Posted by: Rick | Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Triad: A Brief Essay Wherein I Recklessly Dissect The Dysfunctionality Of Corporate America And Then Do My Usual Republican Bashing

The typical big business consists of three interlocking parts: the Corporation, the Customers and the “Me’s”.

The Corporation exists to perpetuate itself and to grow larger and more powerful in the process.  Its ideal behavior is analagous to that of Richard Dawkins’ “selfish gene” or — taken to it most nightmarish extreme — to that of the giant malevolent computer in Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”.

The Customers desire a certain product at a certain price accompanied by enough positive “intangibles” in the way of service to cause them to choose one Corporation over another.

The “Me’s” — the most important part of the triad — are people.  They may be Corporate shareholders, Corporate employees or Customers.  How the “Me’s” behave in relation to the Corporation determines how successful a particular big business will be.

The dysfunctional dynamic of the Corporate Triad works as follows:

1) The “Me’s” working for a Corporation — up to and including the CEO — are never really “loyal” to their employer.  That way lies madness, because the perfect Corporation would have close to zero employees, and the ones it retained would be treated little better than serfs.  (Such are the demands of shareholders.)  An employee can be “loyal” only to how he feels about his life as a cog within a particular Corporation.  Insufficient pay?  Insufficient psychic rewards?  No loyalty.  The employee will simply go through the motions until something better comes along.

2) Although the employee “Me’s” — both rank-and-file and executive — bear no ill-will toward the Customer “Me’s”, neither do they particularly care about them.  Why should they?  Notwithstanding the treacly propaganda tacked up in the cubicles, Customers don’t “pay the salaries” of the employees — the Corporation does.  Given this simple fact, there’s no necessary reason for employees — up to and including the CEO — to “look out for the Customer” (à la Bill O’Reilly) and in so doing to benefit the Corporation.  

3) The welfare of the Customer “Me’s” is of even less concern to the shareholder “Me’s”.  Why?  Because current customers are already customers!  Where’s the growth scenario in that static state of affairs?  Shareholders want to acquire new Customers — or, failing that, to at least squeeze some more money out of the old ones.

4) The never-ending need for new (or better) Customers often causes a Corporation with weak (or stupid) executives to pursue one hare-brained scheme after another in a frantic attempt to “win the future” and appease the all-powerful arbiters of Wall Street “success”. Bad ideas take on zombie-like lives of their own as the Corporation’s petrified “Me’s” find themselves dragooned into defending and implementing every ill-conceived “growth” strategy concocted by the Einsteins at headquarters.  (Anyone who’s ever worked for a large company knows what I’m talking about.  And any consumer who’s ever had to deal with an incompetent corporate bureaucracy probably has the scars to show for it.)

5) While in the long run (but see Keynes here) a free market may be an efficient way to distribute goods and services at reasonable prices, in the real world, people don’t interact with markets.  They interact with individual corporations.  And a corporation tends inherently toward dysfunctional behavior, often at the expense of its own customers and even of its own long-term viability.  Everyone knows this — whether they know they know it or not.

So. . . In the fall of this year, when newly-minted fiscally responsible Republicans begin calling for free market solutions to every problem, Democrats need to respond with a cold truth about capitalism: 

Its wheels grind pretty damn hard, people.  Do you really want to turn the public schools — or anything else — over to the head jerks at work?  Think about it.

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Responses

  1. You have an extremely misguided idea of how corporate America works. I will grant you your definitions (the corporation, the customers, and the “Me’s) because they are close enough that to argue the smaller points you’ve misrepresented would be counter-productive. Your analysis of how those parts interact, however, is severely lacking.

    You state in your #1 that employees aren’t loyal to the company because the company isn’t loyal to them. Not true. First, employees aren’t loyal to the company because people aren’t loyal. They will always decide to do what is best for them–so even if a corporation gave terrific compensation, awesome benefits, and truly “cared” for the well-being of their employees, employees would leave that company in favor of one that appears to “care” even more. Second, your statement that the ideal corporation would have close to zero employees and that the ones that remain would be treated as serfs may be technically accurate, but only in a cultural vaccuum. Any CEO worth his or her salt knows that this is not the way of the real world. In the real world, CEO’s know that they are in competition for labor and, therefore, in the pursuit of profit, must extend a manufactured form of loyalty and compensation to their employees. This may not satisfy your Keynesian sensibilities, but the motivation is unimportant. The fact is that most companies spend immense amounts of time and effort trying to reduce turnover by devising ways to foster feelings of loyalty within their employees.

    You further state in #3 that the shareholders care not for the welfare of the customer. You may be right in the fact that they don’t lay awake at night sweating over what any one individual customer thinks about them personally, but you are wrong in your portrayal of the bigger picture. Shareholders are out to make money. Money is generated by the sale of goods. Goods are sold to customers–both new and existing, repeat customers. This means that a shareholder who is interested in their own wallet MUST be concerned with the welfare and goodwill of the customers. This is the beauty of capitalism–it takes selfish motivation and uses as fuel for gains that benefit EVERYONE.

    Lastly, you are also correct that the wheels of capitalism turn hard. That’s a good thing because it breaks the weak over it’s surface and makes the human race stronger as a result. As far as turning everything over to the head jerks at work goes–the only people less qualified to run the world than those in business are those in government.

    • John,

      Another angle to this that you stated better than I would have (less run-on sentences, for one!) In general, I concur.

      What I find ironic is that the attack on capitalism and free markets actually plays into the hands of making people more like slaves. Example: wanting to unionize, wanting to raise the minimum wage, wanting more benefits, etc.

      This leads me to your comment:
      “It breaks the weak over it’s surface and makes the human race stronger as a result”. Those on the left will argue the inhumanity of this statement, as though Corporations bait, trap, enslave, and then “break” their employees. I would argue, in advance, that the corporation does none of these things and that the worker does this to themselves long before. Besides, where but a corporation can a worker’s work touch the lives of millions of people, and the worker ALSO be paid for it? Both of those things certainly serve the “greater good”.

  2. I like your comment that “the perfect corporation would have almost zero employees”. I would have to agree. Everyone would be a free agent and working under their own contracts exchanging their time and skills for a far better rate (it goes without saying that if an employee is paid $50,000 a year, theoretically they must be worth at least $50,001 to that company. In actuality, their “worth” is more like $100,000+)

    Unfortunately, the majority of the population prefers to be drones and invoke slavery upon themselves, abandoning the tenets of adulthood and making their company the new parent while they remain the adolescent child. They knowingly and willing discount their self-worth for the security (illusion) of a “stable home” where they can take orders from some stranger and live in servitude for the rest of their lives. They get what they ask for.

    In the meantime, instead of blaming themselves for marginalizing their own lives, they find it more easy and convenient to detest their parents for not giving them more, much like an adolescent child does who still lives under their parents roof for free complains about the food.

    Corporations don’t force people to accept a wage, nor do they force people to stay and work there. They are not “serfs” except by way of themselves voluntarily removing their own freedoms. To blame a corporation for this is misplaced, and is merely just medicine for these drones to console their wounded sense of self-worth that screams for them to do, and be, something better which only comes through risk – risk that most of the population is too scared or unwilling to take.

  3. Your comment: “So. . . In the fall of this year, when newly-minted fiscally responsible Republicans begin calling for free market solutions to every problem…”

    We actually agree here, although perhaps for different reasons. I don’t think ANY politician today has the right to talk about or call for a free market since it is they themselves who have prevented the market from being “free” by way of their intervention and sense of entitlement.


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