Tuesday, July 31, 2007

As even a cursory glance at the chronology of this blog will reveal, I took a very long break from blogging, and the blogosphere in general. Nevertheless, after reviewing my initial posts, I've decided to make another attempt at this blog. It will be almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the blogosphere, and will focus on current events and varied extemporania (it will sometimes take license with the English language as well).

In any case, I'm going to jump straight to one of the topics that interests me most -- corporate social responsibility. As I see it, it is fairly clear that companies do things they shouldn't. Many on the left have claimed that this is an inevitable consequence of "capitalism". This approach conveniently clearly assigns blame and presents a solution -- dissolving the capitalist system, and replacing it with any number of better solutions. A still larger group attributes these problems to flaws in the capitalist system -- flaws which the government is best equipped to fix. This approach assigns blame to economic realities, and generally presents governmental intervention as a solution, barring actions by the companies themselves.
One last view is that the problem is cultural in nature, rather than economic -- even liberal consumers often buy from companies whose practices they disapprove of. This argument presents a counterpoint to the anti-capitalists, as it claims that issues in capitalism could dissipate given a more "enlightened" populace, and that changing economic systems might actually not alleviate problems.

Personally, I think all of these perspectives have something to add to the debate. To start, the anti-capitalists point out that capitalism has cultural problems, as well as economic ones. The race for "efficiency" justifies turning a blind eye to social consequences. The individuals who end up directing companies or investment may care little about "liberal causes".
The last group, the "culturalists", reply that although some elements of our culture are shaped by economics, other factors also play major roles. Companies act the way consumers want them to, and if consumers actually were interested in these topics, companies would be much more careful. This opinion makes sense. After all, companies are most interested in making profits, rather than achieving social goods. Reforming consumer attitudes, then, would probably have some sort of effect.
However, as the pragmatists point out, the economic pressures on companies are much harder to resist than the weak and divided pressure by individual consumers (which might even be attributed to other factors by companies). In addition, it is hard for individual companies to take action -- industry-wide concessions must occur. Thus, government involvement (which is, in a way, a reflection of cultural concerns) is a better solution, since it does not require all these different pieces to come together in order to be effective. However, governmental involvement poses its own problems, and is more subject to corporate lobbying.
In other words, like many issues out there, this is a complicated problem with no simple solution.


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