Corporations - Good Citizens?
One way to epitomize the 20th century is to describe the emergence of
corporations as a dominant form of social organization. The corporation turned
out to be an efficient way to organize, administer and build industrial
capability. As corporations enlarged and became wealthy, countries became
wealthy and were transformed. The emergent legal definitions of incorporation
submerged the rights and duties of individuals and advanced the protection and
privileges of small groups who were legally incorporated.
In the best case, a corporation values its workers and its customers and
develops win-win strategies so that everyone benefits – the corporation posts
profits, the workers enjoy stable employment and the customers are satisfied
with the goods and services they receive. If best cases exist, they tend to be
temporary. Corporations depend on rules to regulate their employees and more
rules to govern their interaction with customers. While there is an ethos of
customer service in retail organizations, enlarging corporations become less
friendly, less personal and less civil, leaving customers with problems they
cannot solve, complaints that will not be addressed, and helpful suggestions
that will not be heard.
The internal dynamics of corporations reveal all the tendencies of human
nature, somewhat tamed by the discipline required to remain more or less
efficient and legal. The alpha members of corporate society would tend to be
dictators if they were not constrained from many directions. The growth
of rules and regulations has paralleled corporate growth. You could argue that
some balance had been achieved but events at the beginning of the 21st century
are relentlessly adverse and quite different from the conditions in the 20th
century when corporations grew larger and wealthier as a matter of course.
You could also argue that governments are not always competent nor
constructively motivated. Civil service organizations grow to resemble
corporations. You cannot rely on morality or government regulation alone to
achieve benevolent corporations. Changes in legislation that make corporate
executives more accountable are desirable along with more honest and competent
internal self-regulation. Knowing that humans routinely lose their sense of
responsibility and morality when they sign up as members of a large group, you
are not surprised when you learn of the depredations of corporations. Balkan and
others have argued that corporations are sociopathic since their prime interest
is making money and the end justifies the means: “A corporation is inherently
amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its
way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of
empathy, caring and altruism.”
The current question is can large corporations evolve into more responsible
and ethically motivated organizations? An ideal solution is to transform people
who manage and work for corporations into good citizens who have a strong sense
of fair play and will do no harm to others. A new legal definition of
corporations would seek to balance the profit motive with social responsibility.
Corporate executives need to be accountable to their shareholders, customers,
workers and neighbors and less preoccupied with their own greed. Government and
corporations provide similar opportunities for executives to divert wealth into
their own bank accounts and to favor family, friends and allies with monetary
and other rewards.
Competition is the force of natural selection. Many have argued that
competition in the market place keeps bad corporations from surviving.
Competition has been a driving force for technological innovation and corporate
efficiency. In the best case, bad products tend to disappear since consumers
search for better and cheaper products. Confusion arises when cheaper is not
better. The drive to win over competitors by marketing cheaper products has
produced profound dislocations of people, money and corporate activities.
Corporations do not remain loyal to their workers or the communities that
supported them. They move manufacturing to developing countries. Corporations
use every means to keep labor costs low. They exploit poor and uneducated
workers in countries that do not protect their workers. Mass migrations of unskilled workers are another feature of the 21st century
that will grow beyond any definition of national boundaries. Some of the poor
worker migration is legally organized. Most the migration is illegal,
spontaneous and disorganized. Humans have always migrated. They deplete the
resources in one area and then moved to the next.