The news is filled with misery these days, but I think the stories that depressed me most were two editorials in the morning newspaper.
Each defended the decision by Burger King to purchase a Canadian subsidiary and move its corporate headquarters to Canada to avoid higher American corporate taxes.
One was the newspaper's own editorial; the other was a column by Charles Krauthammer. They two came to virtually identical conclusions: Corporations exist to make money and corporate executives have a “fiduciary responsibility” to their stockholders to maximize profits.
Krauthammer even castigated Walgreens for deciding against moving its headquarters to another country.
Their voices aren't unique, of course. Since the days of the Reagan presidency the idea that the highest ideal of a corporation is to make as much money as possible has been the ethical principle of our fiscal system.
And from that principle has come almost every bad thing that has undermined America for the past 30 years.
Set fast-food hamburgers aside for a minute (does anyone actually want to eat a Burger King entree after seeing the company's weird ads?). Let's look at another industry.
You could make a case that the automobile industry exists to produce cars, not maximize profits.
You could make that case – until you read all the reports that General Motors put millions of drivers at risk – mortal risk – because the company was too cheap to replace defective a 50 cent part in its ignitions.
It's not just GM. Ford once made a decision that it was cheaper for the company to pay death benefits when its Pintos burst into flames than it was to fix the car's gasoline tanks.
But those are just tragic examples. The moral hazard presented by the “fiduciary responsibility” argument may, in the long run, be more important.
Because, the same logic that leads a company to forsake the country that enabled it to become profitable in the first place also leads it to pay its employees as little as possible and to remove any ability they have to seek better treatment.
This is Labor Day weekend, which is kind of a joke because our national policy for the past 30 years has been to destroy labor unions. One result is that the average pay for working people has remained – at best – flat for the past 30 years, while corporate profits have soared.
And, if a corporate CEO's main task is to maximize profits (again, as opposed to building safe cars or treating the company's employees as being valuable parts of the enterprise), then that executive might well also assume that he owes a fiduciary responsibility to his own family to make as much money as possible.
And so we end up with income imbalances that haven't been seen since just before the Great Depression.
At some point, you decide to cheat. The news reports these days are also filled with stories about the nation's largest and most prestigious banks paying fines totaling billions of dollars for illegal activities that almost caused a second Great Depression, resulted in retirees losing much of their savings security and cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their homes.
Not to fear. The banks will earn the money back in no time and their executives will continue to earn more than an hour than you earn in a year.
So, move to Canada, Burger King. Take those creepy ads with you.
But don't give me a lot of crap about “fiduciary responsibility.” You have a moral responsibility and a responsibility to the country that helped you achieve success.
And you're failing.
So are the opinion leaders who cheer you on.