People asked the Occupy Wall Street protesters, “Why do you hate corporations? What are you wearing Nikes for, then? Don’t you drive a car? Huh? Huh?”
Here’s my answer. I don’t hate corporations. I work for a Fortune 500 company. I’m proud of my work and proud of my co-workers and extremely happy to be employed at a job I like. Every bite of food that goes in my mouth, every month’s rent, is thanks to that. I’m also glad to have a car and telephone service and food and electricity and all the lovely things corporations bring to me. I’m not ignorant of all those things.
But I do have a few issues with corporations. I expect them to obey the laws just as I expect my fellow citizens to obey the laws. I also expect them to be punished when they don’t.
I have heard that publicly held corporations have a duty to provide value for their stockholders. This is generally held to mean money. They need to do the thing that provides the most money to their stockholders.
Defining value only by money is like defining the worth of food only by calories. So if a corporation were a mom feeding her kids, she would be applauded for feeding them fried mozzarella sticks and shamed for feeding them broccoli. Sure, she’s providing the maximum caloric value, but what about other important, perhaps less easy to quantify values like health and longevity?
I have one suggestion. Corporations should stop trying to provide value for stockholders, and start providing value for stockholders’ children.
Instead of making sure stock values go up, make sure that everything they do contributes to a better life for the next generation. Make sure they pay their fair share of taxes so education and infrastructure will be good. Make sure they keep the environment clean and safe so the next generation won’t be sicker than ours. Create manufacturing processes that use renewable energy and resources. Provide high quality jobs with humane working conditions, so their parents will be able to provide for them.
That’s my simple, stupid suggestion. Stop thinking about the stockholders. Start thinking about the children.