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Are You Selling for a Corporate Sociopath?

In a comment to the post "Top 5 Highly Paid but Useless Corporate Jobs", I pointed out that "the only reason that most corporations don't launch profitable ventures that end up killing children is that it might result in bad publicity. Period." This spawned the following response from Sales Machine reader "Tajsf":

Corporations are sociopaths?
Wow! Where did you get very cynical view of business? Some business leaders and employees are out for their own but the vast majority of people are ethical and want to be proud of what they do for a living and the products they produce. Companies serve their customers or they go out of business.
Government regulates the crap out of business and the lawyers are quick to sue when they smell a problem. Actually Government is corrupt, lacks any morals and is closer to your description. Between Corporations and Government I will choose Corporations every time.
Well, let me answer the first question. I got that view of business from decades of close observation of how corporations behave. It's not me that's being cynical; it's you that is being naive. Let me explain.

What you say about "the vast majority of people" being "ethical" is entirely true. However, you're failing to distinguish between the corporation and the people inside the corporation.

Absolutely, most people in this world are well-meaning. But a corporation is not just the people in it. A corporation is a system that determines how the elements within it will behave. Corporations often behave in ways that the people within them don't intend, because the system reinforces behaviors that support the system.

The larger a corporation gets, the less the individuals in it are capable of influencing the behavior of the system. Very large corporations, for instance, often behave in exactly the same manner even when they spin through several CEOs.

While the people within such corporations may be very well meaning, the corporations only do "good deeds" when it's in their financial interest to do so and will "bad deeds" whenever it's in their financial interest to do so.

For example, companies only give to charitable causes when they can trumpet their contribution to the world in order to improve their brand equity. They only limit their impact on the environment when it improves their cost structure (e.g. saving energy) or creates positive publicity.

Indeed, a corporation that does something unprofitable just because "it's the right thing to do" (without some corresponding financial benefit) could easily find its top executives on the wrong end of a shareholder lawsuit.

That's exactly how a functional sociopath works. Sociopaths are perfectly capable of showing love for another person, but will only do so if it's in their own best interest. As soon as the opposite is the case, they'll stab that person in the back.

Some corporations have outsourced manufacturing to parts of the world where the supply chain includes child labor, slave labor, and massive environmental pollution. They've successfully covered that up by creating a paper trail of "corporate responsibility" reports from suppliers, reports that are never verified.

The top management in some large corporations know that they are doing this but, because they belong to sociopathic organizations, they are pretending that it's not true. Rather than digging into the supply chain and finding out what's really happening, they've created plausible deniability.

That way, they can act all surprised if and when the horrors come out. Example: when Steve Jobs was "blindsided" that Chinese workers were committing suicide because of conditions at one of the plants that make iPhones.

However, the real horrors of outsourcing supply chains almost never surface because nobody in the United States wants to know that some little kid in Bengladesh lost his hand so that a U.S. mail order company could include a dirt-cheap princess-themed toy in their Christmas catalog.

The reason kids are losing their fingers, and that massive pollution is ruining entire regions, is because of lack of enforcement of government regulation. That stuff goes on because the local governments in those countries are corrupt and in thrall to the businesses operating there.

So I agree with you the Government is corrupt, but I disagree about the cause. It's corporate money that makes Governments corrupt and unresponsive to the needs of the populace. That's why your viewpoint is so naive. You are still operating under the assumption that Corporations and Government are in opposition when, in fact, they're usually in cahoots.

Please don't think I'm complaining. Quite the contrary. Because I expect corporations and industries to act like sociopaths, I simply look at what's going on and take their behavior into account when trying to understand why companies behave the way they do.

In other words, I think I'm seeing things clearly, while you're operating under some fairly big misconceptions about the way the world works. Most large corporations behave like sociopaths. They have to, or they're not serving the needs of their stockholders.

The only brake on such behavior is sensible government regulation that is actually enforced. It's exactly the same with sociopaths; if we didn't have laws, they'd just do whatever they wanted or felt was necessary, including killing people, with complete impunity.

The key concept, of course, is sensible regulation. That can only happen when 1) the government is actually responsive to the citizenry who might be affected by the sociopathic behavior and 2) when the citizenry is educated and informed enough to put a government in power that represents their actual interests.

Since that's relatively uncommon, what often happens is that you get government regulation that's crafted to favor large corporations at the expense of small ones. A perfect example is Sarbanes Oxley, which creates a massive financial burden on small firm but costs chicken-feed for huge ones.

Unfortunately, we're current living in a situation where large corporations (notably the financial industry) have grown so powerful that they're subsuming the functions of government, creating a weird kleptocracy that can ruin the economy in order to make the people at the top of that industry ridiculously wealthy.

That has been allowed to happen because people like you have been convinced -- through years of political advertising funded with corporate dollars -- that government is bad and corporations are good. That money was clearly well-spent, since you've swallowed the story whole.

But don't feel bad because you've got lots of company.

From my perspective, people who are truly well-meaning are grateful when sensible government regulation restrains their company and industry from doing unethical things in order to make more money. Sensible people believe that sociopaths should be restrained by the law so that they don't hurt people in the pursuit of their selfish goals.

On the other hand, I'm sympathetic to companies that correctly see that it's unfair that they should be regulated when their competitors are free to pollute and hire slave labor and then sell competitively against them.

But that situation exists because large corporations have sold the idea of "free trade" as if there's a level playing field, because it's in their selfish interests to take advantage of the slave labor and unenforced environmental laws elsewhere in the world.

So here's the situation, my friend. The economy tanked and people are hurting around the world because sociopathic companies and industries looted and stole and defrauded on a truly massive scale, without the restraint of government regulation.

Because they're sociopaths and because people like you are enabling the sociopaths to act in ways that are good for them but horrible for the rest of the world.

Now, if I were selling, say, for a computer company, I would sell my products with a clear conscience, realizing that the deck has been stacked so that it's impossible to sell a computer that doesn't have "tainted" components in the supply chain.

However, I would also work to elect officials who would pass regulations requiring a complete on-site audit on a yearly basis (at least) of the entire supply chain for any product sold in my country, with criminal penalties for top executives found to be purchasing components manufactured under slave labor conditions or which cause pollution that results in loss of human life.

That would change the cost structure so that outsourcing was less profitable and less destructive, and also make manufacturing under regulations in my country more competitive. Unfortunately, such legislation will never happen as long as the sociopaths are able to convince the gullible, like you, that government is always the problem.


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