In wealth we trust

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“Socially responsible capitalism” sounds like a great idea, but there are huge problems with it that many people ignore

I feel like noblesse oblige is a poor excuse for a social program.

However, “socially responsible capitalism” is essentially just that. The idea is that because huge corporations and rich CEOs have tremendous power and wealth, they have an obligation to pay for things that the “little people” need. In the context of the university, it’s the belief that corporations that benefit from a well-educated population should charitably reinvest some of the increased earnings they make from having an educated workforce into the university. In the context of everything else, it means increasingly cash-strapped governments are looking for new ways to offload responsibilities that they have to someone else.

Along with this idea is the concept that corporations need to do what is best for the planet, meaning that they will still participate in capitalism, but in doing so they will also look to offset their negative impact on the environment by taking other actions that are positive. When combined, corporations are encouraged to act in a way that is good for people, good for the planet, but still good for profit. It’s the classic definition of a win-win situation.

People, planet, profit is a great idea in theory, but the way it is envisioned among many people leaves something to be desired. In many scenarios, corporations are expected to feel some sort of duty to be socially responsible. Along with this is the inherent idea that placing social issues in corporate hands is a good idea because, you know, the private sector is just better than the government and would never act in its own private interest.

Going to the corporations to fund things that are valuable to society such as a university because they benefit from the graduates is a lazy approach when we should actually be putting our efforts into electing people that understand the value of taxation in wealth redistribution. The university should not have to go begging to corporations and appealing to their “duty” as business to help out everyone else. There should be a structure in place that provides this service that is not at the beck and call of corporate interests. In theory the government, since it is supposedly controlled by the people, should be that body.

Socially responsible capitalism also ignores the fact that corporations can walk away from these “duties” any time they want. Sure, its fine for corporations to work now to do things that are good for the environment, but in the future it seems unlikely that a dedication to the environment or social justice will stand in the way of maximizing profits. It never has before. And if they really felt a “duty” to society, they would be more than happy to pay higher taxes.

I do not have a problem with people being rich or making money, but I do have a problem when people suggest that we should trust those people to do things out of the goodness of their hearts for society. The role of the government is to make sure that wealth is redistributed among poorer segments of society, and leaving social spending such as university funding or environmental policy to corporate entities with the belief that they will feel some sort of noblesse oblige is a questionable practice at best. We already have the tools to bring about a more fair system; we just need to make sure that we are electing people that know how to use them.

Edward Dodd
Op-Ed Editor

Photo illustration by Edward Dodd

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