Showing posts with label corporations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label corporations. Show all posts

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What Is A Robber Baron?

A little etymology is in order.  Fortunately, Timothy Taylor in his blog "The Conversable Economist" saves us the trouble of poring over the archives.

He explains the origin of the term in the Middle Ages here and provides some helpful examples from Nineteenth Century oratory using the term in very descriptive ways.

Where are the orators of our day?

W.C Flagg, president of the Illinois State Farmer's Association, was such an orator in his day. He explains the results of the Robber Barons' in the field of transportation: "There-by you, the citizens of a democratic-republican country, are enabled to know how cruel, relentless, and unscrupulous a thing is arbitrary power in the hands of a few. Regulation by combination means that the railroad managers are feudal lords, and that you are their serfs."

An 1870 article in Atlantic Monthly draws a picture that seems all too familiar today:

"They make money so rapidly, so easily, and in such a splendid sensational way, that they corrupt more persons by their example than they ruin by their knaveries. As compared with common rogues, they appear like Alexander or Caesar as compared with common thieves and cutthroats. As their wealth increases, our moral indignation at their method of acquiring it diminishes, and at last they steal so much that we come to look on their fortunes as conquests rather than burglaries."

The article might have been referring to the practice of high frequency trading, where margins of time in microseconds result in vast stock trading fortunes as described this week in the New York Times. In times past, such people were also described as parasites. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Moral Man And Immoral Businessmen?

Interesting opinion piece in today's New York Times by William Deresiewicz: Capitalists and Other Psychopaths. To some extent, the article reprises themes in theologian Reinhold Neibuhr's moral Man and Immoral Society. But if anything, Deresiewicz takes a darker view, especially of businessmen.

"A recent study" Deresiewicz reports, "found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are “clinical psychopaths,” exhibiting a lack of interest in and empathy for others and an “unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation.” (The proportion at large is 1 percent.) Another study concluded that the rich are more likely to lie, cheat and break the law."

One can only wonder whether the corporate persons who have now been given the same First Amendment rights as natural persons (Citizens United) are the kind of persons Deresiewicz describes. The author addresses that very question: "There was a documentary several years ago called “The Corporation” that accepted the premise that corporations are persons and then asked what kind of people they are. The answer was, precisely, psychopaths: indifferent to others, incapable of guilt, exclusively devoted to their own interests."

To be sure, he points out that there are ethical corporations ethically managed. But the damage done by the others is considerable.  Even so,"ethics in capitalism is purely optional....Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself."

Which is why, in the nineteenth century, capitalists in the Age of Gold were so enamoured of Social Darwinism. They were, they contended, the fittest and therefore it was meet and right that they should monopolize the spoils.

Today they worship at the altar of Ayn Rand.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We're Number One! [In Low Wage Jobs]

Here's an interesting and discouraging graph, courtesy of economist Mark Thoma.

 He used the graph in a talk at University of Oregon Monday night.


Monday, March 26, 2012

National Lobbyists At NC Legislature

I have mentioned the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This innocuous-sounding organization is working assiduously to transform our form of government through changes to state laws.

It turns out that ALEC actually drafted Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law that has become so notorious in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing.

NY Time columnist Paul Krugman informs us in today's blog, Lobbyists, Guns and Money, how such things happen.

Has he been reading my blog? Probably not, but regular readers will recall that I called attention nearly a year ago to ALEC's influence on the newly-elected North Carolina state legislature here and here and here.

Apparently this legislature is interested mostly in serving their constituents at ALEC's headquarters instead of in their own districts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

General Prosperity Or Particular Prosperity?

Along the same lines as yesterday's post by Robert Reich is an interesting examination of why business leaders aren't calling for economic stimulus. As this article points out, in the 1940's business leaders joined together to press for a substantial federal stimulus to protect against a postwar depression.

It worked.

Even in an earlier period, Henry Ford recognized that if his workers couldn't afford to buy his products, his factories wouldn't prosper. So he paid well and prospered greatly himself.

But in today's world, executive compensation is divorced from the overall performance of the economy. For that matter, it seems divorced from executive performance in any normal sense.

This needs attention.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Public Morality

It seems like every even year, we have a flurry of political rhetoric about SEX. For many, it seems that morality = SEX and associated discontents.

There is a different view: public morality has to do with questions of who benefits and who pays. Government's principal activity is to make the rules that control economic outcomes. Members of the public who believe the deck is being stacked against them should see this as the moral issue of our day.

There are those who spend a lot of time thinking and analyzing such issues. Foremost among them is Robert Reich.

I commend to your attention his latest article, "The Difference Between Public And Private Morality."

The heart of his argument: "There is moral rot in America but it’s not found in the private behavior of ordinary people. It’s located in the public behavior of people who control our economy and are turning our democracy into a financial slush pump. It’s found in Wall Street fraud, exorbitant pay of top executives, financial conflicts of interest, insider trading, and the outright bribery of public officials through unlimited campaign 'donations.'"

That hits the nail on the head.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Are Corporations People?

Two years ago in its decision in the case of Citizens United, the US Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects the speech of corporations as thoroughly as it does the speech of individuals. Or as one of this year's presidential candidate explained, "corporations are people."

Now the Court is faced with a slightly different issue: can corporations be sued for actions that violate the civil rights of individuals overseas, including taking part in repression, torture, executions and other civil rights abuses. Corporations argue that only individuals can be so charged. The issues are addressed in today's New York Times.

So, do corporations have the rights of individuals in one case, but are not responsible for corporate acts in another? Here is a more detailed look.

The world wonders.