In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff argues:
It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.
And here is what he suggests corporate America do.
- Go beyond shareholder returns and think about stakeholder return. He defines stakeholders as employees, customers, communities and the planet. He wants the Security and Exchange Commission to actually make it a prerequisite for disclosing key stakeholders. This is actually a much bigger deal than it seems, and it entails a rethinking of capitalistic values.
- He argues that choosing between doing well and doing good is not an option. A good, successful business must do both in order to thrive in the long term. Giving 1 percent of our equity, time, and technology to philanthropy is a simple way to start doing both good and doing well.
- He offers a common sense suggestion that is long overdue: close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act.
- Benioff thinks that instead of “opposing new regulations, tech leaders should support a strong, comprehensive national privacy law.” I think this is the weakest argument in the whole piece — we have to go beyond the privacy law. The key question to redefine for everyone (and I mean everyone — not just technology companies, and including politicians) is: How do we define an individual in this new era? And instead of focusing only on privacy rights, we must ask: What are the individual’s rights? I don’t think we as a society are actually thinking this way — capitalism’s single biggest flaw is that an individual is viewed as a unit for possible profits.
- Benioff suggests that this new capitalism must also include a tax system that generates more resources and includes higher taxes on the wealthiest among us. I have no problem with that, but we don’t have accountability structures built into our government. Accountability needs to be a part of a broader change. Most importantly, there have to be ways to close off the loopholes in corporate tax law. When individuals pay more tax than Amazon, you know the system is not working.
Benioff’s points are all very worthy of consideration and make for a good starting point for a broader discussion. He also puts his money where his mouth is, giving extensively to charities and working hard on reforming the local communities. Obviously, Salesforce is not without its warts.
I find his take refreshing, and I appreciate his willingness to go out on a limb — a rare trait in our Silicon Valley, where profit and success means people are willing to conform. As has recently become all too clear, even the smartest men are willing to socialize with pedophiles without so much as thinking for a minute about the long-term ramifications.
Benioff isn’t alone in calling for a new capitalism. Heck, even the Brookings Institution is in on the action, saying that “capitalism is broken.” Author and Bridgewater Associates founder and co-Chairman Ray Dalio has written a long piece on why this is so and how capitalism needs to be reformed. If you have not read it, you should. It is pretty elaborate and worth your time, because it digs deeper into the malaise offers an even more thorough analysis than Marc’s opinion piece.
But here is a bit that is likely to resonate even more with people who are suspicious of capitalists with billions. It comes from novelist Kazuo Ishiguro in his 2017 Nobel lecture:
“Looking back, the era since the fall of the Berlin Wall seems like one of complacency, or opportunities lost. Enormous inequalities – of wealth and opportunity – have been allowed to grow … and the long years of austerity policies imposed on ordinary people following the scandalous economic crash of 2008 have brought us to a present in which far right ideologies and tribal nationalisms proliferate. Racism is once again on the rise, stirring beneath our civilised streets like a buried monster awakening.”
Yup, that is enough of a reason for capitalism to redefine its cause and purpose. Whatever argument you buy, I hope you’ll join me in saying, “Sign me up, Marc!”
October 14, 2019, San Francisco