Seeing the Good in Capitalism

I don’t think capitalism is the ideal social structure. However, it isn’t the worst either if done ethically.


For many years I have had this memory of my business law module starting with the idea that the first duty of a business wasn’t to make profits, but everyone I mentioned this to thought it had to be wrong; I am glad to have some validation for the idea that even within a capitalist model companies have a higher goal than making money for shareholders.

Beyond the immediate validation of my memory, this talk made me wonder if society is looking at the issue of legal personhood for companies from the wrong end.

Many people angered by negative impacts of profit-driven capitalism take arms against the idea of businesses and organisations being legally people, the idea they can have rights.

I have always taken a different stance: that the downsides of giving them personhood are outweighed by the convenience of being able to sue a company rather than only specific employees. But what if it isn’t a question of balancing convenience against disadvantage? What if instead of pushing against the perception of companies as people in their own right we went the other way?

Human judgement is very susceptible to unconscious association. We expect ethics of human people. If we make businesses more like people rather than less will we start to perceive them as needing to be as ethical as humans? Many legal systems already hold that a company can be negligent or criminal, but not getting caught is a less powerful motivator than the adherence to law most human people demonstrate without thought. By making companies seem more like humans, will the perceptions of their employees make them act more like it?

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