Monday, May 17, 2010

Probably time to stop driving.

Once your company starts selling stock on a publicly traded market, your company's chief end becomes "make money for shareholders." Your shareholders can sue you if you don't. If you, as a CEO, decide to place the sanctity of nature above your profit, you are likely to be in hot water with your shareholders unless you can make a convincing case that the good PR will eventually reap rewards in future profits. If lawmakers are considering regulating measures that would cost your corporation money, it is your legal duty to your shareholders to fight it.

Clearly, the word for this sort of social structure is "horrible," but it is the existing structure of corporations that we tolerate today. Keeping that in mind, how can we possibly react to BP when they have a record of fighting regulation and as they seem to be preparing for only as much cleanup is required to maintain their business's image? If you were a legislator with the opportunity to speak with BP's CEO in a committee hearing, what would you say?

I might ask Tony Hayward if he recalls the assumptions of perfect markets, those that he must have learned in introductory economics. Surely he has fully internalized the theories of markets that rely on these assumptions, if he does not keep in mind their requisite assumptions. I might ask if he recalls the meaning of the assumption of 'perfect information,' that people deciding which products to buy understand fully the products they have available to buy, the processes used to create them, and the businesses that supply them. I would then ask about BP's advertising, in that they purport to be an environmentally friendly oil company, and whether or not it represents their actual practices. I would ask how they could be trusted with free market capitalism when they can use advertising to so easily undermine its requirements.

I'd also tell him that it's probably not the time to mix up gulfs and oceans in public statements.

Image is from Andy Singer.

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