How Investing Turns Nice People Into Psychopaths – Lynn Stout – Business – The Atlantic

4 Apr

… even though most of us are not conscienceless psychopaths, when we make investing decisions we often act as if we are. This observation casts an interesting light on Joel Bakan’s award-winning 2004 documentary The Corporation.” In that film, Bakan argued that because corporate managers believe they must maximize shareholder wealth, a corporation is a “psychopathic creature” that “can neither recognize nor act upon moral reasons to refrain from harming others.” To the extent this is true, shareholders themselves may be largely to blame. As University of Toronto law professor Ian Lee puts it, “if corporations are in fact ‘pathological’ profit-maximizers, it is not because of corporate law, but because of pressure from shareholders.”

The ideology of shareholder value drives corporate managers to make business decisions contrary to prosocial shareholders’ true interests. Of course, some shareholders may indeed be purely self-interested actors–psychopaths–who don’t mind if their companies deceive consumers, maim employees, or pollute the environment. But the hard evidence indicates the vast majority of us would prefer to tolerate at least somewhat diminished returns to avoid such results. And most studies find that SRI investing erodes investors’ returns only slightly, if at all. Shareholder psychopathy is neither natural nor inevitable but an artifact, the unfortunate outcome of collective action obstacles combined with the ideology of shareholder value.

via How Investing Turns Nice People Into Psychopaths – Lynn Stout – Business – The Atlantic.

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