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Commentary: When Things Go Wrong, Corporations Need to Take Responsibility

May 6, 2013

Fresno State business law professor Ida Jones
Credit Fresno State

What happens when society fails to care about people? And why do our priorities as individuals differ so much from our actions as businesses and lawmakers? In this edition of Valley Public Radio's commentary series “The Moral Is” Fresno State business law professor Ida Jones says that uncontrolled greed and a civilized society are incompatible.


What does a civilized society look like? Isn’t it one where individuals AND corporations take responsibility for their own actions-good and bad? Isn’t it one where government representatives—our representatives—look at the big picture when passing laws? Isn’t it one where greed—profit at all costs--- has a lower priority than fostering individual health, welfare and happiness?

Throughout the past year I’ve talked about a number of issues involving uncontrolled greed and society as a whole. I’ve recommended that companies tie CEO pay to performance, not just what other executives are paid, and to close the pay gap between workers and their bosses. I’ve called for tax code changes so that when businesses are convicted of crimes, they can’t write off the penalties. I’ve recommended that government strengthen regulations on the finance industry to prevent future taxpayer bailouts, continue to recover funds from the mortgage companies who helped cause the crisis, and continue aggressive prosecution of those who violated the law.

These examples all involve the impact of uncontrolled greed on the economy and more importantly, on citizens and taxpayers. But the examples are also symptoms of a deeper problem - society’s failure to care about people. Now this lack of care is not found at an individual level. There are many examples of people helping people. A most recent example is the people who banded together to raise money to help the boat owner in whose boat the Boston Marathon bomber hid. As you may recall, the boat was riddled with bullet holes during law enforcement’s successful effort to capture the bomber. Numerous people—strangers to the boat owner--raised money for him to get a new boat. And people’s aid to each other is heartwarming during disasters, for example the public’s generosity after the recent fire and explosion at the Texas fertilizer plant and the outpouring of donations after Hurricane Sandy.

It’s not the failure of individuals that’s the problem; instead, it’s society’s failure to care for and about others that’s the problem. It’s reflected in lawmakers’ actions that permit greedy corporations to avoid accountability and to avoid responsibility. It’s reflected in business policies that reward CEOs with exponentially higher pay, even when they run their companies into financial ruin. It’s reflected in business policies that ignore employees’ need for a livable wage—something more than minimum wage—and employees’ need for affordable health care.

What does a civilized society look like? Isn’t it where everyone takes responsibility for their actions? Isn’t it where government passes laws that protect society’s long-term interests? Isn’t it where greed—or profit at all costs--- has a lower priority than fostering individual health, welfare and happiness?

I hope so.