The Trouble With Billionaires

Friday, January 14, 2022 10:03:08 PM

The Trouble With Billionaires



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The REAL Reason Billionaires Are Working Non-Stop - Jordan Peterson Motivation

What is ethically valuable to the voting and buying public is not necessarily of concrete value to corporations, nor personally beneficial to their top executives. Many firms have sought to resolve this contradiction through high-profile philanthropy. Exploitative labour practices or corporate malpractice are swept under the carpet as companies publicise tax-efficient contributions to good causes. Such contributions may be a relatively small price to pay compared with changing fundamental operational practices.

Likewise, giving to charity is a prime opportunity for CEOs to be seen to be doing good without having to sacrifice their commitment to making profit at any social cost. Charitable activity permits CEOs to be philanthropic rather than economically progressive or politically democratic. There is an even more straightforward financial consideration at play in some cases. Charity can be an absolute boon to capital accumulation: corporate philanthropy has been shown to have a positive effect on perceptions by stock market analysts.

At the personal level, CEOs can take advantage of promoting their individual charity to distract from other, less savoury activities; as an executive, they can cash in on the capital gains that can be made from introducing high-profile charity strategies. T he very notion of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, has been criticised for providing companies with a moral cover to act in quite exploitative and socially damaging ways. But in the current era, social responsibility, when portrayed as an individual character trait of chief executives, has allowed corporations to be run as irresponsibly as ever.

It is part of the marketing of the firm itself, as the good deeds of its leaders come to signify the overall goodness of the corporation. Ironically, philanthrocapitalism also grants corporations the moral right, at least within the public consciousness, to be socially irresponsible. This reflects a productive tension at the heart of modern CSR: the more moral a CEO, the more immoral their company can in theory seek to be. The hypocrisy revealed by CEOs claiming to be dedicated to social responsibility and charity also exposes a deeper authoritarian morality that prevails in the CEO society. Philanthrocapitalism is commonly presented as the social justice component of an otherwise amoral global free market.

The marketisation of global charity and empowerment has dangerous implications that transcend economics. It also has a troubling emerging political legacy, one in which democracy is sacrificed on that altar of executive-style empowerment. Politically, the free market is posited as a fundamental requirement for liberal democracy. However, recent analysis reveals the deeper connection between processes of marketisation and authoritarianism. In particular, a strong government is required to implement these often unpopular market changes. The recent development of philanthrocapitalism also marks the increasing encroachment of business into the provision of public goods and services.

This encroachment is not limited to the activities of individual billionaires; it is also becoming a part of the activities of large corporations under the rubric of CSR. This is especially the case for large multinational corporations whose global reach, wealth and power give them significant political clout. Such political CSR initiatives see organisations cooperating and collaborating with governments, civic bodies and international institutions, so that historical separations between the purposes of the state and the corporations are increasingly eroded.

Global corporations have long been involved in quasi-governmental activities such as the setting of standards and codes, and today are increasingly engaging in other activities that have traditionally been the domain of government, such as public health provision, education, the protection of human rights, addressing social problems such as Aids and malnutrition, protection of the natural environment and the promotion of peace and social stability. Today, large organisations can amass significant economic and political power, on a global scale. This means that their actions — and the way those actions are regulated — have far-reaching social consequences.

The balanced tipped in , when the Institute for Policy Studies in the US reported , after comparing corporate revenues with gross domestic product GDP , that 51 of the largest economies in the world were corporations, and 49 were national economies. As the heads of these corporations, CEOs are now quasi-politicians. T he development of CSR is not the result of self-directed corporate initiatives for doing good deeds, but a response to widespread CSR activism from NGOs, pressure groups and trade unions. Often this has been in response to the failure of governments to regulate large corporations.

High-profile industrial accidents and scandals have also put pressure on organisations for heightened self-regulation. An explosion at a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India in led to the deaths of an estimated 25, people. The Chemical Manufacturers Association CMA adopted a code of conduct, including new standards of product stewardship, disclosure and community engagement. Another important case was the involvement of the clothing companies Gap and Nike in a child labour scandal after the broadcast of a BBC Panorama documentary in October Factories in Cambodia making Gap and Nike clothing were shown to operate with terrible working conditions, involving children as young as 12 working seven days a week, being forced to do overtime, and enduring physical and emotional abuse from management.

The public outcry that ensued demanded that Gap and Nike, and other organisations like them, take more responsibility for the negative human social impacts of their business practices. CSR was introduced in order to reduce the ill effects of corporate self-interest. But over time it has turned into a means for further enhancing that self-interest while ostensibly claiming to be addressing the interests of others. When facing the threat of corporate scandal, CSR is seen as the vehicle through which corporate reputation can be boosted, and the threat of government regulation can be mitigated. Again, here we see how corporations engage in seemingly responsible practices in order to increase their own political power, and to diminish the power of nation states over their own operations.

The idea that organisations adopt CSR for the purposes of developing or defending a corporate reputation has put the ethics of CSR under scrutiny. Even Enron, before its legendary fraud scandal and eventual demise in , was well known for its advocacy of social responsibility. C EO generosity is epic in proportions — or at least that is how it is portrayed. Indeed, on an individual level it is hard to find fault with those rich people who have given away vast swaths of their wealth to charitable causes, or those corporations that champion socially responsible programmes. But what CSR and philanthrocapitalism achieve more broadly is the social justification of extreme wealth inequality, rather than any kind of antidote to it.

We need to note here that, despite the apparent proliferation of giving promised by philanthrocapitalism, the so-called golden age of philanthropy is also an age of expanding inequality. Why so? Corporate social responsibility is not making any real difference. In pursuit of delivering high returns to those at the top, corporations are driven to squeeze their workers and producers ever harder — and to avoid paying taxes which would benefit everyone, and the poorest people in particular. Instead, vast fortunes in the hands of the few, whether earned through inheritance, commerce or crime, continue to grow at the expense of the poor.

In the end, it is capitalism that is at the heart of philanthrocapitalism, and the corporation that is at the heart of corporate social responsibility, with even well-meaning endeavours serving to justify a system that is rigged in favour of the rich. In the CEO society, corporate logic such as this rules supreme, and ensures that any activities thought of as generous and socially responsible ultimately have a payoff in terms of self-interest.

If there was ever a debate between the ethics of genuine hospitality, reciprocity and self-interest, it is not to be found here. It is in accordance with this CEO logic that the mechanisms for redressing the inequality created through wealth generation are placed in the hands of the wealthy, and in a way that ultimately benefits them. Indeed, philanthropy provides the rich with some significant benefits. The benefits to the public are less clear, once the lost tax revenues are factored in.

Under the deal struck between Munk and the U of T, Munk will have considerable influence over the new global affairs school, since the school's director will have to report to him annually and final payment will be withheld until after Munk has had a number of years to assess his satisfaction with the school. It seems unlikely then that the university would appoint professors whose research might touch on the negative impacts of multinational corporations.

Munk also stipulated that a right-leaning think tank with an interest in bringing Canada more into line with U. And Munk is getting all this influence and prestige for a very good price. As a result, Munk's contribution will be much less than one-fifth of the total cost. The school however will be named after him in perpetuity, so that the thousands of people who daily pass by the handsome building on Toronto's swanky Bloor Street will be reminded of Munk's generosity and commitment to global understanding. Frank is right that "Good educations cost money. In fairness to Gates and Buffett, both billionaires have also supported higher taxes for the rich. Best if they'd stick with that.

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