I was interviewed by Maine journalist Bill Green a week or so ago. We tooked a walk down memory lane — looking at old photos, talking about Maine politics, my early life and my involvement in the Reagan Administration. Interesting to look back on all this as I near 80… Watch "Bill Green talks with Bob Monks" (aired September 14)
Robert A. G. Monks, Corporate Governance Activist, Wins Frankel Fiduciary Prize
Endorsing Eliot Spitzer
I am endorsing Eliot Spitzer for Comptroller of the City of New York. The prospect of Spitzer back in government service is really exciting. Through his leadership of the several city employee pension funds, the Comptroller can be – in the tradition of Harrison Goldin, among others – one of the most important forces for responsible corporate conduct in the world.
Look, we all know Spitzer’s history but mistakes like that don’t mean the man isn’t a good public servant. History is full of public servants with private peccadilloes and we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of good government service because the politician has personal issues. We need his intellect, his tenacity and his ability to affect change. I am grateful for his willingness to serve; I endorse his candidacy unreservedly.
A Conversation: Bob Monks & Steve Viederman
Earlier this month Network for Sustainable Financial Markets and The Sustainable Investment Professional Certification hosted a webinar featuring my new book. It was hosted by Steve Viederman and we talked about topics in the books, as well as solutions and the current state of corporate governance. And, there was some excellent Q&A at the end.
The Political is Commercial: Washington's Revolving Door
The political is commercial — it's a play on the seventies slogan, "the personal is political." But it's true and it came to mind recently as I read Eleanor Bloxham's article about SEC Chair Mary Jo White and Washington's "revolving door." To put it simply: government jobs are worth something to law firms and corporations and so employees are dispatched to Washington for a year or two to further entrench the company or firm in government workings. When a lawyer or executive leaves their job for a year or two to take a government position, they expect it to be beneficial for both themselves and their company. It seems unlikely they worry about whether it's beneficial to the public.
There is a fundamental difference between the perspective and the view point of a public official and that of an official in a private company. And it is just right that they should be different. The difficulty we now face is that they been merged and the controlling consideration is what is in the interest of the private sector company. The government language and perspective is now dominated by corporate interests.
It's worth noting that this is the silent sister issue to corporate political spending. Even if we solved that issue by overturning Citizens United or some other method, corporate influence would still be a pervasive and destructive issue in Washington.
All of this brought to mind two anecdotes from my time as a government official in Washington and I share them on this video.
Discussing the book on Reuters TV
I was interviewed for Reuters TV when I was in New York last week. I had the chance to talk with Rob Cox and explain the theory behind Citizens DisUnited. It really was an excellent interview and I think he was able to draw out some good explanations behind the book. Whether you've read the book or not watch this because it is one of the best short introductions to the book.
Interviewed on Money Life
I had the chance to talk with Chuck Jaffe, host of MoneyLife and writer for MarketWatch. Interesting conversation and a bit outside his usual topics — all about the book and the effects of ownerless corporations. And, we talked about what people can do to begin to change the power dynamics around drone corporations… have a listen and see what you think. Listen here.
What is a Drone Corporation?
My new book, Citizens DisUnited, is based on the idea that corporations without involved owners (what I call drone corporations) have a huge impact on our society and are undermining our democracy. The presentation below uses data from the book to detail the effects of drone corporations. For more information,see my accompanying piece in today's Washington Post.
Absence of Ownership
I have a post about Absence of Ownership over at Big Think today — Have a look.
Privatization: Letting Foxes in the Henhouse
Recently I read Rachel Maddow’s book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (2012). I’m a bit late to this party, perhaps, but the book brought some issues into sharp focus for me. In particular, this issue of privatizing services – in the case of Maddow’s book it’s military services – that were once performed by our government. Now we pay for them. (Note: I wrote more on Maddow's book here)
In the Iraq War we saw the explosive growth of contract workers used for military and political purposes. The Washington Post wrote in 2006 that there were 100,000 private contractors in Iraq. But even before that we were moving in this direction. Maddow tells us that in,
1992, the US Department of Defense did a few hundred million dollars worth of business with companies like Brown & Root Services Corporation, which was owned by Halliburton with Dick Cheney as CEO. By the time President Clinton left office, the Department of Defense had formalized more than three thousand contracts valued at around $300 billion. The Pentagon wasn’t even able to state definitively how many private workers were on the military’s payroll through these contracts – estimates ranged from 125,000 people up to 600,000. (p. 174)
The Iraq War gave us a chance to see the process in a “real war” and it seems certain that we’ll see more wars and “conflicts” and “interventions” run this way. It’s a political win-win situation. No draft – because certainly politicians are good enough historians to have learned that lesson. And public willingness to support the war may have waned far sooner if young Americans from Main Street had been subject to a draft.
So, the brunt was borne by the consultants — about whom it has been pointed out were paid to take that risk — and there wasn’t any political hazard in it for the “deciders” in Washington. We have privatized violence.
And then there is the private prison industry lobbying like mad against the decriminalization of narcotics because quite sensibly they understand that if you decriminalize narcotics you won’t need as many jails, and that’s bad for business. A 2011 report by the Justice Policy Institute details the amounts of money spent by for-profit prison companies and,
While private prison companies may try to present themselves as just meeting existing‚ demand‛ for prison beds and responding to current ‚market‛ conditions, in fact they have worked hard over the past decade to create markets for their product. As revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration. (Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, p. 2)
And there’s the difference: government provides these services to meet a public need while corporations provides these services to make money. And the drive to make more and more money is ever-increasing. Either there has to be more demand for the service or they have to charge more for it.
Is there a clearer illustration of just how offensive privatization of key government services can be?
In a properly regulated democracy there ought to be certain functions that are operated by the government and the populace participates in – by voting, by first-hand participation and by paying taxes. But the accelerated pace at which we’ve been privatizing government services has redefined our democracy. Citizens can ignore the uglier parts of our system, politicians can avoid sticky situations and corporations can get rich as what used to be government responsibilities are subcontracted out to private parties. It is noteworthy that the private parties are a few companies who are owned by and run by people with political connections – it’s no mistake that these services have been privatized and it’s no nebulous military-industrial complex. It was the concerted efforts to expand corporate enterprise into government services.
And, we must have learned by now that corporations are not in this for the public good. If they were they wouldn’t be stashing money in tax havens, creating synthetic derivatives, pouring money into politics and stripping regulations that affect safety and the environment. The education and safety of American citizens shouldn’t be subject to the whims of corporations and the salaries of CEOs. We’re letting the fox into the henhouse.
A Stacked Deck: JPMorgan Shareholder Fight
- Sears pulled out all the stops to keep me off the board;
- After winning a 40% precatory vote to separate the CEO and Chairman at Exxon two years running, support fell to 30% when we changed it to a mandatory amendment.