Corporate social responsibility is the second-biggest con of 2019 (Donald Trump remains in first place).
Consider Boeing, whose board just fired its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, in order "to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers, and all other stakeholders."
Restore confidence? Muilenburg's successor will be David Calhoun, who, as a longstanding member of Boeing's board of directors, allowed Muilenburg to remain CEO for more than a year after the first 737 Max crash and after internal studies found that the jetliner posed an unacceptable risk of accident. It caused the deaths of 346 people.
Muilenburg raked in $30m in 2018. He could walk away from Boeing with another $60m.
Boeing isn't the only large corporation with a confidence problem.Until his ouster, Muilenburg was a director of the Business Roundtable, an association of 192 CEOs of America's largest corporations. With great fanfare last August, it announced a "fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders" (emphasis in the original) and not just their shareholders.
The Roundtable's commitment came in response to growing public distrust of big corporations, and proposals from several Democratic candidates to rein them in.
Another Business Roundtable director is Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. Just weeks after making the commitment, and despite GM's hefty profits and large tax breaks, Barra rejected workers' demands that GM raise their wages and stop outsourcing their jobs. Earlier in the year GM shut its giant assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
About 50,000 GM workers then staged the longest auto strike in 50 years. They won a few wage gains but didn't save any jobs. Meanwhile, GM's stock has performed so well that Barra earned $22m last year.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is another member of the Business Roundtable. Just weeks after he made the commitment to all his stakeholders, Whole Foods, an Amazon subsidiary, announced it would be cutting medical benefits for its entire part-time workforce.
The annual saving to Amazon from this cost-cutting move is roughly what Bezos -- whose net worth is $110bn -- makes in two hours. (Bezos's nearly completed DC mansion will have two elevators, 25 bathrooms, 11 bedrooms, and a movie theater.)
GE's CEO Larry Culp is also a member of the Business Roundtable. Two months after he made the commitment to all his stakeholders, General Electric froze the pensions of 20,000 workers in order to cut costs. Culp raked in $15m last year.
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.