Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Corporate Altruism?

I'll start by noting that I work for a large multi-national corporation.

My friend and gym partner, PJ, had a rather interesting discussion about corporate reality. I'm not sure if he would characterize the discussion that way, but I do. Basically, we ended up discussing whether a corporation could, would, should, have other motivations than profit. PJ contended that corporations should have other motivations. I felt this was an unrealistic expectation.

Now, to immediately deflect certain arguments, I want to be clear that we are talking about publicly traded corporations. I'm not talking about charitable organizations, governmental entities, etc. I fully recognize that a privately owned company may act based on the personal philosophy of the owner.

Corporations, like the one for which I work, exist to make money for their shareholders. All actions they take are intended for that purpose. This is even true of 'altruistic' actions by corporations. I'm not denying that the people who decide that a corporation will donate to charity 'X' may care deeply about the goals of the charity. However if there was no benefit to the corporation for making those donations, there would be no donations. Corporations undertake 'altruistic' actions, expecting certain benefits. Improved image, improved employee morale, and tax breaks are all very valid reasons why corporations undertake these actions.

I would go farther to posit that corporations are no different than individuals in this regard. We, as a race, only do things that meet our needs. All actions we undertake are intended to create some sort of benefit for us. Barring true psychosis, every individual acts for their own benefit. Mothers protect their young, philanthropists give away money, and masochists inflict pain upon themselves, all for the benefits those actions provide to them.

Corporate or individual, altruism is simply a way of saying that I do something for less apparent benefits.

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