A Common Act

Macy’s cut 3,900 jobs then awarded its top executives 9 million dollars in bonuses.

We see this all the time. But there was a time when cutting employment at a company was among the very last options considered. Why do see this all the time now?

First, shareholder value is a doctrine that has wide acceptance in the United States.

Second, the power of the managerial class has grown to catastrophic proportions over the last few decades.

Third, our sense of moral outrage has decayed to the point it has little effect.

Peter Drucker said the business of a company was to make customers. I strongly believe that. Something vital was lost when companies adopted the shareholder model and focused purely on the money. That something vital was in most cases morality and social responsibility.

The shareholder model allows you to abandon patriotism, mistreat your workers, abuse your customers, and take your company overseas — or any combination of those. One of the wonderful things about this nation – is that I know a good number of business people who know they could do those and won’t.

But for every corporate stakeholder, the focus on corporate shareholders is a disaster, except one, the managerial class. If you are a manager you get to decide what the shareholder’s interest is. And I am not exaggerating. I’ve seen many shareholder battles over what the company should be doing with its money where the managers pound the shareholders into mush.

And what do these wondrous wizards of finance believe that the corporate shareholders want? They want buy backs to build up stock values and they want highly paid professionals to run their company and if these highly paid professionals are in some way successful they should be loaded with stock options and bonuses!

Obviously this only sounds self serving, because after all they are only serving shareholder interest. — Yeah, right.

And lastly our sense of outrage has faded. We in the middle of the United States lived in the carved out and exploited part of American that used to make stuff. We see closed factories, shuttered businesses, and lost opportunities. It was easier to be outraged when there was more to fight for. The business press calls this creative destruction – which is a fancy phrase for simple destruction. And don’t forget that in thousands of cases we didn’t get just a closed corporation we also got a mountain of contaminated water, land and air – another gift from maximising shareholder interest.

Let me tell you. Corporations and the other forms of business are in many ways government creations. You can’t incorporate without a government. Articles of incorporation give a company a lot of powers like possible immortality and tax benefits and some legal immunities. It is okay for we the people to ask for something back from the these companies with their government privileges and myriad methods of support from our communities like an educated workforce and roads and bridges.

We could start by expecting loyalty to the communities they live in and the nation that gave them birth.

James Pilant

on the Good State (via The Theology of Joe)

Here are some very challenging thoughts about basic cultural beliefs. Here is a key paragraph –

I was thinking in church today how often we make wild assumption about God acting via our state, and that the state is essentially a Good Thing. In fact, whilst it is entirely appropriate to question belief in a deity, it is sacrilege to question the assumption of the Great United Kingdom. Some of us might laugh at the USAmerican assumptions of moral goodness and influence in the world, yet the truth is that we also talk in this way. Not only is the state good because it is good to ‘us’ (in the process dismissing all those who do not experience good things from the state as being somehow outcasts), ‘we’ are agents of good in the world. To assume that our commitment to the gospel of Christ might be in conflict with the working of the state is to label ourselves as fanatical – possibly dangerous – fundamentalists.

This is tough and difficult for many to accept. But we should think about these things. The status of “city on a hill” is not given but earned.

James Pilant

I do love Slavoj Žižek.  I like his energy when he speaks, his crumpled appearance and his frequent nose-wiping. I like the fact that most of the time I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about, but that is brain moves so quickly from one point to another that there is no time between confusion and enlightenment, humour and deep thought.  To be clear, he may as well be speaking in Slovakian for all I understand him. I like the way he spea … Read More

via The Theology of Joe

Patriotism, Citizenship and Holidays

Arthur Dobrin (Arthurdobrin’s Weblog) had these thoughts in a post he called, Closing schools, Martin Luther King and ethics. This is an eloquent discussion of the importance of citizenship. Here is an excerpt.

We have confused citizenship with consumerism. A citizen is one who is concerned with the public realm and makes choices about representation and policy; a consumer is concerned with the private realm and makes choices about products and prices. By closing schools on national holidays we reinforce notions of buying. If schools remained open, there is the opportunity to underline what it means to be a citizen.

National holidays should be time for discussions about the difficulties and dilemmas of ethical choices in a democracy, the hard and sometimes muddy choices. There is George Washington, the man who could have become king but walked away from a third term as president, the same one was the leader of a troop that engaged in an Indian massacre; Abraham Lincoln, the emancipator of slaves, who also suspended the writ of habeas corpus in several places, then ignored a court orders to restore it; the veterans who served when called upon, occasionally in wars that shouldn’t have been fought; and, of course today, MLK, the civil rights hero who broke the law for the sake of fulfilling America’s more nobler self.

Citizenship and patriotism have been hit hard in the last few years. Oh, I have no doubt that virtually all Americans consider themselves, and justly so, to be patriots. Nevertheless, the development of an American economic class with slender ties to the United States is a disastrous event. Further, the ascendency of economic theories, free market fundamentalism, allows certain individuals to make decisions damaging to the nation which they pretend to be justified philosophically.

If a human has the heart of a patriot, hollowing out the nation’s infrastructure and manufacturing is not justified by any theory at any time at any place.

Citizenship is a similar issue. It is difficult to live anywhere in the United States where companies are not seeking through legislation, favors, “economic development zones,” and outright blackmail to evade paying taxes. They use the educational system, the roads and the other infrastructures but they will not willingly pay any sum whatever for the support of their community or nation.

This is citizenship only in “reasoning” built on deluded greed.

Yes, the holidays should mean more than a day off. We all need to consider the duties of citizenship and patriotism from time to time.

James Pilant

Liberty and Justice (via Arthurdobrin’s Weblog)

We know a lot things. It’s just that sometimes we need to remind ourselves. I thank Arthur Dobrin (pictured below) for reminding me.

James Pilant

“ . . . with liberty and justice for all,” children recite each morning.  Isn’t this the common ground upon which everyone can stand? Many distressed by the today’s political climate urge Americans to remember what binds us together and these principles are surely it. The history of liberty and justice has never been an easy one. Revolutionary Patriots got their freedom, but there was little justice for Loyalists who had their property confiscate … Read More

via Arthurdobrin’s Weblog

Goldman Sachs And Patriotism?

Goldman Sachs in the true spirit of duty to country paid one percent of its profits in taxes. That’s right, you may have paid a little more but reflect that 14 million dollars is still a good piece of change. Of course, they did hold on to the other 2 billion dollars in profit. That might upset you. It made me feel uncomfortable. What am I lacking that they have?

It’s tax havens. There are places they can go to register their business and pay little or no taxes. Now, you might think that businesses obtaining heavy and continued benefits (like the bailout and cheap borrowing from the Federal Reserve) from being (actually) in the United States would feel an obligation to support the country that has given them so much (you know, little things, blood of our soldiers, etc.). But they don’t feel that way.

The following quote is from a report available here. The report is entitled – Unfair Advantage, The Business Case Against Overseas Tax Havens.

In 2008, Goldman Sachs, with 29 subsidiaries located in offshore tax havens, reported profits of over $2 billion and paid federal taxes of $14 million, an effective tax rate of just one percent, and less than one third what they paid their CEO Lloyd Blankfein ($42.9 million).

The report estimates that America loses minimally 37 billion in tax revenues due to tax havens. Fifty years ago, corporations paid almost a quarter of the tax revenues of the federal government. Today it is less than a tenth.

So, I return to my question, do businesses have a duty to patriotism or is the only duty a corporation has to its shareholders to advance profits? Should we expect business organizations to advance the welfare of the citizens of their country and the nation itself?

I have the duty to tell you that the current doctrine practiced in “American” corporations is that there is no national duty whatever. What is taught is a fervent loyalty to shareholders and profits.

I do not believe that a pursuit of profit should be the only goal of an organization like a corporation. I worry that one day this nation will be in terrible danger and these enormous behemoths of business will simply find another place to go.

James Pilant