It's not the corporations, damnit
@karlong mentioned on Twitter last night: 'social media is probably the key to changing unsustainable corporate practices, corporations should work for us :)' which @kram followed up with 'If we could end corporate personhood… everything would change.'
There seems to be an idea that floats around that corporations should have some sort of social responsibility built in. While I agree with the idea that we should all have social responsibility, whether as individuals or working together in a corporation, there's a not so subtle problem that I see with this: corporations aren't people, they are a tax entity used to control assets.
Sure, corporations have rights and responsibilities, and they provide a layer of protection for the people who are running (and profiting) from the corporation. But corporations do what they do because of the decisions of people including management, investors, employees and customers.
Investors, employees and customers are three very different groups of people with different needs. Metaphors for managing these needs slide quickly to herding cats and designing by committee.
Then there are laws in place to represent the interests of these three groups -- securities and exchange laws for investors, labor laws for employees and consumer protection laws for the customers. This is a complex minefield that gets worse the bigger your company gets.
I'm not suggesting that criminals like Ken Lay or executive bonuses in the banking industry are okay -- these guys are individuals taking advantage of a very complex system of safeguards for personal profit. But so are union guys who take advantage of the system, or customers who sue for millions because they misused a product and got a bruise.
This gets down to individual accountability -- if we live in a culture of 'I'd better take advantage of the other guy before he screws me' then it doesn't matter if we're talking about corporate thievery or personal integrity because at the end of the day, it's the same thing.