30/09/2010 - 00:00

Why western civilisation matters for business

30/09/2010 - 00:00


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The time has come to celebrate the achievements of businesses, not burden them with paperwork.

Why western civilisation matters for business

With our comfortable status quo challenged from time to time by those running different agendas, we sometimes feel inadequate in defending ourselves. What strategies should we use to defend our rights to live our lives and peacefully earn our living?

Readers of this paper may not appreciate the full extent and importance of the legacy of western civilisation for their businesses.

This link may seem tenuous and is one which does not feature in management meetings, boardroom discussions or discussions with regulators.

In these contexts, I am yet to see a strategic plan that makes direct reference to western civilisation. However, strategic plans do make a range of unwritten assumptions, the most obvious being that private property and individual wealth creation is permitted.

We sometimes need reminding that the nature of our parliament, the Corporations Act and foundations of our legal system owe much to the influences of western civilisation.

Business interacts with government, courts and legislation on a daily basis.

These institutions, conventions and inherited practices of doing business are not permanent, although we take them for granted.

This assumption of permanence is one threat to business.

Business interacts with society and government in a transactional nature on the belief that the rules of the game will never truly change.

For those not convinced of the link between western civilisation and modern business, I offer two short examples.

Tax levels can change

Some of the readers of WA Business News, myself included, worked long and hard to try and halt what I term the ‘anti-mining tax’.

The impulse to stop excessive taxation taps into a rich tradition of individualism and desire for autonomy.

On a clear Perth winter morning, those on the Esplanade cheering to ‘axe the tax’ were drawing on traditions of the oppressed barons in 13th Century England and Boston Tea Party participants.

All protestors and upstart ‘colonials’ were linked across time by a desire to retain autonomy from a distant, centrist bureaucracy that placed undue demands on the very people involved in wealth generation.

These tax protests resulted in the Magna Carta, the US Declaration of Independence and the dumping of the resource super profits tax.

Eroded property rights

Complex negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency or its counterparts regarding approvals, as well as fights over designated conservation areas are actually debates over property rights.

Questionable claims relating to bio-diversity or discovery of a particular new species is now the favoured justification to deny use of land.

Noel Pearson’s advocacy for the land rights of northern Queensland aboriginal communities, responding to the so-called Queensland Wild Rivers Act, draws upon historical concepts of liberty and the defence of property rights.

This defence of property can be linked to clause 29 of the Magna Carta which itself is echoed in the Fifth Amendment to the [US] Constitution.

In the Australian context, the Commonwealth Constitution draws upon English and US experiences and refers to “ … the acquisition of property on just terms”.

For those that enjoy movies, these sentiments can also be seen in The Castle when Darryl Kerrigan defends his property being forcefully acquired.

Drawing on tradition

Due to a debasing of our education system and the erosion of our civic and corporate memory, an increasing number of our citizens have no idea of the historical forces that have got us to where we are today.

I am not making a pitch for the good ol’ days of yesteryear.

Certainly we have come a long way since the 1950s and 1960s, and have been freed from many social restrictions.

While it is likely that most of the readers of this paper believe in free trade and have respect for property rights, the rest of society may not appreciate or even understand what this means.

For the sake of business being able to compete on a level playing field, not spending time drowning in paperwork and, most importantly, not being penalised for success, it is time to celebrate the achievements of western civilisation and convey this to society at large.

Those involved in business, without realising it, are drawing on western civilisations traditions.

We need to be aware of this at all times and not just when a distant tyrant seeks to impose an unjust new tax or take away our land.

• Ron Manners is the chairman of the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation. Mannkal is running The Sun Rises in the West conference on October 7 and 8. Visit http://sunrisesinthewest.org/ for more information.



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