21 August, 2009

One-dimensional business

First of all, sincere thanks to Martin R for inspiration and the points in the first chapter. I really value my friends' opinions, even if I don't always agree with them!

Let's start of with the notion that companies have the rights of a juridical person. Then, consider the following: what do companies want? What is their purpose? Clearly, their purpose is to make as much money as possible - it is even in the Finnish law! Suppose a regular person would only have one purpose of existence, be it for example to make as much money as possible. How would one think of such a person? Wouldn't we consider him or her to be more or less a psychopath?

As some of you may have noticed, the above argument has it's defects. Clearly, it makes a suspicious jump from the concept of a juridical person, implying a connection to the "regular" person. Like this:

I. A company is a juridical person
II. A company has only one purpose, making money
III. Any regular person with just one purpose is a psychopath
C. A company is a psychopath

So, the link between a juridical person and a regular person is missing. However, I still think that this is a very important thing to consider.

Why do the companies have only one purpose? Is it impossible for them to have any other goals?
Currently, everything in the business world is measured in money. It's a sort of utilitarianism, except the concept of "usefulness", "happiness" or "greater good" has been replaced with "financial value". Caring for the environment, looking after employees etc. is only useful for the company as long as it creates more money. Image loss, loss of work efficiency, eventually loss of good employees have such big financial drawbacks that it is simply rational to treat your employees well and not spoil the environment - at least in most cases.

What if nobody gets to know about polluting the nearby river? It creates no upheaval among citizens, it never affects the reputation of the company or it's sales! The motivation for behaving ethically comes from the outside, and that's not a very good situation... Well, we have the media for these situations, someone may argue. Look, I'm not very convinced about the supposed objectivity of the media. Believe it or not, but they can be bought as well.

As a conclusion, I only got so far as recognizing the problem with the one-dimensional point of view of companies. Ethical choices are hard to measure in financial terms, and the collateral damage argument really assumes a fully functional, objective media.

I'll try to develop the subject along a couple of lines further and see what I can come up with... If I tried to cram everything into this text it'd simply get out of hand and out of structure. For now, I'll leave you in the hope that all this at least managed to arouse your interest in this problem. Hopefully I'll get back to the subject soon enough.

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