I’m tempted to write the title of this post with a question mark, as it’s not always clear that corporations are good. On the macro level, corporations have been a huge boost to elevating human quality of life. Governments can be slow, incompetent and wasteful. Corporations move fast. They’re good at raising capital and achieving big things. They can also do great harm.
I’ve been employed by corporations for the past couple of decades, yet I still don’t consider myself “the corporate type”. Very few people do. It’s the safest way to go if you live in America and have to pay health care for a family of four or more. If solvency is your thing then somebody in the household better be getting that subsidized health insurance as part of a corporate plan. It would be nice if working for a corporation was the safest and the most ethical way to bring home the bacon. I’ve never worked for an organization that benefited the greater good, but in the next five years I’d like this to change.
What qualifies as beneficial? I’ve thought about this before and I’ll think about it again. A search for “beneficial corporations” brings up the usual lists of “best companies to work for,” and the companies deemed to have the most social responsibility. Topping these lists are the likes of Facebook and Google. This should raise an eyebrow. One could argue that Facebook and Google are among the least socially responsible companies of all time, as they maximize advertising effectiveness by unleashing uncontrolled psychological experiments on the entire civilized world.
Tech companies are always cited as being the best to their employees, but they also work their employees to death. If you work for a Silicon Valley company then chances are you’ve kissed that work-life balance goodbye. You might’ve even found yourself crying alone in your cubicle as you miss your daughter’s dance rehearsal … again.
Work-life balance is a term that should not even exist. It implies that work is not good, a contrast to life. In reality work is an integral part of life. But the kinds of work people do these days can be anti-human, unnatural. I know that words like “human” and “natural” can be ambiguous, but if a term like “work-life balance” enters the common vernacular then something’s not right.
Even if work-life balance at a company is excellent, the benefits these companies provide to the world is usually limited to whatever perks they give their employees. Some companies seem to have a guilt complex about this.
In the past decade or so it has become popular for corporations to ask (demand?) that their employees volunteer their time to a charity, to “give back” to the community. This is one way to define social responsibility. However, the term “give back” is suspicious. To “give back” implies something was taken, probably without consent. If a corporation pays taxes and fulfills its legal obligations, isn’t that enough? Why are these reparations to the community necessary? If the organization was doing something beneficial in the first place then all of this mandatory volunteering would not exist.
One peculiarity of our economic system is that really beneficial jobs don’t pay good money. If you hear about someone helping someone else then you’re going to assume they’re not getting paid. Childcare, elderly care, teaching, farming: they’re all essential to maintaining or quality of life, not to mention our survival. These jobs are often thankless, the most difficult and the least lucrative. Some (like stay-at-home mom) don’t pay anything at all. On the flip side, a hedge fund manager, a corporate lawyer, even an engineer working as a cog in the military industrial complex, all of these are worthless (if not harmful) to society, but the money is nice.
What if there was some way to accurately measure and qualify the value of helping people? What if this became the new currency? Why can’t we have a system that incentivizes the pursuit of excellence while also taking care of our own?
I’m still not sure what qualifies as a beneficial corporation. I’m refining the definition as I go. Maybe it’s enough for a company to take care of its own employees and leave it at that. For me, it would be an awesome step in the right direction to help people and get paid. I’m going to keep an eye out for opportunities. My next employment situation will be with an organization that’s doing some good.