Tuesday, October 11, 2011

occupy wall st. and the decline of the west

WaPo | This piece is part of an On Leadership roundtable on the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“Money is overthrown and abolished by blood.” Oswald Spengler wrote these words more than a century ago in The Decline of the West. And while the imagery here may be a bit much, there’s something of it in the Occupy Wall Street protests.

This movement profoundly threatens the legitimacy of the system on which corporate power is based, and boards of directors should be concerned.

Corporations are creatures of statute. There is no Common Law of corporations, they are instruments licensed by the state originally in aid of certain public objectives. But few of these objectives are left. With the passage of time, corporate charters have lost any power to keep corporations in check. What is left? Only the pursuit of wealth. As Baron Thurlow reportedly said, “Corporations have no soul to save and no body to incarcerate.” Their charter is in the gift of the public. They have no inherent right to exist.

Amidst the welter of information about executive pay, only one simple conclusion is possible: Pay is not correlated in any way with the value these leaders create for shareholders, society or any other corporate constituency. CEOs largely pay themselves, notwithstanding a raft of misnomers such as “independent compensation committee member” and “independent compensation consultant.” The system imbalances are there for all to see.

Recent protests—Occupy Wall Street, of course, but also the Tea Party movement as it first began—rise out of a profound rage over unfairness in this country. The scale of this unfairness and inequity makes it hard to know where to direct that rage, to know what to do. Occupy Wall Street has the right target; but where their rage will go, nobody today knows. I am certain, though, that any alert board should be instructing their managers to do three things: admit the problem exists, take positive steps to make the corporation function fairly, and consider what other steps would address the concerns of the protests.

Simple? Not quite. But necessary? You bet.

If the present Occupy Wall Street protests do not create an unignorable threat, they certainly raise the prospect of one in the near future. Rage at unfairness is not easily quenched and once started can be hard to curtail. We’ve seen this time and again throughout history. Shareholders may think of themselves as victims of CEO power, as innocent shareholders, but we need only look to the Russian and French Revolutions to see that everyone having anything to do with fallen power, or in this case “guilty corporations”, may be attacked and injured—even if, like shareholders, their only crime is doing nothing.


nanakwame said...

One of the honesty of Steve Jobs is: he didn't do focus groups; he figured out what the customer should want in specific techie commodity and made it for the customer to experience it and gain product loyalty.  The corporation only gave Steve Jobs the wherewithal to produce and refine it for a market. It once fired him, why when folks talk about capitalism, they talk the BS of the Oligarchic and Madison Ave, like brainless automates. 

Makheru Bradley said...

Is Occupy Wall Street being co-opted?


brotherbrown said...

Maybe, maybe not.  The people who are attracted to the concept are not sheeplike personalities.  They seem to be quite practical.  There are no leaders, so if someone emerges as such, let me just say for the record that I don't trust them, and they don't speak for me.  The discussion forums are fascinating and give an insight into how people are reacting to what I call the end of capitalism. If you are capable of even rudimentary mathematics, you have to see it.  The national structure is an obsolete ponzi scheme that was bound to run its course.  The 20th Century was the American Century, but the 21st century belongs to what used to be the third world.  The critical mass yet believes in the status quo, however, and will delay the inevitable indefinitely, or at least delude themselves into thinking so.
I would advise my adult children not to have children at the moment.  Too much uncertainty ahead, and we are coming to a time where only the strong will survive.   

CNu said...

We must be mindful and pragmatic concerning the definition of "strong" as well. http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2010/10/how-not-to-organize-community.html


Makheru Bradley said...

At some point someone, even if it is a different person everyday, has to clearly articulate the goals and objectives of this movement. I accept the fact that this movement is a work in progress and that it has unlimited potential to create positive changes. Nevertheless Webster Tarpley raises some legitimate questions and concerns. So does Margaret Kimberley over at Black Agenda Report.