Welcome and introduction

By prof Steven Lamberts,
Chairman Bernard Mandeville Foundation
Rector magnificus Erasmus University Rotterdam

For the first time in the twenty years’ history of the Bernard Mandeville Foundation this ceremonial session is held outside the university. Direct occasion is the large-scale revamping of our main auditorium. Yet there are other reasons to stage this Mandeville Lecture in Beurs WTC, the historical throbbing heart of the Rotterdam business world. A word of thanks to this afternoon’s hostess, Mrs. Huijers. I’d like to mention that more and more academic ceremonies (including graduations and PhD defence sessions) unfold in the heart of the city: around the Erasmus statue, in St. Lawrence’s Church, the Town Hall Burgerzaal, in the Arminius Church. The university strives to have a visible presence in this city; it is our rationale, and forms our academic workshop too.

Bernhard Mandeville was a satirist who gained great renown in the early 18th century. He grew up in Rotterdam, and obtained his doctorate in medicine from Leiden University. He then moved to London where he wrote his most famous work: “The Fable of the Bees, or: Private Vices, Publick Benefits”.

The core of Mandeville’s thinking is that man by nature is selfish and greedy, but through these very vices achieves great feats. Although aimed at self-interest, his actions will lead to social progress. This ironical paradox of the Rotterdam-born philosopher, physician, writer and poet instigated Erasmus University Rotterdam in 1988 to set up the series of Mandeville Lectures.

As a scientific institution the university is entitled to express great appreciation by awarding the statutory doctorate honoris causa. This, however, only bears upon the university’s academic status. Our Board of Deans has stipulated that honorary doctorates are to be awarded only on the grounds of substantial scholarly merit, either in or for the world of science.

The university may find occasion as well to honour individuals on the grounds of social merits. In 1988 we set up the Bernard Mandeville Foundation to this end, in partnership with Club Rotterdam, representing the Rotterdam business community. Later, the Vereniging Trustfonds Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam joined the initiative. The Foundation is dedicated to periodically express appreciation for remarkable social merits demonstrated by individuals from the Netherlands or any other country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Mandeville’s stand that man, although selfish and greedy, by taking energetic action will eventually provide a positive contribution to an innovative and successful society, is under pressure.

The current global credit crisis apparently is the direct result of mortgage brokers selling too-high-risk mortgages – “teaser mortgages” – to low-wage earners. Dutch funeral- and pension schemes frequently appear to be almost valueless from charging too high costs: usurious policies that undermine consumer confidence in the insurers. Unfair risks taken by bank directors worldwide necessitated write-offs of thousands of millions – to be made up by the central banks, and thus by the man in the street.

You will be familiar with examples in which greed and substantial reward packages – linked with bonuses and share options paid out in case of excessive profits on the short term – have led to irresponsible behaviour.

These developments put Mandeville ironical paradox in a controversial light: the private vices of many a top insurer, top director and top manager demonstrably do not make public benefits. Greed and selfishness do not lead to the promised social progress. Just the other way round.

These considerations regarding Mandeville’s stand truly bear great significance in an academic ceremony staged by Erasmus University Rotterdam. After all, at least 20% of the CEOs of the 100 major Dutch companies were educated by our university. These are the alumni we should like to take pride in.

On 9 April this year Mr. Alessandro Lanteri obtained his PhD from Erasmus University. The title of this thesis was “The moral trial”. He proposes that economists are not more selfish than other people; it is rather economic teaching that has made them selfish. After all, economics is much concerned with “market” and “price”, with a strong focus on profit maximizing at any cost. I feel the need to ask our lecturers in economics, business administration, but also in selected elements of law, to be much more explicit on the moral boundaries of their fields and the limitations of a one-sided economic approach that focuses on profit only. True, the curriculum provides for this, but often at a later stage.

In this context I like to quote the famous motto of our best-known scholar and Nobel Prize winner Jan Tinbergen, a motto that, in capital letters, graces the plaza on Woudestein campus named after him: “VAN DE VERDELING KOMT DE WINST”. It is distribution that makes the profit.

Looking back at the selection of our laureates, it would appear that the board of the Bernard Mandeville Foundation increasingly began to entertain doubt as to Mandeville’s stand. Four of the first seven laureates came from the business world and three from the political arena. Selection of the next series of six was from a quite different perspective, however, except one, Mr. Bolkestein, a fervent follower of Mandeville’s.

The other five: Bernard Kouchner, founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the international former Yugoslavia tribunal, Yaya Arunachalam, advocate for micro-credits to women in India, and last year Mrs. Lilian Gonçalves, president of Amnesty International. Each of them, in their own way, took distance from Mandeville’s dogmas, showing that selfishness, individualism and nationalism are dangerous characteristics that may be disastrous to countries and individuals. Careful protection of peace, security and human rights is top priority for any society.

Today’s 14th Mandeville lecturer is Mister Bernard Bot. His subject is Europe and he will also hold against the light various aspects of Mandeville’s stand. Mister Bot, educated at Leiden University and Harvard Law School, is a wise man. Two sons studied at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Mister Bot can pride himself on a long career in diplomatic service. He represented our country at the European Union, NATO, in Buenos Aires, East Berlin and Ankara. He served as Secretary General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was Foreign Affairs Minister from 2003 to 2007. Dr Bot’s current positions include: president of the Board of Governors of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, president of the Carnegie Foundation, and chairman of the board of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy. Please Mr. Bot, the floor is yours for the 14th Mandeville Lecture: 'Europe: from fear to faith, the potential of a united continent'.