Businesses with Opinions

People get a bit worked up about AI. Computers having ideas seems dangerous. (Or adorably stupid if you read AI Weirdness.) We miss the point that the really dangerous non-human entities we don’t want expressing too many opinions are businesses.

Now, of course, the board of directors of any business is required to form opinions as to what is best for the business. Indeed, they cannot direct the business without doing so and they cannot report to the shareholders without making those opinions public. I’m not objecting to that. What they should not be doing is giving vent to the personal opinions of their individual board members on topics unconnected to the company.

What’s this actually about then?

Two things:

  1. Somebody shoved a “magazine” through my letterbox called “WETHERSPOONNEWS” (Yes, that is how they style it), which is a mixture of booze promotions and No Deal BREXIT propaganda from the pub chain Wetherspoons. It also has a picture of Nick Clegg on it, for some reason, which seems like an unwarranted act of aggression.
  2. A major company is apparently giving very highly paid sinecures to senior Brexiteer Tories at rates that are equivalent to thousands of pounds per hour of “work”.

These are both companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. As such their boards are notionally answerable to their shareholders. They are not meant to be the personal playthings of their chairmen, who seem to have forgotten that they are not actually sole proprietors.

Why is this a problem?

There are two ways of looking at this:

  1. The socialist view: Rich businesspeople should not be lording it over the general population, exercising arbitrary power like the worst sort of medieval Kings.
  2. The capitalist view: Rich businesspeople are employed by companies to act in the company’s best interests, not to abuse the resources of the company to advance their personal objectives which might not be those of the company or its shareholders. (You know? More or less the same reason why us plebs are not allowed to spend the working day pissing around on YouTube or to take our employer’s stationery supplies and sell them on eBay.)

I think that there is something in both of these objections but I’d like to focus on the second one. It is more specific and it seems to offer a route into deciding where to draw the line.

In this capitalist view, the shareholders are the victims. They bought shares in a company expecting its board to maximise shareholder value and pay them as much dividend as possible not to divert the resources of the company to their own ends.

(If this was a Contrapoints video this would be the point where Tabby would pop up to make a sarcastic comment about it coming to something when capitalists can’t even trust their minions to ruthlessly exploit the workers for maximum profit without getting distracted. She would have a point. And a baseball bat… A point and a baseball bat. Clearly the shareholders are not the primary victims here but I’d like to continue to explore this “in universe” from a capitalist point of view as it shows how the game is not even being played fairly within the capitalist framework that all those involved espouse.)

So, presumably, the shareholders of Wetherspoons did not explicitly authorise the board to fill what was meant to be an advertising pamphlet promoting booze and pizzas* with Brexit propaganda entirely unrelated to the business of the company? Nor did they authorise the company to piss off the 48% of the population (and rising!) who know a bad deal when they see it and who may feel even less inclined to get “pissed up in a ‘Spoons” as a result of knowing that it is run by Brexit Wankers™. (Hint: Advertising is meant to make people more likely to want to buy your products!)

Presumably, this Brexit propaganda is also seen by the staff in Wetherspoons pubs, some of whom will be non-UK EU citizens. I doubt that the shareholders authorised the company to bootlessly piss off its own employees and create a hostile workplace environment either. It can’t be much fun for non-UK EU citizens to know that they work for an outfit that holds them in such contempt. So, yeah, the shareholders are very far from being the only victims here.

And so to the sinecure payments to prominent Brexiteers. This reminds me of the controversy over “lootboxes”, wherein money is exchanged between idiots but it is very unclear what for. Those who prefer a more historical reference may recall that a “pig in a poke” was most commonly just a dead dog or cat in a sack.

The problem with paying somebody, say, £60,000 for, say, 20 hours of, say, “consultancy” is that the service rendered is extremely unclear. There are two separate fears which can arise in such a situation.

  • One is that the service is either non-existent or worth a lot less than the amount paid. In effect, that the salary is actually a disguised gift that, if paid more openly, it would be classed as a political donation and subject to things like election law.
  • The other is that the salary is actually a disguised gift with strings attached. A payment might be intended to influence the “employee” to behave differently in their other/real paid job, as a politician, possibly contrary to the interests of those who employ them in that capacity. You know? The voters? The polite name for that is a conflict of interests. Other, less polite, terms are available.

Now, I need to be very clear that I am not making any accusation in any specific case, which could amount to an allegation of corruption and hence should never be made on mere supposition extrapolated from some stupid junk mail and some media reports, and without any real evidence.

The people concerned here are all already very hardcore Brexit Wankers™ to the point where it is inconceivable that they could be improperly induced to become any more so by any sum of money. Nonetheless, it does help me to understand why so many companies put a clause in their employment contracts stipulating that employees must not work for any other employer concurrently without prior approval. It makes me wonder whether the same should also apply to MPs? The mere existence of a Register of Members’ Interests does not seem to have cleaned things up much at all.

So what should have happened?

These people are all already very rich and already have the tabloid press ready and waiting to splash their every idiotic utterance on their front pages. They do not need to abstract the resources of their employers to be able to afford to make themselves heard. If they want to spend their own money printing asinine Brexit propaganda then they can easily afford to do so. They should put their own bloody names on it though. Let the reputational hit land on them personally! Alternatively, they can do what even Donald Trump is bright enough to work out is a good deal, and spout off on Twitter for absolutely free.

But would this not stop all the companies who want to warn that Brexit will harm their operations and profitability from saying so?

No. Every company board is free to form an opinion on whether Brexit is good or bad for their particular company and to make that opinion public for the shareholders. Planning for Brexit is part of their jobs. Indeed, if there is any company with a board of directors which genuinely believes that Brexit will benefit that company** then I would encourage them to say so and explain why. However, I should warn that my motives for saying that are somewhat less than pure.

Oh?

I want a good laugh basically.

Which brings us to the real burning issue that nobody is talking about.

Which is?

What are we going to call schadenfreude after Brexit? Isn’t it about time we found a proper English name for this most British of emotions?

How about “Borislol”?

That’s as good as any other. It sounds like a brightly coloured drink that they might serve in ‘Spoons. Either that or a toilet cleaning product…

 

 

* – Proper British Pizzas, with proper British cabbages as the topping, of course! You’ll get none of that Italian EU muck at ‘Spoons!

** – And, if such a company truly exists, it would make perfect ironic sense for it to be one that manufactures equipment for digging absolutely massive holes in the ground. Actually, I suspect that a few such companies may exist but they are far more likely to be be things like Administrators, Auctioneers and Insolvency Practices. #BrexitToTheCentreOfTheEarth!

January 26, 2019. #Brexit, Counterfeit cabbages, Money, Politics, Sensible.

One Comment

  1. Rik replied:

    You’ve surpassed yourself with this one

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