The on-and-off rumors about the possibility of a rapprochement between some of the Gulf countries and Israel reminded me of a recent anecdote that I would like to share.
At an international business forum, a businessman from one of the Arab principalities said something like this to his Israeli counterpart: “Why can’t your people just find a way to give these guys some land and get over with this outdated conflict? We want to do business with you. If we could openly cooperate, we can create so much value by leveraging synergies.”
Indeed, if we were to discuss the nuts and bolts, I can list here so many ways in which Arabs and Israelis can create value together, only if they cooperated, and I know that from experience. I have come to understand that whenever there are cultural differences, there is a diversity of networks, comparative advantages, and, most importantly, a diversity of perspective. Hence, I became a big believer in the benefits of having diversity in business environments. Whether it is equal representation of both genders or having multitude of ethnic groups, any large business can generate tremendous synergies by exploiting the differences in perspective. In other words, we get 1+1=3 when we combine divergent strengths into one by cooperating with those who are different from us.
~ o ~
So, why do I lead an article about diversity in business with an anecdote from the Middle East?
That is because every day more, I come to believe that business creates peace. Business is the common language that permeates all cultures, and it is perhaps the only sustainable platform in which a diversity of backgrounds work together towards value creation. They do so because it benefits everyone, including themselves. It goes like this: the more diversity, the more synergy; the more synergy, the more value.
Now that I think about it, ever since Kant asserted that liberal democracies don’t go to war with each other, most political scientists focused on the democracy part of the equation, using (still too little) historical data to prove that democracy is key to world peace. So, they argue, we will get peace in the Middle East once the Arab states become democratic. I, however, would suggest that the liberal part of the assertion is at least as important towards achieving peace. Not only do freer nations have fewer reasons to be aggressive, but also if two nations trade with each other on a free basis, almost by definition they create a surplus of utility that they otherwise would not have been able to generate. So, why destroy that source of value with something as terrible as war?
What is sad, however, is the societal pressure and the red tape imposed on businesspeople to make it difficult to engage in free and fair trade with their counterparts from other nations. There are way too many incompetent people, as well inefficient and subsidized businesses, whose interests would be hurt by free trade; and nationalism provides them with the perfect façade to hide behind.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the Arab businessman I mentioned also asked not to be quoted publicly. “Just in case,” he said. And I don’t blame him.