Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

Can labor unions help civilize the economy?

Posted Apr 9, 2011 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

Responses to the corporate funded attacks on labor unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere have created new possibilities for turning our nation toward justice and sustainability.  Will we be able to realize these possibilities?  In other words, can our labor unions help civilize the economy?  I think it depends on how they frame collective bargaining.

Citizens United – You must be kidding

Posted Oct 9, 2010 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 10 Comments

It is hard to escape the irony that the Supreme Count’s decision on the Citizens United case has only united citizens against their decision. Whether corporations should be treated as persons, however, is not the real question. The question is whether they should be treated as citizens.

BP is not a bad citizen

Posted Jul 13, 2010 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 5 Comments

BP is not a bad corporate citizen; because it is not a citizen at all.  This idea of a “corporate citizen “is just a bad idea.  It doesn’t show much understanding of either corporations or citizens.  In Civilizing the Economy, I outline four aspects of a corporation or four ways we can think about them: as property, as a human community designed to produce goods and services, as an agent, and as a provider.

Let’s look at the idea that a corporation is a property first.  Obviously it is.  We can buy and sell them.  Milton Friedman’s famous essay that the only social responsibility of corporations is to make a profit treats corporations this way.  Friedman is not really talking about the obligations of corporations in this essay, but of the corporate executives who exist in an agent-principle relationship with the owners.  Corporations are the property of the owners, and the executive has an obligation to the owners.  Executives are essentially property managers.

What goes with what?

Posted May 14, 2010 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 12 Comments

Some words belong together, and some do not.  Most of us would not have any problem, for example, with the idea of a “church party,” but some might.  Kenneth Burke called our notions of what-goes-to-what our piety.  He believed that we are all pious to the degree that some paring of terms irritates us and some do not.

Just because something irritates us does not make it wrong.  Irritation is more of a clue to reflect than to stay with our initial judgments.  This actually works both ways.  Sometimes we have become so comfortable with the paring of different words that we fail to see that they don’t really fit together.  Then we need someone to irritate us.  One paring that seems to be on the way from irritation to a fairly comfortable notion is the idea of a corporate citizen.  Ok, I have to confess, I still find the joining of “corporate” and “citizen” somewhat irritating.

Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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