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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Strategic CSR - Business

Here is an inflammatory quote for you:
"When I visit university campuses, I'm periodically asked if students who seek jobs in the business world are immoral, money-grubbing sellouts. I don't think they are, for businesses can be a hugely important force for progress. Can be, but usually aren't."
The author continues:
"Tycoons always claim to cherish ordinary people's best interests even as they rip them off. American tobacco executives have killed more people than Stalin managed to, and pharma executives recklessly peddling opioids may have killed as many people as Colombian drug lords, yet these business leaders sometimes seem to get moist-eyed describing the work they do."
I am a big fan of The New York Times, and Nicholas Kristof, in particular, does wonderful work exposing many of the horrors that humans are capable of inflicting on each other. He has been brilliant, for example, in pursuing those (in politics and business) who allow human trafficking to perpetuate. In this case, however, he is so far off the mark as to be embarrassing. Invoking "Stalin" and "Colombian drug lords" might be a good way of drawing attention to your article, but it is not a particularly level-headed approach to assessing the societal impact of business (all businesses).
There is the general point about the extent to which for-profit firms have shaped societal progress in a way that allows us to do so much more today with the same amount of resources. There is the more specific point about tobacco and pharmaceuticals. First, these are legal products that, at some point, society has decided it wants. As such, politicians are just as culpable for any errors as businesses. Second, there is clearly consumer demand. While the role of addiction clearly cannot be dismissed, apparently there are people out there who enjoy smoking, too. And, in terms of opioids, you cannot ignore the benefit these drugs have brought to the management of pain; the medical community has also played a role in over-proscribing drugs that they should have known more about. And, while I am thinking of it, where was the media in exposing this problem much earlier? I am not giving anyone a free ride here; merely pointing out that there is plenty of blame to go around.
In the bigger picture, however, it is not reasonable to highlight a couple of major abuses and then tar the whole business community with the same brush. As well as causing major harm, businesses do immense good. More specifically, firms give us what we want. If we want different outcomes, we have to demand them. Consumers do that by paying for what they want, but regulators do that by enforcing laws on their books, and the media does that by holding firms to account (which includes promoting 'good' behavior when they see it). If the collective set of stakeholders fail to do that, or say they want one thing but then incentivize something completely different, the blame lies with all of us (collectively), not an arbitrary organization that, after all, is made up of individuals making decisions. The article in the url below demonstrates that Kristof is so blind to this that it is seriously affecting his judgment. I might even go as far as to say this column borders on being fake news, falling way below the Times' normal high standards.
Take care
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Is the Business World All About Greed?
By Nicholas Kristof
January 25, 2018
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final