David Vogel Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Business, Government, and Ethics in an Era of Globalization; Conversation with David Vogel, Solomon P. Lee Distinguished Professor in Business Ethics, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley; July 11, 2007, by Harry Kreisler

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Keeping an Open Mind

Since I read here an earlier work of yours, what do these transitions that we're talking about tell us about your work as a scholar, in other words, how you adapt? Give us a sense of that, how your earlier hypotheses continue to be changed or reformulate in the context of a world that's changing a lot.

I'm aware of the fact that a lot of my new ideas challenge my old ideas. I think in some ways this book --

The one you're working on ...

-- can be seen as a gloss, or an exegesis, or critical appraisal of my earlier work. I think it challenges National Styles of Regulation by showing that these regulatory approaches have flipped so that the framework I describe there is no longer true.

Which I quoted you on.

Yes. That's interesting. I also think Fluctuating Fortunes had a cyclical view of business influence, and I think, in fact, business has really been quite influential, amazingly influential, for an extraordinary period of time in the U.S. And although Fluctuating Fortunes argued that the key variable was the prosperity of the economy -- the more prosperous, the more people were willing to support controls on business -- in fact, the nineties showed that not to be true at all in a period of extraordinary prosperity and very little increase in regulation. So, this book really is essentially a challenge to my earlier work, and argues that some of those [propositions] are no longer true.

So you're responding to the way things have changed.

Right. The way the world has changed.

Now what does this tell us about the big thinkers in the social sciences who were influencing your work in the earlier period? These grand theories of the way America operates, Hartz and so on, the distinctiveness of the American culture, the fact that there was no feudalism in the U.S.; are they more influenced by context than we thought? You've admitted that you have had to change your thinking. Do you then have to re-assess these great [theorists]?

Yes, it's interesting. One needs to re-assess Hartz. I think there are still fundamental differences between America and Europe, but in other cases, I do think that one has to constantly re-visit previous perspectives. If you look at a lot of the literature on comparative regulation, which my work was among, a huge portion talks about the distinctiveness of American regulatory style. I think, in fact, it's no longer as distinctive as it used to be. So, that work needs to be challenged and revisited.

Why is that? What is changing in the world that is leading to this convergence ... ?

No, I don't think it's convergence.

Okay, then it's flipping, I guess, is what you were saying ...

Yes, in some ways, Europe and America are flipped.

They're adapting features of the other system which emerged out of a distinctive style, or ... ?

I don't think they were consciously adapting each other's system. I think they just had different ...

... events leading them in that direction?

Yes. It's a complex story as to why the American approach towards regulation has changed in fundamental ways, which I'm still trying to work through, but I do think something fundamental began to happen in the late eighties, early nineties, which has been quite remarkably enduring. The [rise] of the EU played a very critical role in the rise of green parties in changing European policy. And of course, in America the Republican capture of Congress, more or less, since '94, and the presidency, of course, for the last eight years -- those are very significant developments that have had a big impact on each part of the world's approach towards regulation.

Now, with the climate change pressure, it remains to be seen how America will respond. There may be a little more convergence on this issue than [there has been] been in the past on other regulatory issues. So, we'll see how that plays out.

In what ways has environmental policy been moved forward by the creation of the European community? [There has been] enormous apparent success in Europe's response to the problems of globalization.

The EU has been critical. The EU has a much more pro-regulatory agenda than many European countries have had historically. The EU has sort of a "transmission belt" to transmit the priorities of the greener member states to the less green member states and thus made all of Europe greener. The EU has created a vehicle for domestic green groups to do end-runs around their own governments to go to Brussels directly. The European Parliament is probably greener than most European [national] parliaments. So, the EU itself has played a very critical role.

Now, I don't think there's anything necessarily inherent that the EU has to have a pro-environmental policy. I could imagine ten years from now the EU [may] have a very different set of values. I think other areas will slow down -- concerns about regulatory backlash, concerns about red tape -- but now the Commission on Climate Change is highly ambitious and aggressive. I think the Commission believes in the European notion of European soft power as an area where Europe can play a leadership role. They're partially playing off America doing less. There's a lot of institutional support for this; Europe has now become the regulatory trend setter and the regulatory barometer for the rest of the world, and Europeans like that. It gives them a sense of their own importance in the world, a soft power importance, which they relish very much as a counterweight to America's hard power in the global economy.

What is your speculation about how this interplay between Europe and the U.S. will play out in pushing environmental policy along for the globe, and also impacting the United States? Will we be more responsive to the initiatives that Europe is taking?

Until now we've not been. The Bush administration is obviously moving not so much towards the European perspective but towards an alternative perspective on climate change. Kyoto will expire in 2012, and so there's obviously a need to revisit that. A lot depends on the next elections in the U.S., enormously, but I would think that if a Democratic president comes into office, the chances are quite good that America will participate in some global agreement on climate change. It probably will be less severe than in Europe, but it will be much more restrictive than we have now. The other thing which is going on is that the States are becoming very active, of course particularly California, and that just as in the sixties, when you began to get state regulation and companies said, "Well, we much prefer federal regulation for uniformity," that will play a big role in driving business support for federal controls.

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