Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

“It is flagrantly dishonest for an advertising agent to urge consumers
to buy a product which he would not allow his own wife to buy.”

David Ogilvy

Time for a new business ethic?

Many years ago, I used to argue with a Libertarian friend about the ethics of capitalism. When I suggested that corporations should aspire to some better ideal than merely to maximize their profits without regard for the harms caused in so doing, he’d repeat an old economic motto: Caveat emptor: “Let the buyer beware.” Finding this maxim questioned, he’d scornfully ask, “What would you have: ‘Let the seller beware’?” as if the answer were self-evident.

Free trade at last! (Cartoon)

“We shall overcome!”
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It’s taken me a while to articulate, but I think the reply to this time-sanctioned aphorism of thieves might be simply: “If you wouldn’t buy it, don’t sell it.

Corporations have gladly packaged death and sold it to us for far too long: They are loath to reveal what’s in their products, and to remove harmful agents from them. Similarly, they have long been indemnified against any crimes they may commit by their growing control over our government — one of whose principal functions should be to oversee them and if necessary dissolve them and jail their senior executives. Ask the people around the Gulf of Mexico whose livelihoods have been ruined and lives shortened thanks to BP’s capture of the regulatory agency that might otherwise have prevented the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Ask the survivors in Libby, Montana, a town turned into “the deadliest Superfund site in America” by asbestos dumping on the part of WR Grace and Company. Ask the people in Pennsylvania towns who, thanks to “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) used to extract petroleum from nearby shale deposits, can now draw upon a free new source of flammable fuel: the water in their household plumbing. Ask the people in India, Nigeria and a dozen other countries who are suing corporations that have wrecked their lands, waters and health that they might, again, maximize profits.

The six-percent problem

Estimates of the prevalence of psychopathy vary from one to six percent. But on the consequences of pairing psychopathy with power there is little room for controversy.
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Speaking of lawsuits and profits, surely some of history’s most maleficent villains sit on the boards of Philip Morris and other tobacco corporations, and now that corporation has discovered a new way to add to its coffers: suing countries for profit.

As has lately been remarked, “If a corporation were a person, it would be a psychopath.”

The worst of it is that this is no accident. Our corporate laws are so written that an executive corps is mandated to do one thing above all others: Bring in the best possible return to shareholders, no matter at what cost to the rest of the world. Given such a directive, what manner of people can we reasonably expect to prosper in today’s corporate environment?

Peace, liberty, unity, justice, equality
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