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2472. From profit to stakeholder: a tiny step for mankind.
Milton Friedman* had the idea that the purpose and only legal activity of business was to make a profit. The fact that businesses ate still incorporated by the state, not as a game platform with winners and losers, but for doing things the state couldn't. Early corporations were the Jesuits, The East India Company the Erie Canal, and the railroads. That has somewhat come apart and the modern corporation is seen in slightly, but not very much, broader terms.
The new corporation is supposed to be "for the stakeholders ". But did you notice few seem to think through what that means, taking it as though what it means is all those previously left out of the pool of stockholders and their limited purpose.
Most just accept this.
But look, "stakeholder" comes from those who put money in the game In gambling "I'll raise the stakes". Or the stake in the ground for an aggressive claim on a piece of land. So stakeholders are those who have some skin in the game. But this is not society. What of the vast majority that don's have an interest in being in the game, and probably never heard of it, and couldn't care less?
Stakeholder, instead of being a major progressive reframing of "make a profit" is really just a subtle way of claiming that a slightly larger circle of people care about the corporation making a profit .
Why is our thinking so impoverished and we don’t bother to look for consequences? I like the Chinese kan bu dong - look not see. We often think as if propositions have no consequences yet we are surrounded by consequences.
*I once was invited to a Park Avenue Thanksgiving dinner and among the guests, maybe a dozen, were Milton and his wife , about 1975. After dinner in the living room a circle sat around the Friedman's and he was talking about free enterprise and the evils of the state and why everything should be privatized. Feeling slightly mischievous I asked "What about Central Park?" That too, he said, and the group turned on him with serious questions until they excused themselves and left.