A protest started by some 10 people under the banner ”Occupy Wall Street” has gradually been given stronger and stronger support and spread out to large parts of the Western World. Still, only a small number of persons participate, and the opinions expressed by the demonstrators are neither clear nor unanimous, beyond the fact that they represent a sting against the financial elite – whom the demonstrators call ”the one percent” of the population.
Even so the demonstration is attracting great interest. In the USA a majority of the population express their agreement with much of the criticism against the financial environment. The salaries of the financial elite and the way in which most of the financial institutions have managed to get through the crisis so far are out of proportions with the rest of society to an extent that is likely to constitute a provocation in relation to the norms of fairness in a society with a far greater tolerance for differences than the Norwegian one.
So far the demonstrations have not spread out to Norway to any extent worth mentioning. But will they? And if so, will they also be lashed against institutions that are often associated with the financial elite such as business schools. Will we see banners with “Occupy BI” on them?
That’s hardly likely. Most people agree that the way out of the crisis is not to attack institutions that produce knowledge that can help us succeed in this. Naturally, I am aware that that some of the financial products that created the financial crisis and some of the salary systems that have made possible unreasonably high executive salaries may perhaps be traced back to research carried out by business schools, among others. I dare say however, that if this is the case, they are not representative of the academic diversity, and the invitation to critical thinking characteristic of the large majority of business schools.
However, there is always something to be learned, also from these demonstrators. They express and win support for opinions that reflect a lack of confidence in finance and financial operations that must be taken seriously. If the excesses are not done away with, both finance as a discipline and the financial institutions lose their legitimacy and thereby their ability to create values, to which the financial function obviously contributes in complex transactions typical of modern society.
As business school employees we can learn that not only should we improve our ability to impart knowledge as to how to achieve good results, but we should also place stronger emphasis on how the results are created. Even the best results may not be accepted and even plunge, for instance because of the greed of those who have created them, if they take too much of the profit for themselves. This may be our contribution to creating a socially sustainable capitalism!