We have a fun topic for Labor Day, at least if your idea of fun is coming to this group on a holiday. The criticisms of big corporations have escalated to a crescendo since the Great Recession began in 2008. At first glance, the reasons seem obvious. Wall Street crashed the economy and got rescued with giant bailouts, while their executives fight new regulations. Corporate profits are near record highs while unemployment remains elevated and wages stay flat. Mitt Romney sneers at half of the country in front of a room full of corporate donors. Etc.
But, are all of these criticisms really justified? Has corporate culture really changed, or might there be other explanation For example, maybe 21st century U.S. companies just operate in a more pitiless environment in which they have to act accordingly. Is corporate misbehavior the disease or a symptom? Could big companies have become– at least in part – scapegoats for public anger that should be directed elsewhere, like at our political system? At the very least, should we not air the case for the defense, as well as for the prosecution?
I’ll open our festive holiday gathering with a quick description of:
- The prosecution’s case.
- The defense’s case (okay, okay. The part of the defense’s case I don’t think is ridiculous.)
I’ll preface this with a couple of ideas on how we can keep Civilized Conversation’s meetings productive and fun for all now that we have doubled in size and become, let’s say, a bit more ideological.
Discussion Questions –
- What are the main criticisms leveled at big corporations these days? Which ones are new or unusual to our times
- What are the main defenses to these charges?
- Where do you come down? Does any part of the other side’s arguments persuade you? What about the factors that restrict corporations’ ability to be socially responsible, like the imperatives of globalization?
- Liberals: Modern capitalism concentrates power in fewer and fewer corporate hands, even as it disperses economic benefits to more and more countries. If you don’t like this, what do you propose doing about it? Also, are you sure corporations are the problems, and not our political system?
- Conservatives: How can America’s pro-market political party be pro-competition if it’s dominated by a few, big money donors? Do Republican politicians really support free markets, or just corporate power?
Links – [Sunday night update – Akk. Some of these links did not work or were to the wrong article. They’re fixed.]
- A short basic summary of the issue: Are America’s (big) corporations good citizens – and should they be expected to be?
- No, they should not. The WSJ argues, “The case against corporate responsibility.” Recommended.
- Better: The arguments for and against corporate social responsibility can be thought of (if you want to, that is) as two different economic philosophies.
- Corporate “personhood,” per se, is not the problem. [Linked fixed – Liberals: Read.]
- The bigger picture is “decoupling:” The fortunes of corporate America may have become detached from the fortunes of American workers. [link fixed – Recommended. The consequences of this could be profound (but I think this Lefty guy overstates it). .
- Relatedly, the recent epic financial crisis might have damaged Americans’ perceptions of our economic system. This article is hard to pigeonhole as left or right, although it takes many shots at the GOP, Fox, etc.
- Finally, a point related to the role that corporations and governments play in a healthy, prosperous society is about the key difference between “free” markets and competitive markets. The latter are what matters, and they do not just create themselves.
Enjoy your weekend and I’ll see you there.
NEXT WEEK: Why does the GOP keep threatening national default and government shutdown?