Deals With the Devil

 Posted by on 8 December 2008 at 12:01 am  Business, Ethics, Politics
Dec 082008

This month, the Chief Executives of Chrysler, General Motors and Ford grovelled back to Washington, tails between their legs, chastised by Congress for their display of capitalist excess when they arrived to their November begging session aboard separate corporate jets. This time, their humble 520-mile road trip in hybrid cars was just so Green and so Special that I bet it moved even Al Gore (also known as “The Inventor”). Speaking of invention, getting the Big 3 automakers to make hybrid cars is part of the grand scheme Gore has invented to save the planet.

Well, what about saving the country from economic ruin? The auto leaders warned that American families and the very soundness of our economy would be disastrously affected if a bailout is rejected by Congress. And the Big Three have a lot of support in their appeal to Santa as other major companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, and other interest groups hunker down for a major lobbying effort.

If saving the planet and saving the economy are the very raisons d’etre of a business enterprise, where does this duty come from? As many Objectivists know, it is the pernicious and ubiquitous moral standard of altruism. And its modern manifestation is the Corporate Social Responsibility Movement which has placed tremendous pressure on companies to cast aside the very notion of profit-making as their primary goal and legitimate purpose.

This movement pushes businesses to “behave responsibly,” by demonstrating environmental awareness, concern for human rights, and giving money for community development. The Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government explains it very well:

Throughout the industrialized world and in many developed countries there has been a sharp escalation in the social roles corporations are expected to play. Companies are facing new demands to engage in public-private partnerships and are under growing pressure to be accountable not only to shareholders, but also to stakeholders such as employees, consumers, suppliers, local communities, policymakers, and society-at-large.

While the moral foundation for capitalism identified by Ayn Rand is largely unknown today, there is no such lack of awareness of the moral rationale for Corporate Responsibility. We find its specific ideas in the popular notion of “economic and social justice.” The Center for Economic and Social Justice defines that principle in what I describe as a stew of the best original ideals of America’s Founding Fathers, seasoned with a religious-based identity of the nature of man, and congealed in the view that man’s highest moral purpose is a duty to the social justice of others — in other words, the incompatible combining of liberty and property rights with religion and altruism:

There is a Source of all creation and of all universal and absolute values such as Truth, Love and Justice, which represent the ultimate ends of human actions. Many people call this Source, God. … The essential means to achieve the sovereignty of the person include such inalienable human rights as the right to life, liberty, and access to productive property and free markets, equality of opportunity, and the secret ballot. These rights–including the rights of property–are not ultimate ends in themselves, but they are intermediate ends or fundamental means to enable each person to pursue Truth, Love and Justice. … The highest responsibility of each person is to pursue absolute values and to promote economic and social justice in his or her personal life and all associations with others.

To enlighten us as to the social system consistent with these “core values,” the Center offers a side-by-side comparison of what it considers two “unjust” models, capitalism and socialism, with the ideal “just third way” of economic and social justice. I have provided a link to the entire comparison; but in summary, the Center views capitalism as literally a “dog-eat-dog” kind of system that is morally and practically no better than “scarcity”-causing socialism.

The Big Three arrived in Washington not only in a hybrid car, they arrived with a hybrid morality. The ever-growing and widely-embraced partnerships of government and business is the natural consequence of these moral contradictions. In such a union of social purpose, government and business desperately need each other to survive. But the price is paid by the American heart and soul, and the individuals who must set aside their pursuit of happiness for social goals defined by think tanks and politicians.

But what if there were a non-contradictory view of the nature of man, his requirements for survival and a non-sacrificial moral purpose in life? Such a system would be opposite of the deal-with-the-devil mixed economy we have now, where the main moral and practical purpose of business is to serve the welfare of society. Such a system would be laissez-faire capitalism, a society of real economic and social justice for individuals who create wealth and prosper because of it.

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