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The often-quoted statement by John Maynard Keyes reads, “ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” That is the extent of the quote as it is usually cited, but it continues.

He went on to say, “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.”

The first of the four conferences in the Beyond the False Dichotomy program explored the topic of “Ending the Shareholder v Stakeholder Nonsense.” Rather than shareholder or stakeholder primacy as the focus the argument made was that the focus should be on the long-term success of the business itself, necessitating a balanced, fair and equitable approach to the management of all stakeholders, including shareholders. Whether the dichotomy is a false one or not it was agreed, the argument for focusing on the long-term value creation capacity of the organisation, to ensure it is fit for the future, is a much better focus for good governance and management.

In this context, Keynes’s suggestion, that “soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil,” was correct in view of our history. Ideas are usually expressed as narratives. If powerful enough they change our thinking and our behaviour. “Greed is good” is an obvious example that springs to mind.

The Shareholder v Stakeholder debate is perpetuated by narratives. Given the debate is unhelpful, we can end it by considering what new narratives might help us move beyond it. They need to be new narratives to convey new ideas – ideas that are more powerful than vested interests and the narratives they use to maintain the status quo. The new narratives must engage the “academic scribbler” and other influencers of thoughts, policies, and behaviours.

So, what new narratives are needed if we are to realise a more enlightened approach to enterprise – enterprise directed towards the achievement of its own long-term success, whilst also contributing to sustainable widely shared prosperity, measured in terms of human flourishing and wellbeing? Which narratives are likely to gain widespread support and be adopted? Are they narratives that will restore trust and confidence in Business and the economic systems we depend on?




The speakers taking part in the second conference will offer a range of perspectives that might contribute to the new narrative that is needed. They include:









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