The Soul of a Corporate “Person”

This is a must read. The conservative National Center for Public Policy Research was in attendance at an Apple shareholder event. Their principal offered this prepared statement to CEO Tim Cook:

Our Proposal highlights an area of concern to all shareholders: Company affiliations that may primarily advance social or environmental causes rather than promoting shareholder value… We are asking the Company to be transparent about its membership in, and payments to, trade groups and outside organizations that are actively promoting top-down environmentalism rather than working to advance shareholder value.

Cook’s visibly angry response was epic:

If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock… We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive. We want to leave the world better than we found it.

This type of confrontation is so important. I’ve noted that a major flaw with unregulated capitalism is in how the public corporation is legally bound to its shareholders at all costs. Companies like Apple could be prosecuted and penalized for serving customers with disabilities, protecting the environment or even treating their employees with dignity and respect, if doing so is demonstrated to lower shareholder ROI.

In short, to groups like the NCPPR, it’s not enough for a corporation to be a person; that “person” must behave as a sociopath.

The confrontation in this story was political theatrics, but the next round could be well-funded lawsuits aimed at bringing down any company that practices social or environmental responsibility.

I’m hopeful this will eventually backfire on the perpetrators. We’re long overdue for a restructuring of corporate law that recognizes intrinsic value in long-term investment and the greater good.

References

Apple Tells Limbaugh and His Ilk to Stick Their Money Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Thoughts on ‘Our Decadent Elites’

What happens to a nation whose elites laugh at its citizens?

What a fascinating, chilling observation by New York Times blogger Peggy Noonan, who is perhaps best known as primary speechwriter and Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. In her essay, Ms. Noonan laments the very decisions that she helped her boss sell in the name of restoring confidence in America. She now starts to recognize the current state of our union as a consequence of those actions taken by Reagan so many years ago.

As Daily KOS notes:

  • A reduction in top income tax rates sparked huge gaps between CEO and average worker pay
  • Crushing the air traffic controllers union launched an era of economic decline for blue-collar workers
  • Deregulating the savings and loan industry led to multi-billion-dollar crises like the Keating S&L scandal.

Sound familiar? Three decisions made around 1980 have morphed into some of the most pressing issues of our time. Meanwhile, as Rome burns, we invest our common resources into social engineering and completely dismantling checks and balances needed for a healthy, intentional society.

I won’t demonize Reagan, as he was reacting in his own way to the previous decade of lost confidence – an unpopular war, the resignation of a disgraced president, and a period of stifling inflation. The time was ripe for Reagan’s optimistic message as penned by Peggy Noonan.

But, the weight is now on all our shoulders to acknowledge the negative long-term trajectories of those three decisions, and to begin making better choices.

Here’s an example. In Tennessee, political ideology contributed to VW workers just voting down membership in the UAW. Conservatives in state government had warned that VW would get no favors if they allowed the union vote to pass. Ironically, after the vote, Tennessee became VW’s only site without a worker’s collective in place to drive the healthy balance between labor and management. As this dual power structure is a key component of VW’s global corporate culture; VW has already announced it is less likely to increase investment in Tennessee moving forward. Unintended consequences.

Regarding social engineering, Ford Motor Company worked with the demographics of its day, namely a huge untapped workforce – dominantly African American southerners – who could be relocated and trained to build its fleet of cars. While by no means a perfect system, Ford’s choices were much different than today, where so much human capital goes into marginalizing minorities and social groups that are “not like us”, whatever that means.

I appreciate that Peggy Noonan is paying better attention and writing about what she sees. We can learn a lot from our decisions of the past century.

References

Job Mobility Is a Good Thing

The price of labor, like any good or service, is determined by supply and demand. If producers of labor (workers) become less inclined to sell it, but consumers of labor (firms) are unchanged in their interest in buying, then the price of labor has to rise in order to bring the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded into line.

This is a very important point. Workers are producers, just like the companies they work for. Workers produce and sell hours of labor. When considered on these terms, the importance of a healthy win-win negotiation between business partners is obvious. Business can expect high quality hours, i.e. high productivity and low absenteeism. Labor can expect fair compensation for its product – certainly the ability to support a small family working one full-time job.

Corporations have accounted for labor as a cost-line item without intrinsic value; labor has countered by organizing and striking if necessary to establish its intrinsic value. Some corporations have unfortunately reacted by going to government and the non-labor public to shatter organized labor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Affordable Care Act has given many workers the ability to leave oppressive jobs, return to school and even start businesses of their own, without fear of losing healthcare for themselves and families. This can only be a good thing in the long run.

References

The Buried Lede in the CBO Report

Henry Ford’s Wisdom

Not only was it a matter of social justice, Ford wrote, but paying high wages was also smart business. When wages are low, uncertainty dogs the marketplace and growth is weak. But when pay is high and steady, Ford asserted, business is more secure because workers earn enough to become good customers.[1]

While reading a recent story about a conservative radio host blaming workers and minorities for Detroit’s problems, I decided to explore Henry Ford’s original social contract that effectively created modern Detroit in the early 1900s. It worked remarkably well for many decades, which tells me again that a healthy middle class is key to our economic prosperity. Costco currently is applying the same approach to its personnel policies with good success.

Yes, we still need to understand all the forces that led to Detroit’s decline. The fact that it took so many years strongly suggests that we neglected with awareness the opportunity to course-correct; through retraining, R&D, venture investment or otherwise. A smart, hard working and well-trained workforce idled for many years until generations began moving elsewhere or fell into poverty.

The road back will be much harder now, and we can start now, but this must be done thoughtfully and without malice. We still are all in this together, as long as we see ourselves as being part of the same nation.

References

  1. When Capitalists Cared, NYT, 2012.09.02

Creativity and a Good Instrument

Music blossoms with encouragement, creativity, ingenuity, and a good instrument.

This amazing story brings to mind a meme that has been floating around here lately, that we need to return to valuing people and using things, rather than the other way around. In a world where a “real” violin costs as much as a house, the people behind this project are creating some remarkable gifts for others in their communities – well beyond the implicit value of any instrument with an established name on it.

Thanksgiving, Gratitude and Commerce

“Thanksgiving to retailers is now simply a nuisance where people dare to put family over shopping.” [1]

Like the author of that comment, I have long hoped that creeping commercialism would not overtake my most favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Beyond a few Christmas-season warning shots like televised football classics and Santa’s inflated arrival at the rear of Macy’s annual parade, Thanksgiving has remained this blissful celebration of family, friends and food; with a huge helping of thankfulness for all the metaphorical bounty of the fall harvest.

Yes, turkeys have taken much abuse. But Hallmark’s Thanksgiving cards sell modestly at best [2], there are no Thanksgiving carols on the radio, and very few people string up their Thanksgiving lights.

But the emerging success of the Black Friday marketing campaign may at last be laying siege to Thanksgiving tradition. Whole families carb-load on stuffing and mashed potatoes, in anticipation of their coordinated assault on the doors of big box stores – not early on Friday morning or even at midnight, but right after dinner if they are so inclined. No time for talking story or playing parlor games after the last dishes have been washed and put away. Shop, baby, shop!

Retail workers increasingly must forgo this one brief, scheduled moment of gratitude in order to serve their corporate masters. Some have chosen to work for personal reasons, some have publicly voiced their dissatisfaction, and some have walked out. [3][4] Still, the crowds keep on coming. At one Walmart store, a shopper – who’s also a retail worker – first sympathized with the plight of her striking peers then shrugged her shoulders and entered the store anyway, conceding that the economic realities of her Christmas budget required it. [5]

Thanksgiving is a wonderful example of us all being in it together. While we do not need a national holiday to remind us of gratitude, Thanksgiving certainly has served us well. As human beings first, we can draw a loving line in the sand on Thanksgiving morning and tell creeping commercialism, “not here, not today”. Friday has already been surrendered to the corporate cause. [6] I think Thursday can remain our day. Ultimately the choice is ours, and I am certain that the commercial interests will find creative ways to adapt.

Happy Holidays!

References

  1. Ants & Grasshoppers: A Black Friday rant
  2. Hallmark Corporate Information | Thanksgiving
  3. Black Friday Creep Costs Retail Workers Their Thanksgiving
  4. Walmart Strikes: Lone Worker Walks Out, Receives Trespass Warning
  5. Walmart Strike Hits 100 Cities, But Fails To Distract Black Friday Shoppers
  6. Walmart Says It Has Best Black Friday Ever Despite Protests, Crowds

Billion-Dollar Bust?

POLITICO.com is running a series on how big money and Citizens United affected the 2012 elections. Their editorial conclusion is that ultimately “it may have hurt Republicans almost as much as it helped.”

David clearly stood up to Goliath this time around. It was Obama’s legendary ground game versus the Koch Brothers’ billions. But the need to frame our political process as such a financial battle is regrettable. Citizens United lives, and ultra-wealthy contributors are not going away. If anything, 2012 was just a litmus test for how far the American public will go to match PAC spending, dollar-by-dollar. I expect that the same PACs will up the ante in 2016 if Citizens United and corporate personhood are still in place. Such a financial battle is one that our greater democracy ultimately cannot win.

In California, the failure of Proposition 37 (genetic food labeling law) has shown how, if properly executed, big money can in fact sway an election. In the weeks before Nov 7th, polls showed Prop 37 leading decisively, yet on election day it was decisively defeated after a coordinated barrage of media ads designed to confuse or perhaps frighten voters.

Given all we have just witnessed, campaign finance and voting reform are more critically important than ever. At the grassroots level, I encourage all to participate in conversations and legal actions needed to end financial manipulation of our elections.

References

The Billion-Dollar Buy: The billion-dollar bust? – POLITICO.com

Karl Rove’s Illuminating Moment

Karl Rove is on TV, doing what he feels he must to assuage some very wealthy, very angry contributors to his PAC. In our post-Citizens United world, he is experiencing the indifferent financial wrath that he helped unleash.

Whether Rove chooses to learn from this is up to him, but he’s given us all a gift in adding his energy to the glare of spotlights now shining brightly on Citizens United and corporate personhood.

References

Rove Accuses Obama Campaign Of ‘Suppressing The Vote’

Another Victory for Church-State Separation

Here is a very telling post-election comment by Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, which tried and failed to defeat WA Referendum 74 recognizing same-sex marriage:

“Backholm pointed out that Washington is a very liberal state and one of the most secular in the country. He said the polling indicated 80 percent of ‘unchurched’ voters approved of Referendum 74.”

This shows how clearly he understands that a majority of WA residents do not subscribe to his church’s specific religious views, yet he and his peers have invested so much energy in trying to affect legislation to favor his religion.

I welcome Backholm to believe however he chooses, whether I personally agree with him or not. That is religious freedom. And that is why separation of church and state is so critically important for our democracy.

References

Same-sex-marriage opponents concede in Washington

Representing Our America

Here is a fascinating idea that someone posted in the forums today. Rather than elections, what if our representatives in congress were selected through a simple lottery open to all US citizens, age 25 and older, in good legal standing and with at least a high school diploma? This would capture a snapshot of our real America, without bias or judgment about who is and is not worthy to represent us.

I’ll pass on endorsing this without really understanding the unintended consequences, but as an alternative to our current system that rewards external power, favors corporate “persons” and otherwise insulates itself from those who elected them, why not?