THOUGHTS ON CULTURE AND POLITICS: Corporate Participation in Political Movements

Nike’s recent deal with Colin Kaepernick is just the latest in a series of corporations openly taking sides in the cultural and political civil war currently raging in this country, and Nike did so at the expense of its stock holders.  This move seems to have cost Nike some $3 BILLION in stock value in just a few days.  This got me to thinking.  It wasn’t really Nike’s money to lose.  Sure, Nike is a corporation, but it is publicly owned.  This means — technically — it is owned by its stock holders, so it was the stock holders who lost that money.  Which then lead me to wonder: if you or I were managing a company and we did something with that company’s money that cost the owner(s) $3 Billion, what do you think would happen to us?  Better yet: if we were hired specifically to maximize the profit and value of a company and we used that company in a way that any reasonable person would have known would cost the company money, and we did it just so we could make a personal political statement, what would happen to us?  Do you think we would get away with that?  The answer is NO!  It may be different for the board of a corporation, but as an agent with a fiduciary responsibility to my customer when I worked insurance, had I knowingly and intentionally done something that I had good reason to suspect would harm my customer financially, I would have been fired, lost my license and — possibly — even faced legal proceedings.  But no one on the boards of any of these companies that are currently using company funds and assets to further their political agendas is paying any price for losing their stock holders’ money/wealth.  Have you ever wondered why that is?

Then I kept thinking, and I realized that the people on these boards do not feel any guilt over losing their stock holders’ money.  In fact, I suspect they feel they actually hold the moral high ground here.  After all, they are ‘making a statement‘ or  ‘taking a stand‘ against the corruption and oppression of people who hold undeserved privilege and/or power in our society.  But what about their stock holders?  The board is supposed to act in their best interest, not the boards interest.  And yet, no matter how much they cost their stock holders — even if they lost half of their company’s total stock value — I doubt they would suffer $1 in cuts to their pay or benefits.  Nor would they lose their jobs, or suffer any legal consequences for their actions.  I suspect this is true because, so far, nothing has happened to the board of the NFL for the damage it has done by supporting the players’ protests.   Which leads me to this final question: if these people can just take the money their stock holders trusted them to protect and grow and throw it away to assuage their own consciences, or to push their political agendas; and they can do so without any personal or legal ramifications; then who — exactly — are the ‘undeservedly privileged and powerful‘ in this picture?  When I was in sociology school, our professors were concerned with what they saw as a growing ‘corporate elite.’  Well, I think we found them, and they are using our money to attack us, our culture and even our system of government.  In short, they are the people they claim to be trying to protect us from.

At some point, we need to return the controls over corporations to something closer to those of our Founders: where, no matter how many shares of stock one held in a company, every share holder had 1 equal vote and all share holders were held personally accountable.  Whenever the company broke the law or did something that opened the company up to civil suit, each and every stock holder suffered the same legal and/or financial fate.  When we return to something like this — a system where the people who run a company are held accountable for their actions — then and only then will all stock holders be treated fairly and equally.  It is very effective at keeping people honest, but it gets in the way of those who seek to gain through corruption.  However, until we return accountability to the corporate structure, stock holders will continue to be treated as little more than chattel on any given corporation’s plantation, and the board will continue to conduct themselves as the masters of their slaves (I mean, morally, the analogy works, so…).


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