work relationship when he is, in principle, in a position to respond to these hopes; and that he openly communicates his boundaries. The transitions are, of course, smooth here as well.
The world market society can no longer expect international standards for humane working conditions to come from politics alone. Rather, we are witnessing new formulations for ethical economic actions: principles for responsible management (UN Global Compact), Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), etc., are being formulated. Companies and organisations are learning to formulate ethical principles for their internal and external organisational activities, and to also systematically implement them. When these processes are properly organised, employees can also develop in aspects of their profession’s ethical dimension. If such collective spaces of experience are to be inhabited by more than merely a small intellectual elite, then the great spiritual traditions of humanity must also be included in this process of redeveloping normativity. Standards for orienting responsible action have been maintained in these traditions for hundreds of years, and have been passed on from generation to generation. Do we really believe that this cultural and spiritual heritage of the world can be preserved once Friday prayers, worship at the synagogue and temple, and Sunday services and catechesis have been permanently replaced by video games, soap operas, and comedy and sports shows? Commensurate with Christian social ethics in ages of industrialisation, religious communities today should also develop new narratives and forms of communication and community – since they are bearing the ‘inculturation’ of their normative traditions into the 21st-century context.