What Happened to the Moral Center of American Capitalism?


An economy depends fundamentally on public morality; some shared
standards about what sorts of activities are impermissible because they so
fundamentally violate trust that they threaten to undermine the social fabric.

It is ironic that at a time the Republican presidential
candidates and state legislators are furiously focusing on private morality –
what people do in their bedrooms, contraception, abortion, gay marriage – we
are experiencing a far more significant crisis in public morality.

We’ve witnessed over the last two decades in the United States a steady decline in the willingness of people in leading positions in the
private sector – on Wall Street and in large corporations especially – to
maintain minimum standards of public morality. They seek the highest
profits and highest compensation for themselves regardless of social consequences.

CEOs of large corporations now earn 300 times the wages of
average workers. Wall Street moguls take home hundreds of millions, or more. Both
groups have rigged the economic game to their benefit while pushing downward the
wages of average working people.

By contrast, in the first three decades after World War II
– partly because America went through that terrible war and, before that, the Great Depression – there was a sense in the business community
and on Wall Street of some degree of accountability to the nation. 

It wasn’t talked about as social responsibility, because it was
assumed to be a bedrock of how people with great economic power should behave.

CEOs did not earn more than 40 times what the typical worker
earned. Profitable firms did not lay off large numbers of workers. Consumers, workers, and the community were all considered stakeholders

Originally appeared at: http://robertreich.org/post/128336881225