Facing Up to Inequality

Guest Blog by Hazel Henderson, Ethical Markets Media

My broader look at Facing Up to Inequality on a global level explored the erosion of jobs due to automation, the part-timing of the workforce in the “shareconomy” via Uber, TaskRabbit and the reemergence of guaranteed minimum incomes first advocated in the 1960s by Milton Friedman as a “negative income tax.”  Today, all these approaches to redefining work and incomes to maintain purchasing power and aggregate demand in the USA and other OECD countries are back on political agendas.  Arguably, the US tax code generates inequality and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) if ratified may exacerbate US inequality.

An interesting survey by JUSTCapital Foundation, inspired by Deepak Chopra and headed by Wall Street philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones both concerned by growing income inequality, looks at the USA through a new lens: asking people about corporations and whether in what ways they are behaving justly or unjustly.

The idea is to construct a ranking of 1000 publically traded US companies and then select the “Just 100”, as an index for investors.  Like some of our colleagues in the social impact and ethical investment movement estimated at six out of ten dollars in stocks by US-SIF, we questioned the need for yet another index.  However, this JUSTCapital survey released in September 2015 does break new ground in several ways, using innovative methods of Penn Schoen Berland, a research firm.  After defining the term “just” to relate to justice, they asked which general statement “is closer to your view”:

  • Corporations exist first and foremost to make money for their shareholders and if they do that well, everything else will usually take care of itself.

Or

  • Corporations need to balance the interests of employees, customers, shareholders, communities, the environment and governments.  Which is most important depends on the situation.

The results among investors and non-investors favored the latter statement by large majorities: 71% among high net worth investors, 76% among non-investors.  Another average 50% across the ideological spectrum agreed that “A corporation should get credit for being transparent about how it does business and for disclosing problems, even if its actions have had a detrimental impact.”  In the 70% average approval range across this spectrum, people agreed that “A company should get credit for improving the way it affects people and the environment, even if it still has some problems.”  A clear majority also agreed that in general “What is good for business is good for the country.”

In similar format surveys, our company and GlobeScan conducted 3 polls in 12 countries which found their publics agreed that wider balanced measurements of health, education, environment and poverty gaps should be used to assess a country’s progress – beyond money-denominated GDP.  These surveys on GDP were the first to reach beyond professionals and poll the people.  The JUSTCapital survey methodology included 5 phases: polling focus groups, as well as using phone and online methods.  These obtained statistically valid results.

After establishing their baseline data, the JUSTCapital survey honed in on 10 weighted concerns of the public across all demographics: income, education, political ideology and demographic groups from Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers and Golden Agers, including self-described values.  On incomes, 77% reported under $100,000 and 22% over $100,000.  On education, 62% reported high school levels or less, while 38% reported BAs upward to advanced degrees.  This provides a snapshot of aspects of US inequality, although most survey methods today still undercount populations in poverty.

The results in 10 categories of corporate behavior in the final surveys were: Employee Pay & Benefits, 15.8%; Employee Satisfaction & Fair Hiring, 15.2.%; Product Benefit or Harm, 10.9%; Human Rights Record, 10.0%; Governance & Profitability, 9.5%; Environmental Impact, 9.4%; Customer Satisfaction & Value, 8.1%; Community Relations & Charitable Giving, 8.0%; Corporate Ethics & Honesty, 6.8%; and US Job Creation, 6.2%.  Of these, 37.2% related to jobs, 24.3% to social and governance issues, 19% to products, 10% to human rights records and 9.4% to the environment.

My initial skepticism has now become interest in watching how JUSTCapital Foundation’s project unfolds.