Social responsibility only good as CEO

By Walter Williams

On Jan. 20, J.P. Morgan Chase announced it had completed research to determine whether it had any links to slavery. Its Web site announced: “Today, we are reporting that this research found that between 1831 and 1865 two of our predecessor banks — Citizens Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana — accepted approximately 13,000 enslaved individuals as collateral on loans and took ownership of approximately 1,250 of them when the plantation owners defaulted on the loans.”

J.P. Morgan Chase went on to “apologize to the American public, and particularly to African-Americans, for the role that Citizens Bank and Canal Bank played during that period.” They added, “Since these events took place in Louisiana, we are establishing a $5 million college scholarship program for students living in Louisiana.”

In January 2004, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle dismissed a reparations lawsuit brought against companies such as J.P. Morgan Chase, FleetBoston Financial and Brown & Williamson Tobacco that contended that either they or their corporate ancestors profited from insuring slave ships, using slaves or financing businesses built with slave labor. Judge Norgle said the statute of limitations had long passed the plaintiffs did not have standing, and they failed to establish a clear link to the companies they targeted.

The court’s decision comes close to a kiss of death for reparations through the judicial process but not through the mau-mau process.

Some corporations have chief executive officers who double as the corporations’ chief appeasement officers. A CEO/CAO will do nearly anything to befriend anti-capitalist forces, and J.P. Morgan Chase is seen as a soft target. Maybe that’s why the Rainforest Action Network, an eco-activist group, transported Fairfield County, Conn. second-graders to New York City in an attempt to pressure J.P. Morgan Chase CEO William B. Harrison into agreeing to stop lending money to development projects that “cause global warming.”
Corporate Social Responsibility Watch keeps an eye on the leftist attack on American corporations and corporate cowardice in the face of these attacks. Last year, CSRW listed the “Top Ten Worst Moments in Free Enterprise for 2004.”

Among those listed are Monsanto’s CEO Hugh Grant, who caved in to pressure from Greenpeace and announced the company was shelving plans to develop genetically engineered wheat.

Ford Motor Co. CEO William Ford Jr., in an effort to befriend environmentalists, publicly supported a 50-cent-per-gallon gas tax.

British Petroleum’s CEO John Browne devised a $100 million-a-year public relations campaign that characterizes oil as a “necessary evil” and in the process deceitfully started changing its corporate identity from “British Petroleum” to “Beyond Petroleum.”

Citigroup and Bank of America agreed to allow Rainforest Action Network to dictate their lending practices — such as not financing projects that don’t meet with environmentalists’ approval.

Also included among CSRW’s top 10 are Whole Foods, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble, which have been mau-maued into paying higher, so-called “fair trade” prices for coffee beans in the name of helping struggling farmers.

Do corporations have social responsibility? Yes. Nobel Laureate Professor Milton Friedman put it best in 1970 when he said that in a free society “there is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

Only people, not businesses, have responsibilities. A CEO is an employee. He’s an employee of shareholders and customers. When the corporate executive community fails to recognize that fact and engages in activities unrelated to the pursuit of profits, lower national wealth, higher product prices, and lower return on investment are the result. Corporate executives caving in to anti-capitalists’ attacks will not buy peace. Capitulation only whets anti-capitalist appetites for bigger, bolder and more widespread attacks and extortion.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He writes for Creators Syndicate and may be contacted at: