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.