It might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t done so, to learn that people who run major companies are not always the equivalent of Darth Vader or Ebenezer Scrooge.

Not all CEOs of major corporations, not even most of them, hatch plots to rob their employees of wages and entitlements, develop strategies to wreck the environment, or devise clever ways to rip off their customers.

But you’d be excused for thinking so. Big business has become the latest bete noir; a convenient scapegoat for all that is bad about capitalism, or corporatism, or fossil fuels, or the two-speed economy, or the tax system… and on it goes.

Tim Dunlop described another dimension to the evil empire today, in an otherwise excellent piece on the importance of civic engagement. According to Tim, big business has a secret agenda to create bigger government through increased regulation. I love a good rant, so here it is in full:

Look at how business people, despite their rhetoric, behave in the real world. They are no more interested in small government than they are in competition.

Do big players like Harvey Norman and David Jones welcome competition from the internet as the lifeblood of the free enterprise system they claim to love and then redouble their efforts to provide their customers with a better deal when it challenges their business model?

Don’t make me laugh.

What they actually do is demand government regulate the internet, or adjust the tax system, or change labour laws in order to neutralise the competition and maintain the status quo.

(And speaking of labour laws, that sacred text of small-government types, WorkChoices, while marketed as labour force deregulation was nothing of the sort. It was 1,000-odd pages of exactly that: regulation.)

Banks around the world didn’t just cop the market collapse associated with the global financial crisis as an example of the beauty of capitalism-as-it-actually-works. They sought to ameliorate the fallout of market forces they allegedly champion by lobbying governments to redirect public funds to their private losses, and they did it without so much as a blush.

Or look at how that champion of the free market Gina Rinehart responded to a labour shortage at her mines. She didn’t use the forces of the market to attract more workers by offering better wages and conditions. She did a deal with government to bring in guest workers from poorer nations overseas.

Rinehart’s freedom was enhanced, not by getting rid of government interference, but directing it to work in her favour.

And what of that other mining magnate and scourge of big government, Clive Palmer? Palmer so hates government that he is trying to get elected to it. He doesn’t want to abolish government or even shrink it; he wants to run it.

So here we have the thousands of big businesses in Australia tarred with the same brush as DJs, Harvey Norman, the banks, Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer. All of them are somehow manipulating the government to increase regulation and change laws to crush their competitors and enslave their employees.

Well, yeah, nah, that’s just not how it is the real world. Sure, there are some bad eggs amongst them but for the main part the people who run big businesses are good people like you and me, just trying to do their jobs as best they can.

Whether we like it or not, that job primarily is to provide the best return possible to shareholders. And remember, those shareholders include pretty much anyone with an Australian superannuation scheme – yep, that’s people like you and me.

Short-sighted business people look no further than this requirement – and the bad eggs amongst them are no-doubt focussed on profits at any cost. But canny business people know they have to do more than look after their shareholders if they want the company to be viable over the longer term.

These are the CEOs (and Boards) who invest time and money in their workforce, knowing that loyalty pays dividends in reduced employee turnover, as well as better quality assurance, OHS performance and company reputation.

The same head honchos know their company must be a good corporate citizen if it is going to be allowed to continue operating. This means meeting the community’s expectations as well as that of the government.

And it is at this point that I partly agree with Tim Dunlop’s contention that businesses can lobby government for more regulation. Some advocate regulation, not necessarily to crush competitors but to bring them into line with the standards of behaviour that are expected by the community. This is because a business sector, or an industry, will nearly always be judged by its miscreants poorest performers.

Which ironically is just what Tim Dunlop did in his piece today.

So in closing, let me say, yes I’m a conservative, yes I’ve worked for big business, yes I used to be a lobbyist. But this post is from me as an informed citizen, saying “Why do we beat up on big businesses when they create jobs and help keep our economy strong? Why do we tar them all with the same brush? And, isn’t this the same sort of intellectual laziness that we want to stop in the mainstream media?”

Postscript: Here is an excellent rejoinder to my post from @theMickMorris The Big Union Bogeyman

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Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Iain Hall's SANDPIT and commented:
    I share your sentiments about business and I found your piece most refreshing!
    Cheers Comrade

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  2. Ok, I promised opprobrium but given you are commenting qua “an informed citizen” I’ll back off somewhat.
    And I’m not sure that your position here really warrants a full blown repudiation anyways.

    In fact you and Tim are, in part, both wrong.

    The actions of CEOs as company executives must be separated from the beliefs that they may hold as part of the capitalist class from which they spawn. Public company CEOs are more than just profit-driven, they have a regulated responsibility to ensure profit (that is, as far as profit reflects share-holders’ interests, which invariably it does).

    This is not discretionary and sometimes that means they fight for regulation for the company’s benefit sometimes against regulation for the company’s benefit. Sometimes they consider social responsibility is valuable, sometimes it is not, or it’s not valuable enough.

    This statement, Drag0nista:

    “But canny business people know they have to do more than look after their shareholders if they want the company to be viable over the longer term”,

    is wrong in the context of a public company. You have to look to the Teutonic model stakeholder model of capitalism for that sort of behaviour.

    As for your questions:

    “Why do we beat up on big businesses when they create jobs and help keep our economy strong?’

    See this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKCvf8E7V1g

    “Why do we tar them all with the same brush?”

    A) The ‘brush’ is based on a businesses’ raison d’être – the pursuit of profit. It’s a fair brush. In fact a regulated brush.
    B) I don’t often see ‘good’ business standing up to fight against the bad business.

    “And, isn’t this the same sort of intellectual laziness that we want to stop in the mainstream media?”

    No. The intellectual laziness we want to stop in the mainstream media does not even pretend to destroy well-worn platitudes, such as ‘governments get in the way of efficient business’ or even ‘business creates jobs’. Tim was making some statements of fact about what the capitalist class continuously beat us all over the head with and what business actually does.

    The desire for small government is a load of shit that gets trotted out by think tanks, hack commentators and political populists – business doesn’t need or want small government they just want to control (and get someone else to pay for) a big one.

    TRXX

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  3. […] a bit different for this post…. An edited reply to someone else’s blog post.. As I read Dragonista’s nicely written post.. I couldn’t help but be struck by the dual ways in which the post could apply…. so […]

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  4. Oh Looky, a Limited-News Job application.

    The Administrators wish to confirm that: Hastie Group Limited (Hastie) is under administration; only the Administrators can deal with Hastie’s property and perform or exercise a function or power as an officer of Hastie; and quotation of Hastie’s shares on the ASX has been suspended.

    http://www.hastiegroup.com.au/News/

    Aussie workers jobs down chute? Workers accrued entitlements?? $3million transfered out of UAE legally?? CEO/Director`s Golden parachutes OK?

    Do I need to add the list of profiteers and looters from Iraq? The Mexico Gulf and Prince William sound Oil-Spill disasters?

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  5. I can understand where you’re coming from, but I think your generalisations are just as bad as Tim Dunlop’s generalisations. I’ve spent nearly all of my working career in the private sector in roles that have seen me spending a lot of time in board rooms as well as quite a bit of time as a senior executive.

    And although my experience is anecdotal, I have to say that I can only think of 4 CEOs/senior executives in my entire career that have been genuinely decent and competent people. Many have been pretty incompetent and a notable number have been sociopaths and psychopaths. In fact, in my current organisation, one CEO and 3 of his General Managers are sociopaths/psychopaths, 2 are utterly incompetent, 1 is a self-promoting narcissist and 2 are decent and competent. The directors range from mediocre to woeful and they think they’re just awesome. There’s a fair bit of talent in middle management that keeps the place afloat but has to deal with the childish meanderings of the top brass. Every day I feel like banging my head against a wall at the antics and sheer stupidity of the people running a very large company and despair that they’re paid a bomb.

    I’ve truly learnt that just because someone is on a huge salary doesn’t mean they’re remotely worth it – people get these jobs through networks, mateship, favours and deception.

    It’s an atmosphere that corrupts people – when you’re on big money, people defer to you, you eat out at nice places and someone else nearly always pays. The CEO of the last company I worked at, whilst he was cutting biscuits from staff kitchens as part of a cost cutting drive, used a company coffee card to pay for his coffees every day even though personal use wasn’t allowed, and he was the one most able to buy his own coffee. I could go on and on with stories similar to this about senior executives.

    That’s not to say all private sector executives are like this or even most of them, but in my personal experience most of them have been pretty egregious. I appreciate the positives of the private sector, the drive, the greater accountability (in some ways), the creativity, the risk taking, but it’s not the nirvana conservatives make it out the be just like it’s not the evil people-eating machine that Marxists make it out to be.

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  6. In the late 1990`s my relative worked in back-office bank clearing. The Directors of her previous employers company credit-card clearing came across her desk. These credit-cards were slush funds for Directors, all for personal expenses. These card amounts were in the tens of thousands per month. While she had to slave away on pretty low wages, these Directors got more than her annual salary, per month on the credit-cards, on top of the Directors hundreds of thousands or millions in salary.

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  7. There’s no doubt that executive pay got out of control in the 90s and noughties.

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About Drag0nista

Political blogger and columnist on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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