Robber Barons in chinos

The Amazon cat, originally uploaded by jjn1.

Terrific Guardian column by Larry Elliott on the rearguard action by corporate execs like Eric Schmidt against public anger about tax avoidance.

All credit to [Margaret] Hodge [Chair of the Commons Committee which criticised Google] for flushing Schmidt out. He likes to portray himself as the new sort of boss of a new sort of company, the ones that boast of their non-hierarchical structures, their dress-down policies and their chill-out zones. But the row about tax has shown that the people running these new-wave behemoths are not hippy capitalists, they are robber barons in chinos.

Nor should we expect otherwise. The dominant form of corporate organisation in the west is the joint stock company, the purpose of which is to deliver profits for its shareholders. Almost all these companies pay lip-service to corporate social responsibility. The companies selling booze say they are firmly committed to tackling problem drinking. The betting shop chains say they want to see responsible gambling. The fast food companies and the soft drinks industry sponsor sporting events in the hope that nobody notices how they are contributing to obesity. But they are in business to maximise profits for their shareholders. Period.

Spot on. Whenever I hear corporate executives bleating about not being evil or about how passionately they care about ‘corporate social responsibility’ I’m reminded of our two domestic cats. They are charming animals, and I lecture them daily on the need to be kind to small mammals and the birds who throng to our garden. All to no effect: they are cats and they do what cats do. They follow their instincts. Same goes for corporations. They exist to maximise shareholder value. Period.