There are those who want it all. I do not mean the ambitious and driven. I mean the ones who cry for freedom and then deride advice regarding taking individual responsibility. We see the political manifestations of freedom without responsibility in the speech of the populists and the policy initiatives of the right wing establishment. We see the social version among many of our friends; those who take all the freedoms this society offers without giving any thing back in the way of production, community service or even taking part in the electoral process. During the Vietnam Era, there were those individuals who denied service based on a profound and deep aversion to the wars of a new colonialism and then there were the cowards. The cowards were the ones who had yet to realize that liberty, as the transcendent and ultimate objective of the modern republic, demands of its revelers the sacrifice of their own blood from time to time. These cowards ran away from the responsibility of the draft and service to the nation. The cowardice reminds me of the benign shirking of children. Children want their ice cream and toys and are not aware of the resources diverted to provide them with such things. Children grow up to be adults and realize the equilibrium between desires and responsibilities. That realization is the art of growing up. I do not see this art in the discourse regarding the relationship between a corporation and the society that allows it to exist.
We do not find ourselves in a crisis of capitalism or a dramatic destruction of the market system nor would one be desirable. For all the inequities arising from a capitalistic system, little can be said against the profound role the markets have played in creating a thriving middle class in the developed world; and raising in international prominence countries such as Brazil, China and India. International trade and the easier movement of goods and labor inevitably will create discomfort and employment shock, however, these are the growing pains of a thriving international commerce—a trade much needed for societies to progress into modernity. As an American white-collar worker, I am forced to compete with better trained and arguably more passionate counterparts in India and the Philippines. This new realm of competition forces the American worker to fight in every way to stay relevant, to maintain one’s own usefulness. That is the situation of the American worker. The situation for the corporation varies drastically however. For the multi-national, these same avenues of trade and commerce are a means to cut expenses and increase profits. Often times, corporations seem to me, to be like children. Hungry only for ice cream or the latest toy, they appear unaware of the responsibilities that they have to the society they serve. This commercial immaturity is most prevalent when discussing taxes and corporations. We hear much about the tax regime that forces corporations out of America from the right wing. Why do these supposed defenders and policy-makers never question the patriotic duty a corporation has to its nation? These same defenders hold a person’s duty to country as sacrosanct. Apparently a corporation is also a person. Mitt Romney once said “My friend, corporations are people too.” I believe then if they are to enjoy the benefits of personhood, then they must recognize their appropriate civic duties as well. More importantly, if a corporation is indeed a person, then we must hold a corporation to same patriotic standards we would hold of an individual. What would we call an individual who enjoyed liberties protected by the republic but deserted its borders as soon as his country called him for service and sacrifice?
A traitor is worse than a coward.
The absence of maturity is not pervasive through all of corporate America. My profession for example, excepting the scandals of the early part of the last decade, has served this country and society with honor. Auditors and consultants provide various lines of service to our clients in the way of credibility and efficiency. But at the core of our profession is the understanding that we provide assurance to the investing public. Our service may be to our client, but our responsibility is to the public. It is a matured industry understanding both the profit incentive as well as true corporate responsibility. Corporate responsibility is not just donating to a local cause or having employees volunteer to get press coverage. It goes beyond those initiatives to what commerce truly provides to society. Commerce provides the exchange of needed goods, but more importantly, it provides employment, so that there exists a proper demand for a proper good. Responsibility is not in what the newspapers say about a corporation; rather it is in taking pride in the product or service that is provided. My firm and its competitors have spent years building an ethical reputation among the clients we serve precisely because business and its goal—profit—should be earned honorably and justly. A mature firm must take ownership of the responsibilities it has to its workers, environment, customers and shareholders which brick by brick create the society within which it functions.