Op-Ed: Corporate social responsibility panel discussion

The corporate social responsibility panel discussion was held on Feb. 12 and was hosted by the Ashland University Political Economy Program as a part of the College of Arts and Sciences' biennial Symposium Against Indifference.


The corporate social responsibility panel discussion was held on Feb. 12 and was hosted by the Ashland University Political Economy Program as a part of the College of Arts and Sciences' biennial Symposium Against Indifference.

Deborah Fleming


One purpose of a liberal arts education is to inspire students to question assumptions, but the College of Arts and Sciences Symposium event on February 12 titled “Corporate Social Responsibility” was one-sided and did not inspire critical thinking. 

Jon L. Pritchett, CEO of Mississippi Center for Public Policy, decried the lack of history being taught in colleges and complained that, according to surveys, 50 percent of young people today distrust capitalism.  He then demonstrated his own selective knowledge of history by equating socialism exclusively with gulags and totalitarianism, yet European democracies and Canada have both a larger measure of socialism and greater liberty than the United States.  The unjust imprisonment of dissidents and suppression of free speech in the Soviet Union and China are well-documented, but Americans seldom hear about the oppression in capitalist-militarist regimes such as those of Battista in Cuba, Pinochet in Chile, Somosa in Nicaragua, and Marcos in the Philippines.

Mr. Pritchett dismissed economic recessions as “human nature,” lamenting that the media do not report on the “slow incremental benefits” of capitalism created by “free markets,” claiming that “where there is capitalism, there is prosperity”; that socialism promotes “squishy goals” (giving no specifics); and that only capitalism has made people well off or created wealth.  He and many others have forgotten that the devastating depression of the 1930s and the recession of 2008-10 were caused by deregulation and greed, not by socialism.  He ignores the fact that people are better off in most industrialized countries after instituting socialism where they have greater access to health care, education and the judicial system.  Great Britain after the war, for example, nationalized failing coal mines, railroads and airlines, brought them back to profitability, and returned them to private investors; in Ireland after independence, large estates were bought up and resold to small farmers.

The panelists invoked the exalted name of Friedman and his Doctrine, which says that the purpose of business is to generate profit, and that the most socially responsible action is to take care of shareholders.  They did not acknowledge that most recessions since 1929 have followed tax cuts that favor the rich and that the rapid recovery from the 2008 recession was due to the infusion of government money for bailouts and stimulus, following the model of John Maynard Keynes.

Mr. Pritchett stated that CEOs should be allowed to confer with regulators but made no reference to the fact that consumers and citizens should as well.  He ignored the widespread contamination of water, soil and air by unregulated toxic waste from mining, drilling and manufacturing.  Such misuse of the resources we all must share is a form of totalitarianism, since the people have no choice but to live under conditions that powerful companies impose upon them.  

Signe Thomas, Project Director for Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education at Florida State University, claimed that companies do good for society by creating products that “everybody wants,” but not everyone desires to be the servant of industries that engender dependency and promulgate propaganda (referred to as advertising) in order to create markets.  The fact that she works at a state university undercuts her message that private enterprise is the most effective institution in promoting benefit to society.

Josh Harrison, President of Improving Columbus, declared that in 1900, 80 percent of people were engaged in farming, while by 2020, that number was reduced to two percent, implying that this reduction in the on-farm labor force is a good thing.  He did not mention that two percent of the population is able to feed the rest not because of better farming practices but because factory farms have taken over a large amount of land, put small farmers out of business and created more pollution, soil erosion and wastewater runoff than small operations; that farming as a profession is closed to anyone who does not inherit land or have a substantial separate income; and that factory farms make widespread use of herbicides and insecticides associated with cancer and neurological disorders.

The panel was to be followed after several weeks by three events featuring the “victims of communism,” but no events were scheduled to feature the crimes of capitalism such as slavery, usurpation of land and theft of resources in colonized countries or dumping of toxic waste in third-world countries today.  No one mentioned the victims of capitalism in the United States, such as those who died from poisoned food before the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906).  No one mentioned that government programs must now clean up pollution created by private companies.  No one mentioned the widespread contamination of water on private and public lands by drilling companies.

I mentioned House Bill 6, which decimates subsidies for renewable energy while requiring every electric customer in Ohio to pay rates toward the bailout of inefficient coal and nuclear plants owned by First Energy, and asked what was free about a system that forces taxpayers to prop up failing businesses.  Of course, none of the panelists had heard of House Bill 6, which represents a form of socialism for the corporations.

Ironically, the panel took place just before the outbreak of the coronavirus, and once again businesses are coming to the government for bailouts.

The panel was an Ashbrook colloquium and should never have been advertised as a symposium event.