"There is one and only one social responsibility of business--to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits."
Milton Friedman.- Advertisement -
You could be forgiven for believing that I misstate the concept of corporate personhood, the result of a bourgeoisie beholden Supreme Court imbuing corporations with the rights of human beings and freeing them from human restraint. While our Supreme Court has indeed converted the legal fictions we call corporations into legal "persons" with all the rights of actual persons, we have taken a turn even worse for ourselves.
By making corporations persons, the Supreme Court unleashed from human control entities with no moral or social duties beyond taking as much as they possibly can for themselves with no regard for the impact of humans beyond investors (and even for investors, the duty extends no further than to make them money). Friedman ridiculed those who believed corporations had "responsibilities for providing employment, eliminating discrimination, avoiding pollution and whatever else may be the catchwords of the contemporary crop of reformers." See excellent discussion here.
Literally, if a corporation can make more money knowingly letting people die when preventing death would be more costly, the directors of the corporation not only lack any moral the duty to prevent death, but actually have a legal duty to allow the deaths if that course makes more money, (assuming they are not breaking any laws). Sure, the corporation can be sued or fined, but corporate servants in government have been working furiously for decades to make it harder for humans to sue and any fines imposed are almost always a tiny fraction of the profits turned.
This is harmful enough for American society as wholly self-seeking, gigantic multinational firms with resources unfathomable to ordinary people can influence government and politics and we, whom these corporations are in theory licensed to serve, can do more to restrict their actions than our own. But we are increasingly seeing another development perhaps even more frightening.
The best current example might be the budget proposal by the narcissistic head cheerleader of the greedy plutocrat team, Republican Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. As you probably know Ryan's proposed budget would eliminate Medicare and instead offer senior citizens vouchers they can use to direct government money to private insurance companies for health coverage. The vouchers would add up to far less than is currently spent on Medicare, and we know this because Ryan claims it will save the government money. So, basically, Ryan proposes drastically cutting spending for the health care of senior citizens. It is surely obvious to Ryan and other supporters that senior citizens will be unable to buy insurance on the private market for the price of their vouchers and will have to either suffer and die without health care after creating this cushy society for the likes of Ryan, or pay such huge chunks of their income for health care costs that they will be able to afford little else, including decent housing and food.
Oh, yes, Ryan's proposal also dramatically cuts taxes on the wealthiest Americans and all corporations in amounts similar to the cuts in funding for health care for senior citizens. They are quite straightforwardly proposing cuts in services for the needy to make room for cuts in taxes for the wealthy.
But to me, the most astonishing feature of this proposal is not its ghastly implications, nor its blatant transfer of money from the poor and elderly to the wealthy, corporations and insurers; it is the calm, unapologetic, smug way it is being presented. Ryan's and his supporter's behavior shows they do not care that people will suffer and die under their plan, as long as their actions direct more money into the hands of their social class mates. They literally believe they have no moral or social duty to provide for the care of their less fortunate and elder fellow Americans.
The same phenomena can be found in the Republican attack on health care for lower income and rural women by defunding Planned Parenthood and their excellent preventative health care programs; in the cavalier attitude toward shutting down the government when that will cause so much suffering; in their refusal to extend unemployment benefits to those harmed through no fault of their own by the recent wealth-vacuuming housing swindle and government revenue transfer that caused this recession. And, of course, this goes back to at least the Reagan Administration and certainly includes Bill Clinton's elimination of welfare.
For decades now the American people have been pounded with messages that in a capitalist society, the best course for any person is to seek the highest possible personal gain. The invisible hand -- as clear an allusion to capitalism as religion as we will find -- will take care of everything else. Altruistic and caring behaviors are inefficient and will only impede overall economic progress. Now, millions and millions of Americans, especially the most wealthy, have come to believe that they have no duty at all to contribute to the care of the less fortunate. The suffering of the poor, the elderly, the disabled; the collapse of the middle class; the manufactured foreclosure crisis throwing families with children in the street; cutting wages and benefits to unlivable levels; the tent cities; the preventable cervical cancers and treatable ones diagnosed too late. None of these should be the concern of the wealthy, or of anyone else but the individuals involved.
People owe duties only to themselves and are free to take and hoard whatever they can without any regard for the impacts on others. Sound familiar.
No wonder we have given corporations the rights of humans. We humans have adopted the moral code of the corporation.
As Milton Friedman might say it today:
"There is one and only one social responsibility of people--to use their resources and engage in activities designed to increase their profits."