Is a corp’s big difference always better?


In the category of “tell us something we didn’t know,” fit for summer reading beside the bonfire, a major international market research firm’s report confirms that most people think private industry is better equipped than politicians to save the planet.

To which the only appropriate response is: “Of course it is, as it has all the money; but will it?”

The latest word from Ipsos Global@dvisor – a monthly, online survey of “consumer citizens in 24 countries” – concludes that 63 per cent of its target sample “believe that corporations can make a bigger difference in the world than politicians, who only got a 37 per cent preferential rating.”

The company’s news release continues jauntily:

“Surely both corporations and government get a bad rap for one thing or another any day you turn on the news or look at social media posts. Could the great disparity in confidence have to do with the partisanship that seems to keep some governments from moving forward with any speed?

“Is it that the Warren Buffets and Bill Gates of the world have shown the great potential big business has to cure disease, feed the hungry and invent game-changing technology? Is it that corporations have better PR machine(s) than government(s)? That’s research for another day. Meanwhile, we hope both groups give us ample reason to keep our confidence growing.”

We hope, indeed. But, given recent track records, our faith does not spring eternal on the subject of corporate social responsibility.

Not so very long ago, we may recall, the world’s richest governments effectively united to prevent the international financial system from collapsing under the weight of its own malfeasance. They did so by throwing countless billions of taxpayers’ dollars at big banks in every western nation, save Canada.

In the years since this orchestrated salvation, it’s been business as usual for high finance. And corporate America has never been better positioned to commodify the fruits of its greed.

“Corporate profit margins just hit an all-time high,” Henry Blodget, a former analyst on Wall Street who runs the Business Insider website, wrote a year ago. “Companies are making more per dollar of sales than they ever have before. (And some people are still saying that companies are suffering from ‘too much regulation’ and ‘too many taxes.’ Maybe little companies are, but big ones certainly aren’t).”

Meanwhile, he noted, “Fewer Americans are working than at any time in the past three decades. One reason corporations are so profitable is that they don’t employ as many Americans as they used to. . .Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low. This is both cause and effect. One reason companies are so profitable is that they’re paying employees less than they ever have as a share of GDP. And that, in turn, is one reason the economy is so weak: Those ‘wages’ are other companies’ revenue.”

In March, reported, “The company bottom line is faring a lot better these days than the average American’s weekly paycheck. In 2012, corporate profits as a share of the economy hit the highest level since World War Two, but the overall compensation of workers fell to a 57-year low. . .Last year, the profit of corporations rose to 12.4 per cent of gross domestic product. . .By contrast, compensation slipped to 54.6 per cent of GDP in 2012 from 55 per cent in both 2012 and 2011, according to the Commerce Department.”

Canadian companies were not quite as fortunate. In May, Stats Can reported that the nation’s corporations posted a mere $74 billion in operating profits during the first three months of the years. That was down by a 1.2 per cent, following a 1.4 increase in the final quarter of 2012.

Of course, the corporate world is in no way obliged to part with its loot just because the resources it consumes are, by and large, the common property of all.

But must we continue to delude ourselves that the “bigger difference” it can make in the world is necessarily for the better?

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