Is Wal-Mart virtuous, through giving and green initiatives, or is it mostly hype? More interesting is the general question as to whether forprofit organizations can be expected to sacrifice profit for a sustainable world. Simon London, in the November 23 Financial Times, in a review of David Vogel's new book, The Market for Virtue, suggests that while Corporate Social Responsibility may sometimes pay, it does not always pay, and that in a market economy, the CEO must be guided by profit, not virtue. Companies
are constrained by shareholders, customers, and employees alike. Market forces prevent chief executives from doing anything that might noticeably dent earnings, push up prices at the checkout or constrain their ability to pay market rates to attract qualified workers. Corporations can be virtuous in a market economy--but only within some firm constraints.
As Candidia Cruikshanks, CEO of Wealth Bondage, says, "I would like to be good, but I can't. It is the free market, Sweetie. My hands are tied. Don't blame me. I'm just doing my job. The market made me do it. Tralaa, tralaa!"
Firmly constrained by shareholders, customers, and employees alike, the market economy may be a Doomsday machine from which the only escape is the Rapture, leaving the rest of us to fight it out in the ooze for whatever oxygen remains. Nor can government save us. To those in charge, there is no tomorrow, as Bill Moyers says. And, it looks like they are right as market forces and governmental irresponsibility lead us to destruction.
What is the way out? To regulate markets lest they tie our hands, to raise taxes to protect the vulnernable, and to elect those who plan to be around after the Rapture to fix the mess they made. A good use of philanthropy is to help us get the word out, among ourselves, and to organize for social change. Otherwise, you just as well might walk around with a sign saying, "The End is Coming," or "Jesus Saves," and leave it at that.