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Profit-Making is Different than Profit-Maximizing by Ulrich Thielemann

Profit-Making is Different Than Profit-Maximizing
by Ulrich Thielemann Feb 23rd, 2015


Discussions of jobs and the economy are often marked by trivialization, distortion, unreality and wishful thinking. The neoliberal model promotes profits, not investments and rationalization and digitalization lead to mass unemployment. Most created jobs are temporary and precarious. People trust in the myths of the self-healing market, efficient financial markets and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. System analysis and market failure are usually glossed over. All personal achievement depends on state investment in roads, schools, hospitals, airwaves, food safety and water quality. Alternative critical economics emphasizes reducing working hours, person-oriented work, labor-intensive investment, community centers and exchanging roles


[This Wikipedia post is translated from the German on the Internet, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich_Thielemann. Ulrich Thielemann is director of the MeM think tank on economic ethics in Berlin and author of “System Error” and many provocative articles on economic ethics.]

Even before my university study, the intuition creeped over me that the market cannot be the solution to all social problems. Today I would say the “market mechanism” that appears so “peaceable” and generally advantageous is not fit to be the highest moral principle though this status is ascribed by many economists.

With a whole backpack of vague questions, I chose economics for my study – a makeshift, co9mpromise or “bread” decision. The choice of my place of study, the mountainous University of Wuppertal – the neighboring village of my hometown – turned out to be a stroke of luck. An extraordinarily free searching spirit ruled there that arose from dissatisfaction with the dominant “neoclassical” paradigm in economics: Watzlawik or Habermas in economics, history of economic schools of thought, and concepts of a “critical economics.” All this was quite normal in the mountainous university at that time.

In Wuppertal I met Peter Ulrich who was a little of the “star” since he united the management theory with a critical perspective that could be called critical economics. He was soon called to St. Gallen to a professorship for economic ethics. The term played no role in the study but was immediately clear to me. In Wuppertal, we sought an ethically justified perspective of economics (instead of an ideologically abridged or trivializing/euphemistic view). My doctoral work was important enough for me to follow Peter to St. Gallen.

In St. Gallen I would systematically go to the normative ground of my intuition. A market raised to a principle amounts to an ethic of the right of the stronger. My doctoral work “Prinzip Markt” developed into criticism. In the post-doctoral thesis, this thought was deepened and differentiated… Competition like freedom from “discriminations” and “market power” as guarantor of“prosperity for all” are dominant neoclassical assumptions. Unfortunately these ascriptions to market competition are not true or not true just like that.

On one side, competition is often considered as an ethically preferable and just social praxis by economists and by the broad population. In this widely-shared understanding, competition means prevention of “particular interests,” promotion of “public interest,” absence of “discrimination” and “exploitation,” “neutralization” of market power, absence of “arbitrariness,” “fairness,” “equal treatment of everyone,” “chances” for the poor and “equal opportunities” and not only ensuring prosperity and economic growth. “Cartel” and “protectionism” are swearwords. Competition is just; limits on competition are unjust. Even if these ascriptions are not shared by everyone, economists like the majority of citizens, largely independent of their political direction, usually assumed as a matter of course that preventing “competition restrictions” and removing “competition distortions” was a moral duty of politics regarding competition policy. On the other hand, critical voices against the principle competition increase in times of “globalization,” intensified competition on the world level, “structural chance” that comes over us like the weather and the rule of shareholder-value thinking – whether implicitly or – seldomly – explicitly. Too much competition, expansion of the “principle competition” to all areas of life, the notion that competition is just on principle and votes for “monopoly,” “particular interests” and “discrimination” and so forth are decried.

How can both positions be brought together? How can the legitimate moments of both opposing perspectives be combined? Is competition now the epitome of fairness and a definitional characteristic of a just society or isn’t the right of the stronger in force here? First of all, what is competition seen systematically? Its ethical characteristics – in good and in bad – must be uncovered. The post-doctoral thesis presented a normative-ethical reconstruction of different competitive-theoretical or political conceptions of a viable economic ethics and differentiated positions on the phenomenon competition that do not argue a priori in favor of more competitive forms for coordinating social action.


I understand economic ethics as an enlightenment project, not as L’art pour l’art or as an ivory tower assumption. That does not mean the highly specialized expert discourse of scholars is insignificant. Quite the contrary! Discourse ultimately leads to the enlightenment of practice. Academic discourses are senseless if they do not orient thinking in practice – the thinking of entrepreneurial and economic decision-makers and u9ltimately of citizens. A multitude of things need to be explained because our thinking about economics is still largely marked by economic assumptions and background assumptions.

The market fundamentalism that is not tenable in economic ethics ran aground practically and concretely with the financial market crisis. Uneasiness toward the market creeps in to more and more people. What is wrong or misguided in the “free” market? I wanted to explain this in a book that turns to a broad public. This book was titled “System Error. Why the Free Market leads to Unfreedom” and appeared in the fall of 2009 from Westend publishers (Frankfurt). The synopsis text underlines what is central:

“The financial crisis rang in the end of market fundamentalism. The attempts of economic ethics to preach “more market” are losing credibility. What comes after this? A systematic and visionary perspective to grasp the widespread uneasiness toward the advancing economization of our life is lacking. What is wrong on the “free” market? Why isn’t the market society a good society?

The economic ethics voyage of discovery ventured by Ulrich Thielemann offers such a perspective. This perspective enables us to understand the market better and in a more distanced way. It unmasks the prosperity myths spread by the majority of economists. It gives a concise introduction in ethics and repudiates Homo economicus as a model. It clarifies why the “free” market leads to unfreedom and does away with the widespread myth that “ethics” pays off in the long-term. This perspective describes the vision of a social market economy supported by the integrity of its actors. Renewing this in the global competition is vital. Market-critical, not market-denying orientations are offered for which there is a strong need today.


Profit-making is different from profit-maximizing. According to the Homo economicus model, rational actors maximize their self-interest. Anything else is irrational. One of the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis is that Homo economicus has lost its credibility.

State regulation and intervention is not unnatural but necessary so companies can pursue other goals than profit maximization. All personal achievement depends on state interventions in roads, schools, hospitals, airwaves, food safety and water quality.

Economics should be embedded in society. Society must not be embedded in economics. Otherwise colonialization occurs, profit is worshiped and people are dehumanized into cost factors.

Economic ethics is not business ethics or individual ethics. Limiting economic ethics to business ethics is ideology

Rational conduct is defined as profit maximization under the Homo economicus model. When profit maximization is not followed, defeat in competition or hostile takeovers threatens.

Rationality and efficiency are the two market principles. Both are problematic or dubious when speculative investment eclipses productive investment.

Raising the market into a principle is a characteristic of neoclassical economics that gave us “efficient financial markets” and markets tending to equilibrium. The economization of life or economism is denial of economic pluralism where ideology and neoclassical myths block an open and dynamic future.

Ulrich Thielemann was a professor of economic ethics at St. Gallen University in Switzerland and now directs the think tank MeM on economic ethics in Berlin. If we followed critical alternative economics, the future would be less blurry and Orwellian. Reality would interrupt the economic discipline so repression, greed and contempt would be challenged.


By Ulrich Thielemann

[This article “Das Ganze, des Wirtschaftens denken, und zwar kritisch” published October 31, 2014 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.mem-wirtschaftsethik.de/blog/blog-einzelseite/article/integrative/.]

The Institute for Economic Ethics at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland is celebrating its 25-year existence with a jubilee feast asked me for a contribution.

That gave me an opportunity to develop my version of an integrative economic ethics or paradigm of an ethically-integrated economics. The core ideas are summarized here:

The reduction of economic ethics to business ethics or individual ethics is ideology because it assumes the general market interaction conditions and the underlying integration logic (“the entirety of economics”) as legitimate without critically solving the problems.

The competitive market is an interaction connection and takes place between people, not on the moon or in models. Interaction relations have to be just.

Economics is inevitably and practically normative. Therefore an integrative economic ethic flows into an ethically-reflective economics.

The task of economic ethics or ethically-reflective economics consists in clarifying with ethically profound terms how we relate to market and competition.

The purpose of the search for knowledge is clarifying the problems and strengthening our powers of discernment on micro- and macro-ethical fields (judgment ethics instead of application ethics), not to find “solutions” for pre-given “problems” declared as ethical.

The need for clarification results from the fact that market interaction relations through their competitive character have a systemic or authority-free nature and are hard to understand.

An individual economic ethics can only recognize a problem in the “external” effects of market interaction. It must admit that under the conditions of competition it is difficult to impossible for actors to refrain from external effects.

The unfolding of competitive market logic is problematic

•?????????Because intensified competition inevitably creates winners and losers.

•?????????Because the growing disparities in income and wealth can hardly be understood as fair or just.

•?????????Because the economizing of living conditions and interaction relations (above all individual lifestyle, education, politics and reasonably “embedded” market events) corrupts this and undermines their developmental freedom.

The interaction logic of the competitive market expressed in its ethical qualities is ahistorical. The intensity and extensity of competitive market logic is historical and changeable. The question of the market is a question of measure or moderation.

The option of limiting the unfolding of market logic arises here. The idea of protecting from “colonizing” (Jurgen Habermas) and “corrupting” (Michael Sandel) incursions in market logic extends to economics as an interaction connection embedded in the perspectives of fairness and purpose and not only in social spheres located outside “the economy.”

In a globalized economy, the economizing of all living conditions can only be halted through global competitive cease-fire agreements.


By Ulrich Thielemann

In the article I reject the thesis defended at least implicitly by nearly all economic experts that the world financial crisis manifest today in the so-called euro- and state-debt crisis refers back to capital “squandered” in “speculative” businesses and needing to be re-installed as “servant of the real economy.”

Understanding capital as a “servant of the real economy” is an expression of a naïve capital market gullability or unquestioning faith. We must decode the trade secret of the competitive market and capital that plays in it. This is a process of “creative destruction” that drives us to growth. Capital is a kind of invisible “whip” for real economy actors, the employees. We simply have too many of these “whip” effects which is reflected in the economizing of living conditions and growing income disparities.

We first regain political dignity as a democratic community when we see through these connections. Then we recognize “courting” of capital (Hans-Werner Sinn) is a wrong way and instead tame capital which can only succeed as a global public policy.

A Brief Theory of the Market 1-20, 2000

Managers do not only serve shareholders, 2005

Economism, Economic Ethics and Donations, 2004

Banking crisis is scandalous, 2009

The Case against the business case, 2008

Vanity motivates bankers, 2008

Fallen Stars, Greed and a New Morality, 2009

Economic Ethics and Business Ethics, 2009

Crazy Relationships, 2012

It’s about competition more than growth, 2012

The world in the state of economic war, 2012

Studying economics today is like brainwashing, 2012

Debunking the business case for ethics, Jan 2013

Expression of greed and contempt, June 2013

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Growth Criticism and Reduced Working Hours by Heinz-J. Bontrup


Today’s growth critics speak of the necessity of a post-growth, a “renunciation society” or at least of a “green” capitalist model. Meanwhile, 1.6 earths would be needed because humanity exploits natural resources faster than the earth can generate them (cf. recent accounts of Earth Overshoot Day).

Growth does not automatically mean more prosperity and happiness for people. The questions to be answered include a) what cannot grow anymore and b) who should decide under the conditions of the “capitalist wolf law,” competition, what should still grow?

Redistribution from top to bottom must be joined with a collective reduction of working hours and growth that is oriented socially and ecologically. However, both cannot be realized with a liberalized market under one-sided profit orientations. Only suboptimal social results are possible without state regulated interventions in the markets.

A political transformation process is necessary… The British economist John Maynard Keynes (in 1936) dreamt of a time when his grandchildren would only face a 15-hour work week.

Posted in Alternative Economics, Reducing Inequality/ Redistribution, Reducing Working Hours | Leave a comment

The Crises of Today’s Economy by Ulrike Herrmann and Stephan Schulmeister

The Crises of Today’s Economy
by Ulrike Herrmann and Stephan Schulmeister


Struggling for basic rights through middle-class revolutions and for the social state through workers’ movements are the most important examples of the emancipation process.

The market is not a subject but an instrument. Nevertheless “the primacy of the market” has replaced “the primacy of politics.” Neoliberalism actually serves the interests of finance capital. A doctor whose therapy causes sickness cannot understand this. Therefore our elites are in great distress and urge more market and more counter-enlightenment.

Ulrike Herrmann is an author and the economics editor of taz.de. Stephan Schulmeister is an author and critical economic researcher in Austria.

Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

Video: “The Secret Government” (1987)

Video: “The Secret Government” (1987)
by Bill Moyers

“The Secret Government is an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers and superpatriots, who, for a variety of motives, operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. ”


The web of Iran-Contragate began unravelling. “The Enterprise” was a shadowy government with its own aircraft free from the law itself that put profits above patriotism… We were in business to make a living… Profits were made as lives were lost.

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US Economy: False Diagnoses and False Solutions by Helke Buchter

US Economy: False Diagnoses and False Solutions
by Helke Buchter, translated from the German in Die Zeit, August 2016


Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s economic plans are too simplistic. Innovations and ideas are lacking. Many people despair. American can only be great when it takes along the weak. Washington did not always ignore the middle. After the Great Depression, a series of rural development projects including the Tennessee Valley Authority built whole cities and not only dams and power supply systems. FDR’s New Deal built 165K public buildings.

The New Economy is suddenly here after a decade of delay. The digital economy has long been marked by its prominent representatives Apple, Google and Facebook that will ultimately replace the Old Economy. This change was announced so often since the Dotcom bubble burst that the actual change was nearly unnoticed. However, the signs are now immense. Online retailers – with Amazon leading the way – are taking down traditional department stores like Macy’s and the Wal-Mart supermarket chain. After 200 years, the past rivals Dupont and Dow Chemical hope to at least ward off the twilight of the former US industry icons. They can hardly prevent their twilight.

The new economy is completely changing the labor market. The discussion about the 1% vs. the 99% gives way to the Digital Divide. The creative technology elite profits from progress and simultaneously creates short-term jobs at low wages at the lower end for which the use of robots or computers would be too expensive or too awkward: cleaning, cooking, and nursing. Jobs in the middle become fewer. Thus an imbalance arises on the labor market that is much more threatening for the economy and society than the crassly unequal distribution of wealth and income.

Posted in Political Theory, Reducing Inequality/ Redistribution, Roosevelt and New Deal | Leave a comment

Court overturns Canada’s approval of Northern Gateway pipeline

Court overturns Canada’s approval of Northern Gateway pipeline
by Obert Madondo, editor of The Canadian Progressive, June 30, 2016

“First Nations and Canada have a lot of work to do regarding measures needed to finally put us all on the path of reconciliation and partnership.”
The court’s ruling offers the Trudeau government with a unique opportunity to re-think both Canada’s discredited pipeline approval process and the ongoing efforts to achieve reconciliation with First Nations.


“In a decision that’s already being hailed as a major victory for First Nations and the planet, the Federal Court of Appeal recently overturned the Canadian government’s 2014 approval of Enbridge’s contested Northern Gateway pipeline project.

The court concluded that Canada failed to respect its constitutional duty to properly consult the various First Nations that would be adversely affected by the $7.9 billion pipeline before approving the project.

According to the court’s ruling (pdf), “Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity” for dialogue. Canada acted in a manner that “was not consistent with the duty to consult and the obligation of fair dealing.”


“It would have taken Canada little time and little organizational effort to engage in meaningful dialogue on these and other subjects of prime importance to Aboriginal Peoples. But this did not happen.”

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Flipping the Democratic Convention like Pancakes

The Sanders landslide was flipped into a Clinton victory. Read the 99-page report from electionjusticeUSA.org.
Election Justice – Protecting your voice in Democracy!

The warmonger repeated lies about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction and then nuclear weapons. The Wall Street liberal watched WalMart hide $76 billion of profits in the Cayman Islands. The hypocrite supported the coup in Honduras. Voting for the Iraq invasion should force Hillary’s resignation if truth and humility are still real. She could add years to her card by giving all her support to Bernie (or Western Canada)!!

In the lesser of two oligarchs and incompetents, the one who can complete a sentence is a shoe-in! The strength of the democrats is the folly of the republicans. The republican buffoonery gives Sanders an easy victory but the corrupt DNC forgot about being neutral and marginalized Sanders.

Narcissists forget others exist and fall in love with their own reflection and drown. Jean Twenge spoke about “The Narcissism Epidemic” on www.booktv.org. The cult of specialness, thought to be the ladder to success, turns out to be destructive of community and economic alternatives. The system works in the US when casino owners and dog race owners become enriched!

more at www.booktv.org (they go back more than 10 years!!!)

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We Must Choose: Capitalism or Democracy by Conrad Schuhler

We Must Choose: Capitalism or Democracy
by Conrad Schuhler, 2014. These theses arose at a podium discussion with spokespersons of Attac, Blockupy and IG Metal


Middle-class democracy only knows formal political equality. Society is divided into unequal classes. Rule over public opinion and acknowledgment of the imperatives of capitalism grow out of the dominance of capital.

The alternative is authoritarian capitalism or solidarity democracy.

Resistance is the command of the hour. In its attempt, it changes both the one who resists and the entire environment that witnesses.

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Countermeasures and a Caring State

Affordable Housing and the Homeless Crisis: Solutions from the Bottom

Creating a nonprofit or cooperative housing sector is vital since private developers will not build affordable housing. Long-term low interest loans is the second viable option that is usually repressed.

SRO (single residency occupancy) apartments and hotels are a viable decentralized solution that reintegrates people in society. Warehousing and prisons violate human rights. Throwing money after problems doesn’t work any more than bailing out Wall Street banks, pretending the market is self-healing or imagining community health is connected with soaring corporate profits. In the neoliberal model, profits explode while investments stagnate.

America is strong when it brings along the weak. The neoliberal rollback, the 36 years of lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy, should be followed by a new social contract. The financial sector should be shriveled and the public sector expanded. Community centers (like the 26 in Vancouver B.C.) allow working and nonworking to feel valued and respected in the modern project. When Washington is caught in polarization and paralysis, cities and states must see themselves as countervailing forces to exploding inequality and unchecked corporate power.

“When the state trusts citizens, citizens trust the state (Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister).” Public spirit and trust between the generations and between the working and nonworking depend on countermeasures and a caring state.

more at www.onthecommons.org, www.citizen.org and www.openculture.com

Posted in Political Theory, Reducing Inequality/ Redistribution | Leave a comment

Generation Y Doesn’t Fulfill Expectations

Generation Y Doesn’t Fulfill Expectations
by Thorsten Schroeder, August 16, 2016

“Millennials make US car manufacturers despair. They simply don’t want to shop anymore… The revolution from Silicon Valley has shaken traditional American branches to the core… The Smartphone is more desirable than the car since the drive-in movie theater was replaced by Netflix… “The Facebook post may be more important for self-esteem than the Italian vacation, the luxury trip or the car in the garage.”

When Americans spend less money for cars and houses, they have more money they can save or spend for travels or education. In a constantly changing world of work, investments in one’s abilities are more important than one’s own home.”

more at www.onthecommons.org, www.openculture.com and www.citizen.org

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