The sophistry of “stakeholder”

Robin’s Book Report #52
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

Happy July! This is my favorite month.

Here’s my reading list for the week, please email me with what you have been reading or watching.


Reading list

Keywords for the Age of Austerity 2: Stakeholder” by John Patrick Leary

The word “stakeholder” entered the popular business lexicon recently. As John Patrick Leary tells us, “stakeholder” really comes from gambling, but is now being used as a word that refers to all the people who might feel the impact of a business (employees, suppliers, neighbors, citizens, etc). But I argue that while the shareholder value is easy to define, stakeholder value is impossible to define. Can you measure how happy your employees are? Or how much benefit the neighbors of a business operation are getting? Vagueness plays to power. “Stakeholder” sounds warm and fuzzy, but it is really an attempt by the owners of capital to get around the power of shareholders, people who have had the ability to toss owners out if they didn’t maximize their value. This in turn placed power in the hands of institutional shareholders like hedge funds and junk-bond corporate raiders. The newfangled use of “stakeholder” is really just a battle in the upper ionosphere of our society that probably means little to little people.

How Can Every Democrat Be a “Progressive”?” By John Patrick Leary (The New Republic)

Another nice semantic parsing by Leary:

“The problem with “progressive” isn’t that it is a label, but that it is such a muddled one—when Buttigieg, Nancy Pelosi, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can all lay claim to it, the word does more to obscure and camouflage their differences, than to illuminate them.”
What’s (Still) the Matter with Iowa?Unemployment “reforms” in Iowa and other states controlled by the GOP fit neatly with a larger agenda: not to protect workers from low wages, unsafe working conditions, and unbridled employer power, but to compel them to accept whatever they can get. By Colin Gordon (Dissent)

Iowa wants to clamp down on already restrictive access to unemployment. More assaults on working people.

Silicon Valley makes everything worse: Four industries that Big Tech has ruined

The tech industry sells itself as improving our lives. So why does it seem to always do the opposite? By Keith A. Spencer (Salon)

Tech mainly just added broker to transaction that previously did not have them. That’s the primary innovation of Silicon: butting in and extracting a little cash.

Lillian Ross’s Brilliant Chronicle of the Power Struggle Behind a John Huston Film” By Richard Brody

Lillian Ross’ Picture was a chronicle of doomed film. But was it because of Huston’s hubris or the studio systems meddling?

Semantic Drain and the Meaninglessness of Modern Work”

Stop calling your social media manager a “guru” by Oriana Schwindt

Schwindt suggests maybe the meaninglessness of words like “content creator” are a sign of how meaningless our jobs are in general.

Don’t Buy This JacketPatagonia elevates consumer restraint to an elite form of snobbery. By Phoebe Maltz Bovy (The New Republic)

Anticonsumption chic is the bourgeoisie’s new idee fixe.
Apple’s Newest Store and the Perverse Logic of Philanthro-Capitalism

The Apple Carnegie Library embodies recent developments in philanthropy that should trouble us By Benjamin Soskis (Boston Review)


Was Andrew Carnegie a better philanthropist than Apple? The new Apple Carnegie Library seems thoroughly stupid, but I’m not sure I am ready to venerate a tycoon just because one company acted more depraved and tacky. That being said, this new Apple store is truly disgraceful.

We Wrecked the Planet but if the Young Just Read the Washington Post, They Will Only Blame Us for the National Debt!” by Dean Baker

Paul Samuelson will have you think the national debt is all that baby boomers have left the future. But this isn’t totally accurate. There’s also crazy wealth inequality and a climate lurching light-speed towards danger!

Google’s Shadow Work Force: Temps Who Outnumber Full-Time Employees” By Daisuke Wakabayashi (New York Times)

Surprise! Google relies on a massive bedding of exploited temps:

“[T]he company’s increasing reliance on temps and contractors has some Google employees wondering if management is undermining its carefully crafted culture. As of March, Google worked with roughly 121,000 temps and contractors around the world, compared with 102,000 full-time employees, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times.”

I would argue that they aren’t “undermining” their culture, they are doing what every American company has done for the last fifty years.

“Contingent labor accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the workers at most technology firms, according to estimates by OnContracting, a site that helps people find tech contracting positions.”

Pretty obvious evidence of temps being treated like a separate, lower caste:

In their letter to Mr. Pichai, the temp workers said the company sent security updates only to full-time employees during a shooting at YouTube’s offices last year, leaving contractors “defenseless in the line of fire.” They were also barred from a meeting the next day to discuss the attack.
The Case For Small-Business CollusionHow America’s anti-monopoly laws got turned against the little guy.

by Phillip Longman

Should freelancers be free to set prices? A floor for wages? Currently they can’t, but why not? The interesting case of the organized organists and the FTC sheds light on a cruel interpretation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The New Deal Wasn’t What You ThinkIf we are going to fund a Green New Deal, we need to acknowledge how the original actually worked. By Louis Hyman

Good article, important for considering Green New Deal:

“The story about the New Deal we have in our heads—that it was tax-and-spend liberalism at its worst (if you are conservative) or best (if you are liberal)—may obscure policy opportunities today. We can spend taxpayer money to address climate change, and we probably should, but that is not the only option. If we are going to fund a Green New Deal, we need to acknowledge how the original New Deal actually worked.”

Guaranteed mortgages, technical support and loans to rural coops to electrify the countryside, sounds good to me:

“What’s more, once the REA demonstrated that rural America could be cheaply electrified, other entrepreneurs took notice. Rather than “crowding out” private initiative, government provided an example that worked. Most small businesses, then and now, are imitative rather than innovative. That is fine. Small business can replicate best practices rapidly through the economy, which is exactly what happened in rural America.”

But deep-down, what’s the point of government? It’s often directing, negotiating, and distributing power:

“Government power lies not just in spending, but in helping businesses overcome risk-aversion and finance new opportunities for growth. As we imagine policies to fight climate change—certainly as crucial as fighting World War II—let’s remember how the New Deal really worked, so that we can do it again.”

Man said he attacked officer because he prefers prison to homelessness” By Nelson Daranciang (Hawaii Star-Advertiser)

A homeless man stabbed a police officer with a screwdriver so that he could go to prison. He was tired of living without a roof over his head. The key to your new house is a screwdriver!

You can’t just put homeless people in tiny housesRather than confront America’s housing crisis head-on, some cities are asking homeowners to build tiny rental units in their backyard.

By Miles Howard

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