Last week’s move by Chipotle is a great preview of how corporations may someday keep each other in check without tight regulation as they compete to outdo each other’s social impact. This entry is an excerpt from my book Corporate Empathy that you can read or watch below.
America’s Constitution created a republic and adopted capitalism as the political and economic systems by which our citizens, government and industries would operate. The freedom this provided allowed America to become the amazing innovative country it is today. During that time we have developed large corporations that are able to manage resources on a much larger scale than individuals or partnerships ever could.
We have given corporations many of the same constitutional protections and rights like personhood and free speech that we ourselves are entitled to. In that sense, capitalism is our child and we are responsible for its growth, development and actions, as well as the values it will operate by.
Preschool: 3-5 Years
Early in American history corporations were highly regulated and typically given very specific charters of what their purpose would be. In this time corporations were very much like preschool children with government playing the role of parent. Corporations did sometimes abuse the rights they had, but regulation would typically work to keep the abuse from being repeated. The overall system, however, allowed innovation to thrive leading up to the Civil War.
Grade School: 5-12 Years
During much of the Industrial Age, corporations were like pre-teen children. Our child was amazingly quick to adapt to new technology and learning but often defiant as it learned how to communicate and negotiate. Our child knows right from wrong but tests the limits of parents and other authority in an effort to find themselves.
It was during this period that unions and trade associations developed to help work with government to make sure that corporations stayed within the boundaries of human rights and the law. It is also the period of time when corporations successfully established themselves with many of the same rights as people using the 14th Amendment, which recognized all people as being protected under the United States Constitution.
High School: 12-18 Years
With the dawn of the technology revolution, American corporations have hit puberty and are going through the turbulent growth phase of adolescence. They are increasingly smart and embracing the exponential growth of technology. Like the average teen, they push the limits of authority as far as they can and only apologize and back peddle when caught.
In this period we have added consumer action like awareness campaigns, consumer reviews and boycotts to assist with keeping corporations in line. The Internet and social media have given consumers the voice they need to share information about companies and build movements to help drive change.
The current dramatic love/hate relationship we have in corporate America is very similar to that of a headstrong high school student, manipulating the system to their advantage. Our corporations are also exhibiting characteristics similar to someone with sociopathic tendencies defined as a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.
With the accelerated growth of technology over the next 10-15 years predicted by Moore’s Law, we are in essence about to send our teen to college for their bachelors and masters degrees and likely a doctorate for good measure. Like a college student, corporations must be able to self-regulate their behavior to survive on their own. We can no longer rely on the parenting of government, unions, industry groups and consumers to react quickly enough to the huge jumps in technology and innovation that are ahead of us.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, we as a country created and gave rights to corporations and are responsible for their development. A child with sociopathic tendencies who is mistreated by its parents, yet highly intelligent, will oftentimes become a psychopath.
We must push to instill empathy in corporate America to do the right thing in the same way we expect an individual adult.
You can purchase Corporate Empathy here.
Do you believe that corporations, like individual people, can eventually regulate themselves?