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Posted 3 April 2009

 

Remember Tina? Not Tina Turner – God bless her cotton socks – who is currently staging a comeback. No, that other Tina. That conversation stopper.

Literally. Say ‘Tina’, and you have killed an argument.

If men are from Mars and women from Venus, Tina is a men’s dream come true. Especially if you happen to be an economist.

A few years ago when economists were pressing the most dogmatic of free market policies on some of the poorest countries in the world, they argued for it by saying ‘Tina’ - There Is No Alternative. ‘Now you shut up. This is the end of the debate. And, by the way, we won it.’

I had already forgotten about ‘Tina’. But the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reminded me of her in his St Paul’s Cathedral speech on 31 March on the occasion of the G20 summit in London.

‘Tina’- what a hoot.

Fortunately, ‘Tina’ was given a sister by African people. They came up with a shorthand of their own: ‘Themba’ - short for ‘THEre Must Be an Alternative’. In that cry, Themba, we hear everything that must guide us today, because, while it was an acronym, it was also the Zulu word for the most important thing that humans can have: hope.

I have been thinking about ‘Tina’ and ‘Themba’ all week not least since Mr Brown had also made the claim that there was a moral dimension to the current economic crisis.

True, morals are having a comeback. Like gorgeous Tina Turner. I can see it in my email inbox daily. In the past few months there has been a veritable boom in corporate governance workshops and ethics conferences.

Unfortunately, this renewed focus on ethics is as cyclical as periods of boom and bust. It’s an inevitable phase. For a time now we’ll focus on ethics, but eventually, people will lose interest and it will taper off.

That’s the cynical view.

But maybe this crisis is different.

Maybe, for once, we won’t just look the other way but remind ourselves that an extra 53 million people will be trapped in poverty this year alone as a result of the crisis, and that 200,000 to 400,000 children per year may die from 2009 onwards if the current crisis persists.

These are the human costs of the economic crisis, says the World Bank.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I strongly believe that most people want a market that is free, but never values-free, and a society that is fair but not laissez-faire.

This is one of the reasons why I hope that ethics and morals in business will not vanish as soon as the economy picks up again.

Let’s hope that it is not a pious hope.

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