The lie of shareholder hegemony

By Jim Hightower

Watch out, class! Here is our word of the day: “hegemony”.

The word describes a situation in which a force becomes the dominant power over a society.

Think of a bunch of schoolyard bullies. Like them, various types of hegemonies have arisen throughout history to rule local, national, and even global “schoolyards,” overriding other interests and subordinating the entire community to their will.

We Americans face a particularly virulent and plutocratic version of this authoritarian rule. This is called “shareholder hegemony”.

It is rarely mentioned by the mass media, not taught in our schools, and politicians almost never bring it to public attention. It cannot be seen, because it is not an embodied hegemony, like an emperor, a church, a cartel or an occupying army. Rather, it is an ideological concept, nothing more than a figment of the company’s imagination.

And yet it has become the preeminent force shaping everything from economic and political inequality to global climate change and your civil rights.

Shareholder hegemony is a doctrine asserting that the first, foremost, and only moral obligation of corporate executives is to maximize profits for their shareholders.

Absurd? Yes.

What about customers, workers, communities, suppliers, the environment, the nation, the common good and all other legitimate interests directly affected by company decisions?

“It’s not our problem,” say supporters, “because our strict duty is to do whatever it takes to make as much money as possible for those who own our shares – everyone else be damned. “

This grotesquely shrunken ethical standard was fabricated and enforced by a small group of insiders who constitute what amounts to a cult of Machiavellian corporatists. They number only a few thousand people, including CEOs, board members, in-house lawyers, Wall Street fund managers, lobbyists, right-wing think tank ideologues and school deans. of business.

Yet collectively, these elites have become the formulators and promulgators of the corporate order that now dominates our nation of 329 million supposedly sovereign people.

The ascendancy of corporate supremacy in America is no accident. It has gradually invaded us through the deliberate conception of financial interests.

Their big breakthrough came in 1970, when their ideological gibberish received a veneer of academic legitimacy from the reigning University of Chicago laissez-faire economics guru, Milton Friedman. He embraced shareholders first and foremost as an absolute truth: “Corporate executives, provided they obey the law, do they have responsibilities in their business activities other than making as much money as possible for their shareholders? ?” he asked, before answering unequivocally, “No, they don’t.”

Friedman surely chuckled when he added that sly qualifier: “provided they abide by the law.” As we have all learned, corporations write the law, routinely pouring millions of dollars a year into lobbyists, lawyers, legislators and judges to ensure that the definition of what is legal will stretch as a giant prophylaxis on virtually any corporate sin.

Indeed, in an astonishing display of the cult’s manipulative magic, in the mid-1990s it had elevated its position as shareholders first in public usage so widespread that it was seen as law: Enough Professors , CEOs, lobbyists, journalists, et al. had repeated the false notion of shareholder primacy so often and so emphatically that they managed to introduce it into America’s vast and empty treasury of conventional wisdom.

In fact, there is no legal basis for placing stock prices and business owners above all other interests. No national law requires it, nor any state law.

On the contrary, until the 1970s, when corporatists began to push their radical (and ridiculous) model of “shareholder capitalism”, a more humble corporate culture preached and practiced “managerial capitalism”, to balance the search for profits with business needs. various other constituencies.

The “shareholder” hegemony is in fact a hegemony of executives, directors and big investors who pervert the entire economic system to channel the rivers of income and wealth of our society back into their coffers.

To add to the irony, insiders who promote the fiction of shareholder primacy have simultaneously built walls, moats and barricades around their fiefdoms to keep shareholders at bay and prevent the company’s putative “owners” from dying. have a substantial impact on how and for whom it is performed.

The corporate cult has “fixed” our economic and governance systems in the same sense that vets use the term: they have neutralized the legitimate power of the people themselves to be sovereign over (or at least to have a say in) decisions that affect their lives.

This hegemony of corporate profiteers crushes the life of our democratic ideals. An “anything goes” philosophy now reigns in nearly every major corporation, and these self-enriching princes of plutocracy extend their unethical and hegemonic control over the rest of us.

Greed has taken America’s true ethics prisoner, and the wealthy elites are now calling the devil “partner.”

Populist author, speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing struggles of American citizens against the power of plutocratic elites. Register at

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