2.9 Stakeholder Perspectives
Power should always be assessed by considering all the stakeholder perspectives. Every pattern of power has at least two stakeholders: the holder of authority and the individual over whom it is exercised.
The crime of theft is used here to provide a simple example; it can be analysed in all five dimensions and it has four stakeholders: the thief, the victim, the insurance company and the wider society. The thief’s calculation might consider a balance between envy of other people, a low risk of being caught, and a feeling that gaol is not so much worse than being poor. The five kinds of power result in very different analyses:
● Personal theft, one person stealing from another, is regarded as immoral in all major religions. There is an explicit injunction against it, in the Ten Commandments in the Bible for example (Exodus 20:15). No system of ethics is likely to condone theft in any but the most unusual circumstances. In any group of people, the effectiveness of the Moral Dimension could be measured by the extent to which most of them would refrain from stealing on purely moral grounds, irrespective of whether there was any chance of being caught, because they had been influenced by their upbringing and by the desire for the good opinion of others in the community. Dependent upon the effectiveness of morality, there might be more or less need for anti-theft measures in other dimensions of governance.
● Theft is against the law in every legal system. The law and morality are complementary in this example: the law provides a backstop to deal with failures of morality. Laws on theft may contain detailed definitions, which have to be adjusted in response to new forms of theft, and they may prescribe the punishment to be applied when the law is broken. Penalties may deter potential thieves.
● The prevalence of theft is reduced by the moral and legal pressures, but it also reflects practical considerations: how physically easy it is to steal something, the likelihood of getting caught and the consequences to the thief. The level of formal policing that is provided by government depends partly upon what assumptions are made about the measures of self-protection that people provide for themselves: locks, alarm systems, private security guards etc.
● The motivation for theft is usually economic, and the stakeholder perspectives are very different. Insurance companies must calculate what level of premium to charge for insuring against theft: the risk of it happening and the size of potential pay-outs. Customers may be offered lower premiums if they take measures to protect themselves and thereby reduce the risk of thefts occurring. Society as a whole is an economic stakeholder, because taxes have to be levied to pay for the enforcement of the law.
● Governments’ power depends on their popularity, which depends upon their perceived effectiveness. Cutting crime is popular – but increased taxation, to pay for more police, is unpopular. When considering this topic, the politicians take media reporting into account because that affects public opinion.
This example of theft is typical of many issues, in that it can be analysed in more than one dimension. And there may be many stakeholder perspectives in each relevant dimension. No single perspective can capture the total picture of a complex issue.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/29a.htm.