Karlsgespräch with Christian Felber – Ethical World Trade

On May 7th, Karlshochschule was pleased to welcome Christian Felber, initiator of the Economy for the Common Good (ECG) for a talk on World Trade and how to make it sustainable and fair.

It was an inspiring speech that led the audience on a journey through various disciplines, from politics to sociology, through economic history and philology followed by a Q&A session that proved great interest in the topic.

(Christian Felber surrounded by members of the student initiative Karlstainable and KINE e.V.)

Christian Felber stressed that trade should not be an end in itself, but a means serving the goal of the  common good, which all economic activity should focus on. He outlined the current economic framework created by the WTO, that is not align with the values promoted by the UNO that are settled in most nations constitutions, such as human rights, democracy or sustainable development (expressed in the adoption of the SDGs). Felber suggests to rethink the rules that shall be determined democratically by sovereign citizens, agreeing on the overall values and objectives of economics. This procedure is essential for finding a way that is neither extreme free trade (without any barriers) nor extreme protectionism (isolation), which are in the current discourse portrayed as the only options or positions one can take – although there are many alternatives inbetween.

He outlined Ethical World Trade as one possible alternative, characterized by six cornerstones:

  • multilateral UN agreements
  • no equal treatment of poor and rich countries (akin to „Kicking away the ladder“ – the nations that are strong economies today have in the past protected their own industries through protectionist measures and are now demanding the opposite from developing countries)
  • political measures that genuinely target freedom (and not label as „Free Trade“ what is actually depriving countries from the freedom to support local structures, prioritize ethical business, be open to a self-determined extent or protect the environment, human health and labour rights)
  • commitment to trade equilibrium (as already suggested by John Maynard Keynes)
  • Economic Subsidiarity that is prioritizing local markets
  • a „Common Good Balance Sheet“ (in addition to the financial Balance Sheet) from companies where they disclose the social and ecological impacts resulting from their business activities as „entrance ticket“ to global markets

As a result, externalities would be internalised, and the true cost of products and services become apparent for customers. Put differently, the framework conditions in the free market would be favouring ethical products (becoming cheaper than unethical ones):

  • incentivising companies to produce under fair and sustainable conditions
  • allowing consumers to make choices based on transparent information („true prices“)

Moreover, Felber outlines that this process should be carried out democratically by sovereign citizens, deciding in “trade conventions” on the desired economic system. We, the audience, experienced ourselves in which way decisions would be taken (measuring resistance instead of agreement, according to systemic consensus) and figured out that for us, the maximum spread of income between a country’s poorest and richest should be at 1:15 (for comparison: in Switzerland, the ratio is currently at 1:900, in the US at 1:360 000).

This event was supported by the student initiative Karlstainable, the regional group of the Economy for the Common Good (GWÖ Karlsruhe), the city of Karlsruhe, the EEB (Evangelische Erwachsenenbildung), Café Initial e.V. and the Fair-Trade Shop (Weltladen der Aktion Partnerschaft Dritte Welt); while the KEK (Karlsruher Energie- und Klimaschutzagentur) compensated the carbon footprint of the event.

This speech fit perfectly to the Leitbild of Karlshochschule: Re-Thinking Management and Society! But furthermore, this vision left many with the question: what can I do here and now?
And what you can do is:

  1. Initiate a democratic trade convention
  2. Join the Economy for the Common Good (in Karlsruhe: https://www.gwoe-karlsruhe.de/)
  3. Become a cooperativist of the Common Good Bank Cooperative (www.mitgruenden.at)
  4. Spread the word & get further information on www.ethischerwelthandel.info and www.ecogood.org

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