Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote of being leery of a loud-talking huckster who visited his home: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons,” Emerson exclaimed.
Likewise, today’s workaday families should do a mass inventory of their silverware as an integrity check on a mess of loud-talking corporate honchos. Suddenly, 181 of these union-busting, tax-cheating, environment-contaminating, consumer-gouging corporate hucksters are asking us to believe that they stand with us in the fight against … well, against them. Wall Street banksters, Big Oil polluters, anti-union extremists and a myriad of other profiteers grouped into a prestigious collective called Business Roundtable, issued a “grito” in August, trumpeting their future intentions to serve not just themselves but every “stakeholder” (which is what they call employees, customers, supplies, et al.).
Nice of them, of course, but vague proclamations are cheap, and it’s worth noting that these new champions of the common good propose no specifics — no actual sacrifices by them or benefits for us. Excuse me, but their grandiose promise of corporate beneficence is what West Texas cowboys would call “bovine excrement.”
Yes, we’ve now been joined in the trenches of class struggle by the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Walmart, Amazon and nearly 200 other giant corporations. Well, not quite in the trenches, for you can get your Guccis dirty in there. Still, on the battleground of public relations, Business Roundtable (the chief lobbing front for America’s biggest corporations) has declared its solidarity with all of us who seek economic fairness and equal opportunity.
Their opening volley was fired in August in a grand declaration titled “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.” For 50 years, that purpose has been ruthlessly clear: maximize their investors’ profits, no matter who or what they have to run over. But now, the barons of big business are putting on a softer face, proclaiming that their “fundamental commitment” is not merely to serve shareholder greed but also to benefit workers, reduce inequality, protect the environment and serve the whole community. It’s corporate kumbaya, y’all — solidarity forever!
Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, was designated to write the Roundtable’s new declaration of concern for the common people. He later expressed a historic sense of pride in the task: “There were times when I felt like Thomas Jefferson,” Gorsky gushed.
Really? This is the same guy who presided over Johnson & Johnson’s profiteering roll in spreading deadly opioids throughout America. Even as he was posing as Jefferson, an Oklahoma jury was assessing a $572 million fine on his corporation for foisting the opioid horror on the common people he now professes to love.
So forgive me for not believing for a moment that there’s one iota of sincerity in this sudden assertion of egalitarian sentiment by the soulless organizers of today’s corporate plunder. They’re still going to plunder your unions, paychecks, jobs, health, environment and overall well-being. The only difference is that they now want you to think they feel bad about it.
A few media observers have been mildly skeptical, saying it’s “an open question” whether any of the corporate proclaimers will change how they do business. But it’s not an open question at all. They won’t. They won’t support full collective bargaining power for workers, won’t join the public’s push to get Medicare for All, won’t stop using monopoly power to squeeze out small competitors and gouge consumers, won’t support measures to stop climate change, won’t back reforms to get their corrupt corporate money out of our politics … won’t embrace any of the big structural changes necessary to reverse the raw economic and political inequality that has enthroned their plutocratic rule and made them richer than royalty.
In fact, their empty proclamation is nothing but a cynical ploy to soften people’s anger at their rampant greed in hopes of fending off the actual changes that real reformers are advancing. Corporate elites won’t fix inequality for us; they’re the ones doing it to us.