Friday, 10 September 2004

I Need Help Painting this Picture

I don't keep it a secret that I have a profound distrust of corporations. That doesn't mean that I don't ALSO recognize that corporations have provided society with riches unimaginable by cave people, and pretty astonishing for many of us even over the course of our lifetime. There are many things corporations can do that neither small groups of entrepreneurs, nor centrally controlled governments can manage very effectively. It would be foolish to federalize all large-scale production in the world. It is equally foolish to naively trust that just because capitalism has spawned industry which provides us with modern wonders, that we should just trust that corporations will naturally act for the greater good. Greed is real, always has been, and there has always been a balance between giving corporations the freedom to allow innovation and controlling the misbehavior of those within the system who would abuse the system to their own ends. More troubling still is a corporate culture which encourages an adversarial view toward ethical restraints and corrupts an industry as a whole to sacrifice the public good, the well-being of its own workers, or its consumers in order to increase the wealth for those at the top.

What is the truth?

I suspect as ever that the picture is mixed. Understanding the picture and demanding corporate accountability for providing independent researchers with accurate data necessary to evaluate industries in detail, is critically important. Corporate influence in politics works against accountability, and yet those of us who speak out against this influence are routinely labeled as radical anti-capitalist leftists. Seeking truth has nothing to do with ideology, and I think it is high time that ordinary citizens band together and demand the truth.

But we also need to accept responsibility for playing our role in seeking facts and educating others. It's a daunting task, though, and no one person can be an expert in every field. The process of discovery also tends to get one mired in details, which is not conducive to stepping back and seeing the whole picture.

I would like to start with a SPECULATIVE canvass.

Without naming particular industries or particular companies or particular excesses, I will present here a generic picture of the way things MIGHT be. My hope is that by creating a big picture of possibilities, truth gatherers have a place to position the truths they find in a larger context.

I may later expand this post to start my picture, or I may do it elsewhere, but I intend to paint a picture that covers the gamut of industries: from those where the entirety of the industry is corrupt and a danger to our world; to those where market forces have succeeded in reining in the worst excesses, but there is a lot of variability among the players; to those where regulations have hampered the industry's ability to act as effectively as it might otherwise. And naturally many industries in this picture will exhibit a mixture of these effects.

In later posts and further dialog, I am interested in exploring what corrective measures might realistically address industries where greed has run amok.

In all of this, I need help, and will appreciate pointers to organizations, studies, books, and articles which have made attempts at this sort of analysis.

The relationships between corporations and society, and between corporations and national governments play such a huge role in our world today that we ignore them at our own peril.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I often think about things related to the relationship of corporations to the people and government. There is a fundamental question to me and that is, "What is the purpose of a corporation?" Today we here businessese phrases such as "increase shareholder value" and most companies have mission statement that include servicing constituencies that include their customers and employees. But in the end, companies want to make a profit and, here's where the greed comes in, they want to make as much as possible.

Let's say that a company gives it's employees a good, average wage. At the same time they are trying to sell their products or services at as high a price as the market will bear. This will yield a certain profit, at least for a going concern. To make more of a profit it can either increase prices or decrees costs. Now we come to the current outsourcing phenomenon. The company finds that it can get the same labor done at a fraction of the cost. This will yeild much higher profits. What should the company due? If their only interest is to the bottom line, the answer is obvious. But why must the company's goal be to make as much profit as it possibly can, even at the expense of it's employees and at the possible long-term loss of national leadership in important areas such as information technology? American companies are currently training their future competitors. Who but the government is in a position to watch out for the national interests?