26 October 2009

What if Business is the Problem?

Of course, for me this is a rhetorical question. My whole work as an economist is predicated on my belief that business itself is the problem. But I work in a Management School that was formerly a business school and is still dedicated to producing young people to manage business. Our courses focus heavily on international corporate business culture and structure - although the vast majority of our students will not join these sorts of companies.

My research is supposed to be directed by the Association of Business Schools which produces a list of journals to which I am intended to aspire. Clearly, my work will not find favour, since it has at its heart a critique of business. Business has taken control of government and has now taken control of the universities as well. Universities once found their political space within a department dedicated to education; they now reside within the department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. So if business were the problem, it clearly would not be any of my business to identify this, or to study the reasons why for the sake of the public benefit. Well at least not in my day job.

So it did not surprise me to read that a report from Scientists for Global Responsibility has found that the objective scientific research we expect from our academics is being increasingly distorted by the priorities of the funders, either business itself, or government which, is dominated by business interests. Universities are also being encouraged to act like businesses. In my case, the Dean who was brought in to assure that this happened to our teaching and research has experience of neither himself, having spent his career as a civil servant at the Welsh Office. I have no idea what expertise he was supposed to bring to an institution focused on teaching and research.

As Stuart Parkinson, co-author of the report, comments, ´The trustworthiness of science and scientists is at stake.´The credibility of government is no longer worth defending, sadly. Although the report draws attention to the appointment of Lords Drayson and Sainsbury as consecutive science ministers, this is really the least of our problems.

As debate over climate change hots up with the approach to Copenhagen, the increasing polarity between profit and survival is felt as keenly in our research institutions as anywhere. When business is the most powerful player in our society, and its profit logic is the central cause of a destructive expansionist economy, how can we hope to develop ideas to counter this when are universities have already been subsumed into the government department dedicated to business support?

1 comment:

  1. I'm not about to disagree with you, Molly, but schools of business/ management could set about changing the curriculum so that graduates going into business do business differently. We could start with Economics 101 which, taught in its current form, is unethical IMHO.