Sunday, February 20, 2005

Corporate Responsibility

We have a strange newspaper situation here in Chattanooga. We had a fairly liberal morning paper, The Chattanooga Times, which was started by Adolph Ochs, who went on to found The New York Times. In the afternoon, we had the staunchly conservative Chattanooga News-Free Press, which was formed years ago by the merger of two other papers, The Chattanooga News and The Chattanooga Free Press. A few years back, when newspaper publishers were beginning to run out of pennies to pinch, the Times and the News-Free Press worked out some sort of bizarro publishing arrangement, giving us a bastard stepchild: The Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Here is a fairly decent newspaper with two editorial voices crammed into one paper. There is no op-ed page. There are two editorial pages op-ing each other. On one page, appropriately enough, the left-hand editorial page, there's the Times taking a position or endorsing a candidate. On the right wing, the Free Press takes the opposite position or endorses the other candidate. It's a great way to hear both sides of an argument. On one page, you'll see the columns of Tom Friedman, Ellen Goodman, and David Broder; on the other, William Buckley and Phyllis Schafley. They even have separate Letters to the Editor sections. On Sundays, the paper has a whole section devoted to opposing political philosophies, the Perspective section.

I told you that to tell you this. I was reading the Perspective section today, when I ran across Walter Williams's column "Weak-Kneed Corporate CEOs." If you're not familiar with ol' Walt, he's a African-American professor of economics at George Mason University, and apparently he's never gotten a smidgen of help from the government and despises anyone, especially fellow African-Americans, who have. A fierce apostle of Milton Friedman's and a fierce conservative, he's a favorite of the Free Press editorial staff. I shudder to think of what one of his economics classes must be like.

This column points out one of the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives. He comes at the subject of corporate responsibility from a completely different direction than I would. I can see the good that corporations do, namely employing people and driving the economy, but I can be as anti-corporation as the next guy when I see them taking over the political process, poisoning the environment, outsourcing jobs to the third-world, etc., etc., etc. But here's ol' Walt, berating the "chief appeasement officers" of the corporate world who are trying to be good global citizens instead of grabbing every sweaty cent they can for their shareholders. He singles out J.P. Morgan Chase, Monsanto, Ford Motor Co., British Petroleum, and others for "caving in to pressure" from Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, and other groups. Instead of praising them for being good citizens (yes, they are citizens - persons- according to the Supreme Court - with all of the rights and none of the responsibilities), Williams belittles the CEOs who've "been mau-maued" into befriending "anti-capitalist forces." It's especially interesting that he should single out the Ford Motor Co. Their crime? Their CEO, William Ford Jr., supported a gas tax that had no chance of being passed. A couple of decades ago, Ford was intentionally burning their consumers in Pintos, and just a few years ago, they were intentionally turning their consumers upside-down in SUVs. It's about time they made some effort, no matter how inconsequential, toward becoming good citizens.

Williams even quotes Sauron...uh, I mean, Milton Friedman in his article. It's his famous quote that there is "only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits," within the law, of course. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Williams comes right out and says that "only people, not businesses, have responsibilities," which goes a long way toward proving the point that corporations don't deserve the legal designation as "persons."

For more on the shortcomings of corporations and the issue of Corporate Personhood, check out Reclaim Democracy and CorpWatch, who identify the real villians of Corporate America.

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