Jim Simon’s defense of stakeholder capitalism (November 13) should invite a chorus of responses. Mine runs along two tracks. First, Simon’s optimistic look at stakeholder capitalism blurs the structural commitments that make capitalism, well, capitalism.
Following: Can American businesses meet needs that the government is not meeting?
And second, its belief that an enlightened corporate sector can overcome public problems masks a dangerous paradox: such insistence will force one to embrace debilitating restrictions on privacy.
Feeling good by doing good ignores the fact that stakeholders always navigate social and political issues through a disheartening fog of loneliness. Government, at its best, invites us to wrap ourselves in the mantle of the citizen. This title is infinitely more important than stakeholder.
Simon’s logic on behalf of stakeholder capitalism seems compelling. How can you be disappointed with the fervor of millennial workers, 63% of whom believe the “primary goal of businesses should be to improve society?” “
Sentencing of these new workers will prompt companies to side with climate change, immigration, healthcare, education, race relations, income equality and countless other issues. . The boardroom will set us free! The Promised Land is adjacent to the water fountain!
The problem with Simon’s argument is this: the practices of capitalism are baked into the recipe for structure and cannot be reconciled with genuine altruistic engagement with the aforementioned public issues.
Uncompromising attention (because attention must be paid) to profit, to results, to loss of margin and to the mercenary productions demanded by capitalism means that the structural system cannot be adorned with intelligent substitutes. Mashed potatoes call for butter. Lots of butter. Olive oil can be an alternative, but let’s face it, you aren’t eating real mashed potatoes.
Socially minded stakeholders may aspire to see companies do more for the public good; workers may want the companies they give their valuable work to to do more than sift through budget sheets and count their profits in shares.
But the truth is more difficult to accept: capitalism rests on a necessary ethics of exploitation – of resources, time, work – essential to the momentum and the success of the structure. No sugar or gluten in this birthday cake? You can also eat porridge well. And everyone knows it.
The troubling knot of Simon’s meditation is the resignation it projects on politics and governance. Yes, polls confirm that the federal government is one of our least trusted cultural institutions. Yes, partisanship has acted like the purpose for the government.
Following: Two-party system like a “flesh-eating virus” that kills from within, we need a third
But we also know that self-government can push us to confront issues at the local, regional and national / global levels that push us beyond the easy belief of stakeholder capitalism that ‘ethical behavior’ will follow when decisions are made. companies will revel in their “social purpose”.
Stakeholder capitalism will never achieve this public spirit. His claim is about our private feelings, our feelings of self-righteousness, easy engagement, detached stewardship as a social conscience.
Make no mistake: Stakeholder capitalism is your great-grandmother’s capitalism. It is the capitalism of Henry Ford and British Petroleum, of Mark Zuckerberg and of Steven Jobs. She is relentless, indifferent and indifferent to the public good. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Do not believe me ? Check your wallet.
Contrary to Ronald Reagan’s mind about the anxieties that arise when government knocks on doors and offers to help, we must seize the opportunities the government offers to resolve pressing public issues. COVID-19 vaccines weren’t isolated triumphs of the industry. The government mattered. Hitler’s fascism was not defeated in the fabrication shop. The government mattered.
But government cannot be a passive business. We need to be accountable for the practices that genuine self-government requires: we need government, as Lincoln knew, to do what we cannot do for ourselves, things we can accomplish when we work towards ideals greater than ourselves.
Instead of actors, we need citizens. Instead of socially conscious businesses, we need to redouble our efforts on self-government and regain public trust.
Langston Hughes got it right: America can become America again. Not because of compassion, but because we believe in each other.
Jeff Kurtz lives in Newark, Ohio, and teaches at Denison University in Granville.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: America Needs Autonomy, Not American Corporate Government