Ownership Discussion

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In response to Thomas Brandt, Tony Blair has a number of guru's.  One lives
in Australia, another is Geoff Mulgan who now works at 10 Dowling St. He
previously founded and headed up the Demos think tank where I first met him. 

On the way back to England from Australia to visit his guru in 1996, Tony
Blair floated the idea of 'Building a Stakeholder Society'.  This created
intense debate in the press and academia as to what he meant and what it
could mean.  My 'Building a Stakeholder Democracy' paper had been published
by the Australian Labor government in late 1994.  This and some of my other
Stakeholder papers were used in the UK debates.  It was to contribute to
this debate that my Stakeholder Governance paper, in the COG library, was
published in the UK in 1997 along with my Stakeholder Co-operation paper.

Another man the press describes as an influence on Blair is Professor John
Kay who now heads up the Said Business School at Oxford.  At the SASE
meeting in 1996 I had a private debate over dinner with John on whether
"ownership mattered" as we cruised around lake Geneva.  I thought it did
matter, John Kay thought it did not!  Geoff Mulgan was the third person
present and he admitted to me privately afterwards that he was on my side.
But Kay's position does support the observation by Thomas Brandt that the
ownership debate is not well developed in the UK .

At an associated Communitarian conference in Geneva in 1996, organised by
Amatai Etzioni, I presented a paper 'Building a Stakeholder Economy and
Communitarism' .  This was adapted from my 1994 paper.  Amatai is also said
to be an influence on Blair.  My article 'Should Ownership Last Forever?',
was published in the SASE journal in 1998 and as the founder of SASE Amatai
advised a plenary meeting of SASE in 1998 that he had changed his mind and
that he now thought it was politically practical to distribute ownership.
He told me privately afterwards that I should be pleased.

When I met Geoff Mulgan back in Australia on his honeymoon in 1998 he
advised me that stakeholder idea had frightened the big end of town and so
it had been dropped.  Company directors were concerned that they would be
made accountable to people other than shareholders and institutional
investors were frightened that it would destroy shareholder value.  

In my version, it would reduce directors liabilities and increase
shareholder value.  So it all depends on how a stakeholder society is
constructed.  It is now seeping through that there are different ways of
building a stakeholder society/"third way".  The distinction is recognised
in the editorial of Corporate Governance: An international review, 8:1, p.5
January, 2000 which says "The key stakeholder concept should not be
confused with stakeholder theory - a naive ideology developed in the late
20th century, wooly thinking based on the notion that companies owed a
responsibility to everyone in society who might be affected by their
actions...."   (I am now on the advisory board of this journal but this
quote was written by the Editor).

When I was the guest speaker at a Corporate Governance conference in London
in March 1998, the following speaker was Margaret Beckett, a government
Minister who announced that the Blair government would make fundamental
changes in the UK corporations law.  My wife invited Beckett to address a
women's group in Australia last year and I had a chance to talk to her and
her husband who is her political advisor.  It would appear that the idea of
distributing ownership is just not on the Labour party radar screens.
However, I still presented them with a copy of 'Democratising the Wealth of
Nations'.  If you see a TV picture of Tony Blair in Parliament,  Margaret
is the women just behind him on the front bench as she is now the Leader of
the House of Commons and President of the Privy Council.  [This year, my
wife has invited Sharon Rockefeller - wife of the Senator - to address her
women's group.  Sharon's daughter told us that she spends most of her time
distributing their wealth while her new Australian husband tries to make some!]

Ironically, it is the conservatives in the UK who are most concerned about
the concentration of wealth!  It was because of this that Thatcher
introduced a number of tax incentive to encourage employee ownership and
wider individual share ownership.  Privatisation was also used to assist in
this objective.  These initiatives were encouraged by a Board of Trade
inquiry into the nature of share ownership.  It reported that 60 fund
managers could control most of the publicly traded corporations in England.
 [The same situation exists in Australia] This was seen as a danger to
democracy.  So the driving issue was to DISTRIBUTE CONTROL RATHER THAN
OWNERSHIP.  So in my view there is little benefit from discussing the
distribution of ownership if it is not also integrated with the
distribution of control as proposed in my many writings and current research.

The need to spread control has now become an issue with the UK Labour party
from quite a different perspective.  This current interest has the code
word "New Mutualism".  I am contributing a chapter to a UK book on this
topic.  It is based on the paper I will be presenting at the SASE meeting
as the LSE this July with the title "The competitive advantages of a
Stakeholder Mutual form of firm".  Coincidentally, Anthony Gidden is giving
the key note address to SASE this year, but like Amatai, he is a
sociologist not an economist.  He invites people to participate in a public
debate through his web page  Perhaps
our moderator should submit a report to him? (half of the current
contributors listed come from Australia and NZ!)



At 12:52 PM 25/5/2000 , Thomas Brandt wrote:
> Attached is a summary excerpt from Anthony Giddens book entitled Beyond Left
>and Right (1996).  This guy is supposedly British PM Tony Blair's intellectual
>"guru", and much of his thinking--for better or worse--has also been labelled
>"third way" or "radical center".  As you'll see from this excerpt, his 
>of "third way" economic alternatives is extremely limited.
>All comments are welcome.

Shann Turnbull
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