Marjorie Kelly publishes the bi-monthly Business Ethics magazine. She reads from her new book, The Divine Right of Capital, Thurs Oct 25 at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, 5:30 pm, free.
And you are? "I'm Marjorie Kelly, and I have been covering corporate social responsibility for 14 years, and been discouraged at how little enduring progress we've made. I wrote the Divine Right of Capital to answer the question of 'Why is that?' Why are we making little progress? I came to the conclusion there's one answer: the mandate to maximize returns to shareholders. That is the only mandate that the corporation really focuses on. I also think there is an ancient, worldwide process of moving the world from monarch and aristocracy to democracy. But we've democratized only government. We've never democratized economics. And when you get into it, the parallels between medieval aristocratic worldview and the corporate worldview are just striking."
What are the parallels? "Well, they're both property-based societies. And in a property-based society there's really two categories of persons: You either own property or you are property. For example, when corporations are sold, the value of the employee presence is just bundled into the value of the entire company and is sold. That becomes very stark in certain cases. There was a case of company bankruptcy that [involved a company] that had really very few assets. It had a net worth of 100 scientists, and sold them. The manager of the purchasing company told The Wall Street Journal that the company wasn't worth anything to him without the employees. So he basically bought a group of employees. The second [parallel] is that in a property-based society only those who own property can vote. Only they are considered real members of society. That's true within a corporation: You have to own stock in order to vote."
In your book, you invent the term "wealth discrimination." "If you reduce wages and increase profits, you're doing what the company is supposed to do. It's supposed to pay employees as little as possible and pay shareholders as much as possible regardless of their relative productivity. The shareholders have zero productivity and yet they're being paid as much as possible. I call this wealth discrimination."