Was CNN blackmail a form of extended corporate social responsibility?

in economics •  2 years ago  (edited)

In my previous article about CNN blackmail and its causes, I pointed out that a surrounding hegemony can draw an illusion of a purpose that justifies questionable means, such as blackmail. Ideal ethical code of a journalist is close to devil's advocate. Apparently, rise of what some people regard as evil seems to be a condition that permits accountable people to give up that ideal. In the case of anti-Trump hegemony, it has nearly become a duty of many organizations to visibly state their contra-position against a commonly hated political figure. May this political signaling become a new attribute of futuristic extended corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to corporate awareness and efforts to contribute to loosely related stakeholders of the surrounding world. This modern trend that integrates social and environmental concerns into business divides positions even within ideological traditions. Left wing is normally skeptic about the interests and willingness of companies to contribute to societal issues beyond the core business. People inspired by Marxist ideas often imply that obeying conventional formal laws and shareholder interests is not yet sufficiently responsible. Thus, some of them may welcome CSR fashion, whereas others regard it as a cheap trick to continue the same exploitation as before. On the opposing side, free market thinkers may regard CSR as suitable development on the path of competition and market evolution. Consumers just set new requirements. Some of the free market people may also remind that CSR can easily turn out to be a non-value added activity and inefficient despite its good intentions. This is also a valid notion whenever activities of CSR lie far from the actual core competence.

It is not a new thing that private companies have been involved in politics through lobbying and financing. Many of them may even have had strong associations with certain parties and voters. However, this has used to be done in quite sophisticated and smooth ways. At least choosing a side and signaling a chosen stance has not been part of any corporate social responsibility scheme. If the recent (social) media trends of value signaling, sensitivity, hysteria, and feelings-based argumentation develops further, it would not be a completely far-fetched scenario to see companies getting more politicized. What I call "politization" here refers to value signaling and additional integration of political values into the products and services. Consequently, there is a difference between straightforward political lobbying and politization.

There are some other indicating examples also. Recently Elon Musk resigned from Donald Trump's business council over Paris climate agreement pullout. Some people used this as an example of CSR. Surprisingly, some free market people could be witty and show political left how private companies suddenly prove to be worried about common concerns (if you just ignore the fact that it is just pure self-interest of Musk who merely gains from several state interventions and green energy movement). Though, if we assume political ventures to be apart from the core capabilities of an organization, politicizing would be very comparable to CSR.

There is no single free market perspective to this issue. One could say that politization of business should be left up to markets. Consumers and institutional activists would eventually express their preferences to business owners and managers about what their companies should do. However, leaving something up to markets is too abstract answer for a specific question. Having views on how to actually utilize and even disrupt free or regulated markets is the reason why entrepreneurs and managers make money and stay employed.

More critical free market mind would remind several things here. Immediate market mechanisms only mean feedback and incentives for adaptation to given circumstances. In this case, adaptation would rather take place within a political mixed economy. Market mechanism itself does not initially include specific entrepreneurial content to be provided for the surrounding system. Wider trends can also take long times to correct. Furthermore, average politics does not have a credible track record of robust free market advocacy. Politicized companies would only make (non-desirable) politics more legitimate and strengthen its role in everyday life. Whereas the worth of non-political CSR could be analyzed through organization science and cost accounting, the effects of political CSR could reach far beyond organizational interests and remain more indirect for any measure.

I acknowledge the chance that this identification of organizational politization may be turn out to be a false alarm. However, hypothetically this is not apart from the bigger moral and practical discussion on the purpose of a business organization that we have seen after Milton Friedman's seminal 1970-paper The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.

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I agree this is a problem. One that may not have an easy solution. I can only formulate two ways to prevent this:

Make the "corporation" an undesirable business model (preferably in favor of a model involving 51% ownership by an accountable individual).

-or-

Don't let diverse corporations/businesses own media outlets.