“Corporate Social Responsibility”

Rob the BusinessPundit has a post on corporate philanthropy that echoes my own sentiments:

I tend to err on the side of business and say that a business is only responsible for major, direct, negative effects of its policies (like pollution). My problem with making companies too concerned with social activities is that the causes they champion aren’t necessarily the causes I, as a shareholder, would prefer they champion. Why should they get to make the decisions about which charities get funding? Shouldn’t they give that money to shareholders and let them decide what to do with it? Ultimately, I wish these people that hate corporate profits so much would form their own non-profit companies. Let them figure out how to produce pharmaceuticals and computers and cars and everything else without using profitability as a guide. If they succeed, then great we will all be better off. But my guess is that they will fail. When companies follow profit, they follow what consumers want. Profit comes from satisfying consumer needs. That is social responsibility. There is a demand for solutions to societal problems. Over time that demand is being met. That is why a poor person today eats better than a king did several generations ago.

It’s worth reading in full.

UPDATE: Lex and I have a long exchange of views in the comments.

Bruce Schneier on Security

Lex pointed me to this thoughtful review of Schneier’s new book. I also noticed this recent column, which summarizes much of what I have learned by reading Schneier’s online newsletter. In a media world which sometimes seems to alternate between complacent ignorance and various hysterical warnings, Schneier’s contrary attitude, and his rational view of security as a series of cost/benefit tradeoffs, make him always worth reading.

Re: The Sociology of Idea Propagation

I now suspect that any body of work will eventually be misunderstood if it attracts attention long enough for the context in which it is read to be markedly different from the context in which it was first presented.

– Daniel Kahneman


Somebody calls the FBI about a young bearded guy reading lefty literature in a coffee shop. The FBI contacts the young bearded guy, who consents to be interviewed. Agents visit him and he is taken aback to discover that they look and talk like cops rather than ironic twenty something bookstore employees. They ask him some questions, explain why they are interested, and leave. He later telephones one of the agents to provide more information about what he was reading in the coffee shop. That’s it. Then the guy publishes an online column in which he frets about the dire state of our country.

His article is actually more revealing about his own dire intellectual state, and perhaps that of self-identified future journalism students generally. The person who reported him to the FBI may have been malicious or foolish, and most such tips about possible terrorists are undoubtedly smoke, but how is the govt supposed to know which tips are bogus? There is no alternative to checking them out. The FBI has done a lot of bad things but this isn’t one of them. If it really were a police state they would have done more than ask him a few questions and leave, and he probably would not have written publicly about the experience.

On the other hand, a published article about a run-in with the feds looks good on the aspiring journalist’s resume.

(via Politech)

The Sun King

This account by the Duc (Duke) de Saint-Simon on the life of Louis XIV. of France is quite interesting and in some parts also pretty amusing:

His natural talents were below mediocrity; but he had a mind capable of improvement, of receiving polish, of assimilating what was best in the minds of others without slavish imitation; and he profited greatly throughout his life from having associated with the ablest and wittiest persons, of both sexes, and of various stations.

Glory was his passion, but he also liked order and regularity in all things; he was naturally prudent, moderate, and reserved; always master of his tongue and his emotions. Will it be believed? he was also naturally kind-hearted and just. God had given him all that was necessary for him to be a good King, perhaps also to be a fairly great one. All his faults were produced by his surroundings. In his childhood he was so much neglected that no one dared go near his rooms.

His mind was occupied with small things rather than with great, and he delighted in all sorts of petty details, such as the dress and drill of his soldiers; and it was just the same with regard to his building operations, his household, and even his cookery. He always thought he could teach something of their own craft even to the most skilful professional men; and they, for their part, used to listen gratefully to lessons which they had long ago learnt by heart.

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