For Milton Friedman, it was simple. “There is one and only one social responsibility of business,” the Nobel economist wrote in 1970: to “engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” Companies must obey the law. But beyond that, their job is to make money for shareholders.
And Friedman’s view prevailed, at least in the United States.
Over the following decades, “shareholder primacy” became conventional business wisdom. In 1997, the influential Business Roundtable (BRT), an association of the chief executive officers of nearly 200 of America’s most prominent companies, enshrined the philosophy in a formal statement of corporate purpose. “The paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders,” the group declared. “The interests of other stakeholders are relevant as a derivative of the duty to stockholders.”
On Aug. 19, the BRT announced a new purpose for the corporation and tossed the old one into the dustbin. The new statement is 300 words long, and shareholders aren’t mentioned until word 250.
‘Total work’, a term coined by the German philosopher Josef Pieper just after the Second World War in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture (1948), is the process by which human beings are transformed into workers and nothing else.
By this means, work will ultimately become total, I argue, when it is the center around which all of human life turns; when everything else is put in its service; when leisure, festivity and play come to resemble and then become work; when there remains no further dimension to life beyond work; when humans fully believe that we were born only to work; and when other ways of life, existing before total work won out, disappear completely from cultural memory.
First, because inflation remains subdued – well below the Fed’s target of a 2 percent rise. The failure of inflation to respond as expected to low unemployment has led many economists, including those at the Fed, to question or recalibrate the old models.
One possibility is that the unemployment rate is not as good a metric of labor market tightness as it once was.
As Danny Blanchflower argues in his new book, Not Working: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone, there is still a lot of slack in the labor market when we look at other measures. Other changes in the economy – fewer unions, more global competition, an internet that makes comparison shopping easy, low expectations of inflation among businesses and consumers – suggest that inflation is not likely to accelerate to unacceptable levels any time soon.
With inflation subdued, the Fed can afford to focus more on the employment part of the Fed’s dual mandate.
Businesses ready to forge ahead might bear in mind three insights from restaurant chain TGI Fridays’ experience. Aiming to appeal to millennials, who are less inclined to linger in casual-dining eateries than their parents were, the company developed an A.I.-assisted system, starring social-media-friendly chatbots, that doubled its off-premises orders in a single year, to about $150 million annually.
Fridays did this by, first, starting with a relatively small part of its business—people looking to save time by ordering in advance—and working out any bugs before expanding the system.
Many ‘normal’ people suffer from not being hypersane: they have a restricted worldview, confused priorities, and are wracked by stress, anxiety and self-deception. As a result, they sometimes do dangerous things, and become fanatics or fascists or otherwise destructive (or not constructive) people.
In contrast, hypersane people are calm, contained and constructive. It is not just that the ‘sane’ are irrational but that they lack scope and range, as though they’ve grown into the prisoners of their arbitrary lives, locked up in their own dark and narrow subjectivity. Unable to take leave of their selves, they hardly look around them, barely see beauty and possibility, rarely contemplate the bigger picture – and all, ultimately, for fear of losing their selves, of breaking down, of going mad, using one form of extreme subjectivity to defend against another, as life – mysterious, magical life – slips through their fingers.
From ancient Athens to World War II, Winegard highlights key moments when mosquito-borne diseases caused militaries to crumble, great leaders to fall ill, and populations to be left vulnerable to invasion.
Carl Benedikt Frey, Ph.D., co-author of that paper and author of The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation says predictions around automation’s impact have become very polarized: Either you believe that the robots are coming for many jobs—leaving many with no employment—or you believe it’s going to change the nature of work.
Extremophiles tell us that everything we think we know about the fragility of life is wrong. Life is indeed extraordinary, not to mention precious and deserving of reverence – but not in any sense miraculous.
The word extremophile didn’t exist until the 1970s. It entered wide circulation only after 1979 when the US Navy’s submersible Alvin revealed ecosystems prospering in deep-ocean hydrothermal vents. The Alvin scientists discovered organisms living in superheated water and largely metabolising hydrogen sulphide, which until then had been thought toxic and incompatible with life.
Interest in extremophiles has burgeoned in proportion as scientists have come to appreciate their abundance, as well as their novel physiology. There is a journal devoted to extremophiles, focusing on creatures that survive – even, thrive – in environments that are extremely hot, cold, highly acidic or alkaline, and so forth, circumstances that would be lethal for most living things.
Environmental hazards multiplied as the city boomed, and with these ills came murderous social conflicts, vagabondage, sex-trafficking, gambling, political corruption and general criminality.
Epidemics swept the city every few decades, culling the most vulnerable. How did people respond to this lawlessness and chaos? How could they live in such an iniquitous and foul place?
In what might be termed the ‘Deadwood paradox’, bonanza brought out the worst in people even as it also provoked startling acts of liberality. It was, after all, the city’s generosity, its profligate piety, that brought Don Elias to Potosí, all the way from Baghdad.
The Habsburg kings of Spain cared little about Potosí’s social and environmental horrors. Potosí silver, for them, was an addiction: deadly and inescapable.
For more than a century, the Cerro Rico fueled the world’s first global military-industrial complex, granting Spain the means to prosecute decades-long wars on a dozen fronts – on land and at sea. No one else could do all this and still afford to lose.