Thursday, February 4, 2021

The economic ideas behind the 'Great Reset'

Terence Corcoran: The murky rise of Klaus Schwab's stakeholder 'capitalism' and the WEF's Davos corporate plan | Financial Post:

January 22, 2021 - "For several years now the World Economic Forum [WEF], host of the annual corporate celebrity bash known as the Davos Summit, has been a driving global force behind a move to overthrow market capitalism and profit-maximizing corporations and replace them with a new economic model called 'stakeholder capitalism'.... In the words of Klaus Schwab, the 82-year-old German economist who founded the WEF in 1973, the existing corporate enterprise model, the shareholder version that has dominated much of the world’s economic progress over the past century, needs to be replaced. 'We need a change of mindset, moving from short-term to long-term thinking, moving from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder responsibility. Environmental, social and good governance have to be a measured part of corporate and governmental accountability.'

"With the U.S. government now under Democratic Party control, a reformation of capitalism appears to be underway. 'It’s way past time we put an end to the era of shareholder capitalism,' said Joe Biden when he outlined his platform last July.... An army of academics, consultants, executives and politicians is already on board the stakeholder movement....

"Schwab claims to have invented the stakeholder concept as a replacement for the shareholder version of corporate purpose most often associated with Nobel economist Milton Friedman. But in fact Schwab’s stakeholderism ... has a long and messy history.... Ending shareholder capitalism by merging private enterprise with government power is not a new idea....  In the United States, the idea ... reached a peak of sorts in the 1970s when Ralph Nader ... proposed a U.S. federal charter of major U.S. corporations 'whereby a government gives the corporate entity existence and that entity, in return, agrees to serve the public interest'.... Nader’s call for a U.S. government 'federal charter' for corporations was revived in 2018 by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She proposed an Accountable Capitalism Act that would force American corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue to obtain a federal charter.... Corporate directors would be obligated to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders, 'including employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities in which the company operates'....

"University of Calgary economist Randall Morck, editor of A History of Corporate Governance Around the World, sets the origins of legalized stakeholderism in Germany and the passage of the National Socialist government’s Shareholder Law of 1937. The law, writes Morck, 'freed corporate managers and directors of their specific fiduciary duty to shareholders and substituted a general duty to all stakeholders.' A paper in the 1938 issue of The American Economic Review described the new German corporate model as an application of the leading ideas of the German government at the time. The objectives of the law included 'protection of the interests of the public, employee and company by granting the state broad powers of intervention.' All forms of economic activity must observe the principle of 'public welfare before individual gain.' Beyond Germany, during the early years of the 20th century, many theorists and corporate executives embraced stakeholderism....

"The current effort to 'put an end to the era of shareholder capitalism,' as Biden said, aims to undo the free-market foundations of shareholder capitalism.... 'We must move on from neoliberalism in the post-COVID era,' says Schwab. We need to abandon the 'sacred cows,' such as 'free-market fundamentalism,' ...'start to build institutional platforms for public-private co-operation.' In his new book ... Schwab lists the four key power sectors that would sit at the corporate governance table: governments, civil society, corporations, and such international organizations as the United Nations. In that model, shareholders are likely to end up standing in line behind stakeholders — and stateholders.

"Shareholders are already taking a back seat. Corporate managers today fund the arts, finance political parties, give to charities, declare their climate-change activism and set up multimillion-dollar foundations that sponsor radical environmentalism. Supporters of the stakeholder movement include major institutional investors, accounting organizations, agencies and giant consultancies seeking to cash in on the corporate need for advice.... Canada’s top government-based pension plans, from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan — the country’s largest shareholders — are now backing the stakeholder movement....

"Overhanging the stakeholder juggernaut is the total absence of any method to measure the performance of stakeholder governance. Randall Morck at the University of Calgary argues that loading multiple social and political responsibilities ... on to corporate executives and boards would likely lead to gross distortions in corporate decision-making at the expense of shareholders. 'Presented with a multitude of objectives, the decision-maker ends up focusing on none. Thus, with no way to keep score, stakeholder theory leaves top corporate managers unaccountable for their actions'....

"Two Harvard law professors — Lucian Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita — recently described what they refer to as 'The Illusory Promise of Stakeholder Governance.' Stakeholderism, they conclude, 'would insulate corporate leaders from shareholder pressures and make them less accountable.” Even more bluntly, Bebchuk and Tallarita argue that the rise in support for stakeholderism among corporate leaders and their advisors 'is motivated, at least in part, by a desire to obtain insulation from hedge fund activists and institutional investors. In other words, they seek to advance managerialism by putting it in stakeholder’s clothing.' The result would be detrimental to shareholders and the economy. It would also, they add, undermine the achievement of stakeholder objectives. 'For those interested in addressing corporate externalities and protecting corporate stakeholders, embracing stakeholderism would be counterproductive.'

"Scholarship on the purpose of corporations dates back centuries, but the current prevalence of 'stakeholder capitalism' theory in law, economics and politics is an affront to fundamental principles. How can they call it 'capitalism' when the result would be the destruction of capitalism as we know it? Call it what it is: Stateholderism. That seems to be the plan."

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  1. In the 1930s, Benito Mussolini “El Duce” introduced a similar form of Crony Capitalism which enabled him to secure the political support and the productive capacities of Italy’s largest corporations in exchange for the privileges (“favours”) he could bestow on them in their business operations. It was very good for business to have “El Duce” as the friend of those corporate leaders and they were all eager to get chummy with that great man.

    Cronyism has taken many forms over the last century as had its ideological cousins Communism and Democratic Socialism. They all have one thing in common - that force is needed for them to succeed in their regimes. Libertarianism is the ideological opposite - it require one thing for it to succeed in a civil society - voluntary cooperation between all participants.

  2. I agree with the need to shift to longer-term thinking, as all too often, short-term thinking has created the problems we have. I also do wonder if more mind can be paid to other parts of the equation without harming the others, although the question of harm does not seem to enter into the equation with this proposal.

    The problem, however, is the short-term thinking is forced by the very same big charities, pensions, and other mega-investors that want all the money yesterday are now signing on this new/old concept, pioneered by a (thankfully) failed political, social and economic experiment that ended up killing millions and causing hundreds of billions of 1945 dollars in damage globally.

    I see nothing but a way to further stack the deck, and concentrate rent-seeking and influence peddling by a select few people and groups.

    In net, this "stakeholder governance" would become, in all likelihood, even more problematic.