Daily Archives: September 29, 2010

Ann Bernstein of South Africa’s Centre for Development and Enterprise gave a talk about her new book — The Case for Business in Developing Countries — at the Cato Institute yesterday, and I was her discussant. I like the book a lot. It gives a view from the developing world of the centrality of private enterprise in economic growth and social progress. It makes some well-targeted and intelligently nuanced criticisms of rich-country anti-business NGOs and the corporate social responsibility movement. Multinational corporations, she says, should stop apologising for capitalism and be more forthright about the benefits. Elaborating on Milton Friedman’s famous remark that the social responsibility of business is to make profits, she says:

I think the first responsibility of companies is to earn profits and be successful decent companies, and that modern business, just by doing business, has an enormous positive impact in direct and indirect ways that companies should get a lot better at communicating. I’m not saying that the business of business is only business. Especially in developing countries, life is more complicated…”

That is from a Cato podcast of an interview with the author. Have a listen.

Thanks to Lexington at The Economist for the link to Michael Klarman’s lecture on the constitution. Interesting stuff, though some of Klarman’s points seems a little overstated and (as a result) at odds with each other.

I have four points I want to make today against constitutional idolatry, which is my label for our misguided tendency to blindly worship the Constitution, giving it credit for all the things we love and honor about our country.

(1) The Framers’ constitution, to a large degree, represented values we should abhor or at least reject today.

(2) There are parts of the Constitution with which we are still stuck today even though we would never freely choose them and they are impossible to defend based on contemporary values.

(3) For the most part, the Constitution is irrelevant to the current political design of our nation.

(4) The rights protections we do enjoy today, the importance of which I do not minimize, are mostly a function of political and social mores, which have dramatically evolved over time and owe relatively little to courts using the Constitution to protect them.

Under (2) he puts two senators for every state, a dispensation he calls “crazy”, because it leads to enormous over-representation of lightly populated states. Whether or not you can defend this formula, its political consequences are painfully (if you are a Democrat) apparent. Without it, the US would be a different country. Yet under (3), supplemented by (4), Klarman argues that the constitution is “for the most part” irrelevant.

Jarring…but as I say a thought-provoking lecture, well worth reading.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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