Popular Economics Weekly
Corporate responsibility is back in the air with a vengeance; not only from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who constantly remind us on the campaign trail that corporate misbehavior has tilted the “playing field” of economic benefits too much in corporations’ favor.
Now Jamie Gamble, a former corporate attorney, has touched the third rail of corporate behavior—business ethics. He has written an as yet unpublished essay that asserts corporate executives “are legally obligated to act like sociopaths,” according to Andrew Sorkin of the New York Times.
“The corporate entity is obligated to care only about itself and to define what is good as what makes it more money,” Gamble is quoted as saying in his essay. “Pretty close to a textbook case of antisocial personality disorder. And corporate persons are the most powerful people in our world.”
I call it the third rail because it’s a topic that comes up for discussion only when a crisis is brewing, or election, though economic futurists like Hazel Henderson have been writing about the need to train business executives on higher business ethics for decades; in books like, Building a Win-Win World, (Berrett-Koehler, 1996).
“When I published “Should Business Solve Societies’ Problems? In the Harvard Business Review in 1968,” said Henderson, “there were few MBA courses on business ethics. By 1995 such courses were standard and often compulsory.”
Ethical behavior leads to what she calls “win-win” corporate behavior, defined as cooperative outcomes that benefit not just corporate executives and their shareholders as happened with the recent Republican tax cuts.
Simply put, such sociopathic behavior benefits just the few with its pre-occupation with maximizing quarterly profits, rather than benefiting the employees and market customers it also services, while adding to the ‘hidden’ public costs of maintaining a clean environment and public infrastructure that it depends on.
These are what are termed the social costs of doing business that Senator Elizabeth Warren intoned in her first campaign to become a Massachusetts Senator:
“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
In fact, Jamie Gamble has formulated a list of ethical rules he wants corporation executives and shareholders to adopt, and be liable for if they are not adhered to. They should include:
· Their “relationship with their employees.”
· With “their communities in which they produce and sell.”
· Their “relationships with customers.”
· Their “effects on the environment.”
· And “effects on future generations.”
It is not surprising that Gamble’s ethical rules also meet the definition of sustainable economic growth, which is growth for the long term that benefits more than the few, because it is the “win-win” path that maintains strong and lasting economic growth without the frequent down cycles and economic crises that have wreaked so much economic and social damage in recent decades.
Harlan Green © 2019
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