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Monograph

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Corporation : The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power

Once, long ago I wrote that shareholder value threatened to remove all morality from business life. This was of course heresy since I was at business school at the time, but Oxford is the heretics business school of choice so I was OK.

Joel Bakan was apparently thinking on the same lines as I was when he wrote 'The Corporation : The pathological pursuit of profit and power' which is a serious look at the moral consequences of the doctrine of shareholder value. To wit "Companies must always act to maximise profits". Aside from the first chapter 'The Corporations Rise to Dominance' which rather overstates the influence of the corporation (principally because in most areas of life corporations don't act as a single group) the book is a well constructed and solidly argued investigation of its subject.

Although Joel mentions the possibilty of a world without corporations his final policy prescriptions are actually pretty straightforward and middle of the road. He advocates

Improved regulation : Staffing regulatory agencies at realistic levels and increasing the fines they can levy

Strengthening Political Democracy : More restrictions on politicians / civil servants going straight from government to industry posts related to their previous occupation and other reforms like Proportional Representation in the voting process.

A robust civil sphere : Clear 'no go' areas for corporations, like schools, nature reserves and so on.

Challenge International Neo Liberalism : Broadly speaking this is a call for the institutions set up at Bretton Woods (GATT (Now the WTO), World Bank and IMF) to re-evaluate the economic orthodoxy they have been run on since the mid 70's / early 80's.

All fine ideas. Now, how do we get them enacted?

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