Micah Redding — faith in humanity's future


1024px stencil shopping cart

When I think of consumerism, I think of companies without values — or more precisely, companies without opinions. That is, they’re not doing anything wrong, but they’re also not fighting for anything right.

But should they be? To what degree do we want businesses to be taking sides, having strong opinions, advocating for favorite causes?

Remember, to the extent that businesses take sides, some of them are going to be taking sides against us. And if we want businesses to have strong opinions, we’re going to have to take this as a good thing.

Is that what we want? Every purchase to be infused with some value decision?

I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know this: anything I start is going to be opinionated. I have no interest in bland disengagement. I have very little interest in money for its own sake. If I’m not fighting for something, I’m not likely to be involved.



The people who own, manage or work for a company can have values. But the question of whether a company itself can have values is problematic. It is perhaps the case that the owners of a company may decide that profits are secondary to some ethical or moral value, but this would be difficult to discern in most cases, particularly in the case of publicly-held corporations. For example, ExxonMobil has billions of outstanding shares, many of which change hands in very rapid transactions. I assume that most of the "owners" of ExxonMobil are only seeking profit and that all other considerations are secondary. If these "owners" had a shared understanding of values, it would have to be the lowest common denominator of the aggregate "values" of these individuals, even setting aside the problem of institutional ownership by mutual funds, pensions and so forth. When companies talk about their "values", it is almost always some kind of p. r., particularly when one reads the boilerplate that generally makes up such statements of values. I am sometimes amused when we infer certain ethical or moral standards to a business because of its image, especially when it's based on stuff that we see in marketing materials. In my opinion, it is a mistake to expect virtue from an instrument designed for other purposes. When one is disappointed by a business's focus on profit rather than on, say, environmental ethics, it is like being disappointed when one's car turns out to be a lousy can opener. Milton Friedman once argued that the sole social responsibility of business is to make a profit through legal means. I do not know whether I completely agree, but he points out that all stakeholders in a business have their own individual interests and that conceivably, each can choose to use the proceeds either from the return on their capital or from the proceeds of their labor, to further their interests and promote their values, and further, if management decides to seek to promote interests other than profit, it will almost always conflict with the interests of those stakeholders, particularly if the management foregoes profit in order to pursue other interests. 100 years ago, Henry Ford was successfully sued by stockholders in Ford Motor Company when Ford decided to cut dividends in order to raise the wages of employees, with the courts deciding that by doing so he was violating his fiduciary responsibility to those shareholders, particularly since he did not make any case that their long-term financial interests would be served by handing out such raises. Of course, one is always free to decide that one will not buy widgets from X Corporation because one does not approve of its behavior. One is always free to lobby politicians to regulate such behavior. But behavior modification will nearly always be the result of external pressure. BC