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By Casey Chalk, Crisis Magazine, September 5, 2019
Financial analysts are swooning over the Corporate Roundtable’s new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” signed by 181 CEOs, including those of Walmart, JP Morgan, and AT&T. These executives have pledged to “lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.”
Ric Edelman, chairman and co-founder of Edelman Financial Services, called it an “astonishing development” and suggested this was the “most significant change in corporate America in 50 years.” The editorial board of USA Today in turn declared that the manifesto “right on the money.” Peter Gasca at Inc.com claimed that the Business Roundtable “just changed the purpose of business.”
At least superficially, these corporate elites’ new emphasis on all stakeholders instead of just shareholders does mark a notable shift—in messaging, if nothing else. In a 1970 op-ed for The New York Times, Milton Freidman spoke for most American capitalists when he wrote: “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” Gordon Gecko, giving voice to the secret faith of most nouveau riche, declared in the 1987 film Wall Street: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
Historically, the Business Roundtable has essentially mimicked this view. Each version of their working paper since 1997 has “endorsed principles of shareholder primacy.” According to their website, “the new statement supersedes previous statements and outlines a modern standard for corporate responsibility.” ….