by Cecil Scheib

megapopeIt’s a truism: American megacapitalism sucks because it cannot plan for the long term. Without any ability to look behind the next quarterly report, the thinking goes, we lack the benefits of a long range planning horizons that accrue to, say, Japan, or perhaps Oxford University. (Sadly for all those who have retold this hoary old tale, BTW, someone has debunked it on Snopes. Oh well.

In any case, it’s such a firm bit of received wisdom that who can doubt it? Nevertheless, I was intrigued by a bit of radiojournalism that suggested that some of the Catholic Church’s appalling response to pedophilia can be explained by the notion that the Pope is taking the long view. He simply doesn’t care about this month’s polls. His institution has been around for centuries, and he expects it to be around for centuries more…so, who cares about the opinions du jour? You’ll be dead, and the institutional memory will outlive you.

Taking this to back to the topic of corporations, maybe we should be glad they care about how public outcry affects this quarter’s stock price. Imagine if they didn’t, and took the long view, and whatever they thought they could weather in the long term, they simply ignored! The corporation has every reason to expect to outlive you and me so in some sense we should count ourselves as damn lucky we can get them to listen to us at all.

That is, until we finally get the corporate death penalty…but don’t hold your breath.

3 Responses to “Be careful what you wish for (from mega corporations)”

  1. Re: the church and “long-term”. How about simply tone deaf.
    Re: the Corporate Death Penalty. If only…..

  2. Its sort of like how I remember things in college. The University knew that students would be gone in a few years so if the protest could be contained for awhile it would eventually go away because all the new kids would never have known anything different.

    I do think their could be some way to make corporations both accountable in the short term and long term, at least as far as bottom line is concerned. Maybe if they really make the CEOs get paid primarily in long term stock options they will start to care what the bottom line will be in five or ten years. Its still not 7 generations, but its better than 3 months.

  3. I realized a long time ago that one of the reasons that capitalism works so well (at what it does) is because of it’s short feedback loops. Really, when you compare capitalism to top-down socialism, it’s a vastly better example of chaos theory and self-organizing evolution. Capitalism uses the successful self-organizing systems thinking, with excellent feedback loops, that exist in nature. It’s biomimicry! Obviously, the basic assumptions, patterns and goals set up in our current form of capitalism are deeply, deeply flawed – but I think it’s key for progressives to realize what DOES work here and how it can show us some of what DOESN’T work in many of the commonly proposed alternatives from the left.

    Nature, however, has both short-term feedback loops and long-term feedback loops. Many of the eco suggestions for correcting capitalism (such as acknowledging the costs of pollution) hope to affect long-term change by adjusting the short-term feedback loops. That’s great.

    But what would some eco-focused long-term feedback loops look like? Is there a way to institutionalize those in capitalism? I would LOVE to hear anyone’s thoughts on this. Anyone more familiar with Paul Hawken than me?

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