V. But…Isn’t It Impossible?
With all that’s been said so far about Corporate Responsibility Rankings—about how the program would work, about the immense good that it would do, and about how necessary it is to enact it given the alternatives—there’s most likely one last sticking point for those out there who are considering it. But…isn’t it impossible? Isn’t it impossible to get this law through a perpetually dysfunctional Congress? Isn’t it impossible to even get it to the floor of Congress without powerful special interests crushing it first? Why should we even try? Shouldn’t we just stick to more realistic options instead?
These are fair concerns. On the surface CR Rankings can perhaps sound a bit pie-in-the-sky. But if we dig deeper, we’ll see that CR Rankings isn’t just a realistic option to combat Global Commons Motivation (GCM) problems like global warming and income inequality. It should easily be seen as the most realistic option.
CRR is Very Possible
To begin, there is great popular support for tackling the issues that CRR would address. Two-thirds of Americans are dissatisfied with the distribution of wealth and income in the country1 and 69% say the government should be doing something to close the gap between the rich and the poor.2 A record-high 65% of Americans (and growing) now believe that humans cause global warming, with 64% of Americans worried a fair amount to a great deal about the problem.3 Factor in a bevy of other popular causes (higher donations to charity, lower pollution, less job movement, better worker safety, and a smaller federal deficit) and CR Rankings would touch issues that a vast majority of voters support.
Those voters are also quite likely to support the way that CRR would go about addressing these issues. A recent survey of employees across twenty-four countries found that most of them “strongly agree” that companies should “pay more attention to the environment” (61%) and “do more to contribute to society” (52%).4 What’s more, a majority of online shoppers worldwide recently said they would be willing to pay more to buy from more responsible companies (55%).5 In other words, majorities of people want action on the issues CRR would address, want companies to be more responsible, and want to buy from more responsible companies. That spells the potential for broad voter support.
Of course, when a lot of people question whether CRR is politically possible, there tends to be something more they’re looking for than just broad support. Specifically they’re wondering about conservatives. Could they ever go for it? While we truly believe CR Rankings can and should appeal to everyone, there’s an undeniable logic to this suspicion. Conservatives generally don’t like business regulations. They also tend to fight legislation that decreases wealth inequality, and American conservatives have become famous for denying that global warming exists at all, much less wanting to do anything to try to stop it. At first glance a program like CR Rankings appears to be one that conservatives won’t like at all.
In actuality, though, there are many reasons to think a large number of conservatives would support CR Rankings. First off, many conservatives are concerned about issues like income inequality and global warming. A 2014 poll by Pew Research found that a strong majority of Republicans thought the wealth gap between the rich and poor had grown in the last ten years (61%).6 What’s more, almost half (45%) thought the government should be doing something to address that growing gap.7 Polls also show that the number of US Republicans concerned about global warming is growing fast, up from 31% in 2015 to 40% in 2016, a nine percent jump in just one year.8
Getting away from the stats, CR Rankings should also just make pretty good sense with conservative values. Think about what typically bothers Republicans about liberal initiatives. It isn’t that conservatives don’t want to do anything to protect the environment and help the poor. (Not most of them, at least.) It’s that they’re reluctant to protect the environment and help the poor at the expense of the economy. They don’t want to impose strict CO2 limits if such limits will hinder businesses, force them to lay off workers, and encourage them to pick up and go somewhere else where such rules don’t exist. It’s also why they resist a higher minimum wage, stricter limits on toxic chemicals, and closing corporate tax loopholes. And this is quite a fair concern.
But CR Rankings would be different. CRR is a market-based solution. Businesses would have to report the data and print the labels, sure, but beyond that they could do whatever they damn well pleased. Any new innovations to be more responsible—to more fairly structure the company’s pay tiers, to start donating excess materials to charity, to create an energy-saving passive heating system for the office—would be thought up and implemented by our businesses (not our bureaucrats) whenever and in whatever way they chose. CRR would just motivate businesses to do good. How they choose to do so is totally up to them. And the best part is that they would do this good for the world while being rewarded financially for doing so. If we’re going to fix the GCM problems that plague us, this is easily the most business-friendly way we could do so.
Conservatives should also support CRR because it’s fiscally responsible. The program stands to drastically reduce the federal deficit. How? CRR would encourage companies to a.) pay more in taxes, b.) pay their employees better, which should significantly reduce the cost of government aid to the poor, and c.) use fewer toxic chemicals, reduce workplace injuries, and make sure employees have ample time to exercise, all of which should all help reduce the nation’s massive health care bill (which includes the tax-supported Medicare and Medicaid programs). CR Rankings would further save us money by pushing us to deal with problems now that would be more expensive to fix later. Perhaps the biggest of such savings would come from climate change. The Council of Economic Advisors to the White House estimates that the overall cost of stopping global warming increases by about 40% each decade that we do nothing.9 By incentivizing our brightest minds to fix the problem of climate change now, not later, CR Rankings could save our country and the world huge sums of money, potentially trillions of dollars. For the compassionate conservative, those who worry about fiscal responsibility but also care about helping the poor and the environment, CR Rankings should make a lot of sense.
All told, CR Rankings should be quite politically possible. The issues it would address are widely popular, and it should even stand to attract a good amount of conservative support.
Our Current Approach is What’s Politically Impossible
Corporate Responsibility Rankings shouldn’t just be seen as politically possible, though. They should be seen as by far the most politically possible way to deal with GCM problems.
Before, we talked about the five common flaws that make other approaches to GCM problems weak. Two of those flaws—that they tend to be absolute and specific—also make our traditional approaches politically ineffective as well.
Let’s start with absolute. If you recall from Our Current Approach is Doomed to Fail, an absolute law is one that compares companies to one set standard. The minimum wage is set at $7.25 an hour, for example. It will stay at that exact hourly rate until Congress and the president change it by passing a new law. A relative standard, on the other hand, compares companies to each other. A company with a 9.2 Distribution of Wealth CR Ranking gets that high ranking because it distributes its pay more equally than most other companies.
The problem with an absolute standard is that it sits still in one place. In order to make sure things continually get better, though, and not just stay the same, you have to constantly change that absolute standard. And changing absolute standards takes an incredible amount of time and energy. In the best-case scenario, it’s controlled by a vast bureaucracy like the EPA that takes years to debate and pass any changes. Even worse, the rest of the time changing any regulation takes an act of law, one passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. Since the US minimum wage was first created in 1938, Congress has raised it twenty-two times with such acts of law. That’s a lot of work just to manage the lowest amount employees can be paid. And yet those passed laws are just the tip of the iceberg. Searching for “minimum wage” on Congress.gov (a site that catalogues all proposed bills since 1973) yields 5,283 introduced bills, 417 of which became law.10 And behind those many hundreds of proposed laws were scores of rallies, books, protests, speeches, and op-ed articles. Untold advocacy groups were founded. Many millions of dollars were raised and spent to push Congress to act. If that doesn’t sound like an exhausting enough way to change one little number, note that all of those forty-three years of work didn’t even increase the minimum wage enough to keep up with inflation. During that span its inflation-adjusted real value actually decreased from $8.51 to $7.25 (in 2015 dollars).11 That’s the political reality if you want to make change with absolute standards. They can be so slow and stubborn to change that we have to move legislative mountains just to try to keep up with a changing world, much less to outpace the world and push it to become better.
Protesters march in NYC in 2015 for a higher minimum wage, one of easily thousands of protests for a higher minimum wage in the US over the years.
The All-Nite Images/Wikimedia Commons
With a relative system like CRR, though, all you have to do is pass it once. From there it does the job on its own. Because companies would be compared to each other with CR Rankings, they’d have moving targets that would constantly push them to do better and better as these targets would rise. This quarter you may have gotten a Carbon Footprint ranking of 5, but as your competitors switch to cleaner fuels and increase heat efficiency with better insulation, you’d have to fight to keep up just to retain that 5. In other words, relative standards change on their own, elegantly flowing with the market. No constant updates would be needed from Congress for CRR to be effective.
Put another way, the difference between a relative standard and an absolute one is like the difference between a car that just drives on its own and one you have to get out and push any time you want it to move. Which one would you prefer? Because it’s relative, CRR is a vastly more politically realistic law to pass than absolute ones (i.e., almost all of the ones we currently pursue) because it wouldn’t require constant updates.
The second of the flaws of motivation that hinders a law’s political progress is its being specific. A specific law is one that more or less regulates one specific thing. For instance, CAFE standards regulate the miles per gallon of cars sold in the US. That’s it. A comprehensive law like CRR, on the other hand, regulates many things at once. If the headache of absolute laws is that they have to be continually updated, the headache of specific laws is that you have to pass a ton of them.
Just look at CRR versus its competing options. CRR is only one law. Just in order to touch all of the same issues that CR Rankings do with our usual specific laws, you’d have to sign historic new climate treaties, raise the minimum wage, set hundreds of new chemical restrictions, pass corporate tax law reform, increase overtime protections, pass a carbon tax, set aggressive new alternative energy targets, severely restrict the production of non-biodegradable substances, overhaul tax law in such a way that dramatically increases corporate donations to charity, raise taxes on the rich, create new tax credits for the working poor, push CAFE standards to much higher levels each year from here on out, pass new laws limiting the excessive transference of jobs to other states and countries, pass aggressive new water restrictions for agriculture and industry, pass new restrictions on upper-level pay for executives, and pass sweeping new worker protections with regards to pay, discrimination, assault, scheduling flexibility, chemical safety, and more. That’s dozens if not hundreds of laws, just to come anywhere close to what CRR can do.
So which sounds more impossible now? Passing one law or hundreds? And that’s just the specific part. The better comparison is between passing one law that’s good from there on out, and passing hundreds of laws that each require new version after new version after new version… Because CR Rankings are relative and comprehensive, getting the system enacted should be an exponentially easier task politically than to continue our current nightmare of pursuing laws that are absolute and specific.
But won’t big corporations and their money destroy CRR?
If there’s a fear more pervasive in politics than the boogeyman that is the other party, it’s the boogeyman that is special interest money. Money rigs elections. Money puts some politicians in office and knocks others out. Most importantly, money infects the laws themselves. It keeps important legislation from passing and waters down the rest. CR Rankings won’t ever pass because the businesses it would hurt will shell out millions of dollars to swat it away. And even if by some miracle CRR were to pass, those same businesses would hollow out the law first with changes made behind closed doors, changes that would render the law ineffective. It’s that simple. So why even bother?
This is another common and understandable concern. But it’s also yet another concern that misreads CRR’s chances.
Even though there’s a lot of evidence that money in politics is much less effective at drowning out the popular will than we want to believe it is, let’s for now assume that money is power. Even so, there’s a good reason to believe that power won’t crush CRR the same way it crushes so many other regulations. That reason is that CRR would create a zero-sum game.
Note that most new business regulations create clear losers but not so clear of winners. New coal-mining safety regulations and ordinances that forbid mountaintop removal, for example, make a clear loser of the coal industry. Such initiatives undoubtedly make business harder and more expensive for coal companies. Other energy companies, those that focus on natural gas or oil or greener alternatives, would potentially gain from any policy that weakens coal, but that win is a bit murky. Coal has many competitors. Its loss could mean that oil gets more business as a result, but maybe wind and nuclear do instead, or maybe natural gas, or maybe solar. From a policy standpoint this makes such anti-coal initiatives open to a mostly one-sided attack. Because coal companies are the clear losers, they’re going to fight hard to stop such legislation. Because the other energy companies aren’t so clear of winners, though, they probably won’t fight very hard (if at all) on behalf of the legislation. So if we think of the net force as the sum of all sides pushing in each direction, the net force here is pretty clearly pushing towards weakening or defeating the legislation because the coal industry’s push is much stronger than the rest. Thus, it shouldn’t be too surprising that such policy initiatives have a tough time getting passed.
CR Rankings, though, would have both clear losers and clear winners. Basic math tells us that the more responsible 50% of businesses out there will have higher rankings than the bottom 50%. Whatever the exact amount, CR Rankings should boost sales for those in the top 50% about the same amount as it will lessen sales for the bottom 50%. Therefore, the top half would be clear winners and the bottom half clear losers. Any relative system works the same way. Look at the free market or, say, football. If you count up all of the wins and losses in a football season, you’ll find they exactly equal each other. In game theory this is what’s referred to as a zero-sum game. The winners perfectly balance out the losers. That might not sound so positive, but if we’re worried about the corrosive influence of money in politics, it’s a great thing. The losers should want to stop CRR or water it down, sure, but the winners should want just as badly for it to pass and to pass fully intact. So what happens then? The most likely scenario is a net force of zero. The two sides and all of their money nullify each other, and CRR is left more or less unaffected by all the special interest money, shouting, and back-room manipulating. That gives CR Rankings a substantially better chance of becoming law than a lot of its progressive counterparts.
Businesses Should Favor CR Rankings
Beyond the zero-sum balance, there are reasons to think the balance should actually tilt in favor of businesses supporting CRR more than opposing it.
First remember that unlike most business regulations, CRR would give businesses almost complete freedom in what to do to be more responsible. It would also financially reward them for doing so. These two factors make CRR much more business-friendly than its policy alternatives, alternatives like raising the minimum wage and instituting strict carbon emissions limits, which are inflexible and likely hurt a company’s bottom line. As a result, pro-business special interests should lean towards supporting CRR over the alternatives.
There’s another great reason to suspect that more businesses should support CRR than oppose it, as counterintuitive as it first sounds. It’s that most cheaters want stronger regulations so they don’t have to cheat.
Protesters object to widespread PED use at the 2006 Tour de France.
Let’s explain. In many ways the irresponsible behavior of companies resembles the steroid use of professional athletes. In recent decades, incredibly stiff competition has pushed scores of baseball players, cyclists, football players, and gymnasts alike to take illegal, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) for that extra something needed to win. The part that may not be so obvious about it, though, is that not all athletes cheat like this because they’re deeply selfish and immoral. They do it because they have to. The idea is essentially that once a few bad apples start cheating with PEDs, the rest have a choice to dope as well or, by virtue of being outmatched by the stronger dopers, unfairly lose. Hence, a few crooked doping athletes turns into a doping majority. While Lance Armstrong has mostly been mum on his involvement with the elaborate doping scheme that helped him win seven straight Tour de France titles, he has since said that the race would have been “impossible to win without doping.”12 Given that the vast majority of cyclists were using some form of PEDs at the time (84% of riders in the 1997 Tour de France, for example, according to cyclisme-dopage.com)13 it seems pretty clear that he’s right.
In much the same way, stiff competition pushes some companies to make irresponsible choices—to avoid paying taxes, keep wages low, pollute more—all because it’s cheaper and therefore gives them a competitive advantage. And after the first selfish few start down this path, other competing businesses are then left with the same kind of bleak choice as so many professional athletes. Adopt these shady practices, too, or lose.
The easy conclusion to draw here is that all of these cheaters are a bunch of selfish jerks. The much more realistic conclusion, though, is that, sure, there are some rotten cyclists and CEOs out there (as with any profession), but most of them are reasonably good people just trying to do their best to compete. It’s just because the world doesn’t do a better job punishing the cheaters that they’re forced to cheat, too.
In terms of policing sports and business, this is an important distinction. Traditional wisdom tells us that any cheaters will resist stronger regulations. But that only makes sense if they’re all the immoral types who will play dirty to win no matter what. If most of the cheaters only cheat to level the playing field, it’s likely that they would prefer better regulation so that they wouldn’t have to cheat at all. In that vein, many Major League Baseball players have recently called for harsher penalties for those caught doping. Then-Atlanta Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur recently estimated that 90% of players in the league want stiffer penalties for players caught using PEDs.14 It stands to reason that most professional sports players feel that way, whether they feel safe to say it publicly or not. It also stands to reason that many if not most businesses do too, that they would prefer to have a system that better cracks down on bad behavior so they don’t have to do bad things to win. It stands to reason, in other words, that a majority of companies would support CR Rankings. They could finally be competitive without having to do bad things to get there.
What Corporate Responsibility Rankings Need is You
CR Rankings are very possible. They should have broad support not just across the population in general, but also among a lot of conservatives and businesses. Special interest money should not target CR Rankings for destruction the way it does for so many other laws, and if anything CRR should stand to get more special interest support than its alternatives.
That all being said, sure, there will be those who will oppose this system. And some of those people will have money and power. But there will always be people who will attack any attempt for greater economic justice and environmental protection, just as there always have been. That doesn’t mean that we can’t win. We humans have passed all kinds of laws in the name of fairness that didn’t seem politically likely at first. Public schools, the abolition of slavery, voting rights for women, the minimum wage, free health care for the poor. If all of that’s possible, shouldn’t one little product label be possible too?
It’s easy for each of us as one tiny speck in an endless ocean of seven billion people to feel powerless. It’s easy to feel like we have no say. It’s easy to look at a proposal like Corporate Responsibility Rankings and say well, wouldn’t it be nice… But pay much attention to politics and believe it or not you’ll find that there is hope. Because politicians are human, because what they ultimately care about is themselves and staying in office, there is a little known something that will sway most any of them into voting for a law. It isn’t massive amounts of money. And it isn’t the tenets of a rigid ideology, either. It is the will of the people. As naïve and Pollyannaish as that may sound, it is undeniably true. Politicians just want to keep their jobs, so if the people all support something, they will support it too for fear of being voted out. The same quality that makes many politicians seem so icky—their never-ending ability to flip-flop and change beliefs along with the latest polls—should be the source of genuine hope.
If one-by-one we pass on the word about CR Rankings until we conquer public opinion, politicians will fall in line. It only helps that any law that protects our workers, environment, and communities and helps our businesses thrive is a political slam-dunk. Add in the fact that the masses support it and any politician would be a fool to oppose it. The only missing piece, then…is your support.
So help make this happen by getting on board. Share the videos. Like us on Facebook. Talk about it with your friends. Volunteer.
We are the ones who decide what is politically possible. We are the ones who forge our own destiny. All it takes is to shake off the shackles of cynicism and fight for what makes sense, to fight for what is right. So join us in this fight. Let’s make Corporate Responsibility Rankings a reality.
1 Riffkin, Rebecca. In U.S., 67% Dissatisfied With Income, Wealth Distribution. Gallup, 20 Jan. 2014, www.gallup.com/poll/166904/dissatisfied-income-wealth-distribution.aspx.
2 Most See Inequality Growing, but Partisans Differ over Solutions. Pew Research Center, 23 Jan. 2014, www.people-press.org/2014/01/23/most-see-inequality-growing-but-partisans-differ-over-solutions/.
3 Saad, Lydia, and Jeffrey M. Jones. U.S. Concern About Global Warming at Eight-Year High. Gallup, 16 Mar. 2016, www.gallup.com/poll/190010/concern-global-warming-eight-year-high.aspx.
4 “Employees Say CSR Is Important.” The Holmes Report, 30 June 2013, www.holmesreport.com/latest/article/employees-say-csr-is-important.
5 Global Consumers Are Willing to Put Their Money Where Their Heart Is When It Comes to Goods and Services from Companies Committed to Social Responsibility. Nielsen, 17 June 2014, www.nielsen.com/us/en/press-room/2014/global-consumers-are-willing-to-put-their-money-where-their-heart-is.html.
6 Most See Inequality Growing. Pew Research.
8 Saad. U.S. Concern.
9 “The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change.” Executive Office of the President of the United States, July 2014, www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/the_cost_of_delaying_action_to_stem_climate_change.pdf. Accessed 4 Sept. 2016.
11 Kurtz. “Minimum Wage.”
12 “Lance Armstrong: 'Impossible' to Win Tour De France without Doping.” USA Today, Associated Press, 28 June 2013, www.usatoday.com/story/sports/cycling/2013/06/28/lance-armstrong-impossible-win-tour-de-france-doping/2471413/.
13 Chalabi, Mona. Is It 'Impossible' to Win the Tour De France without Doping? The Guardian, 28 June 2013, www.theguardian.com/politics/reality-check/2013/jun/28/impossible-to-win-tour-de-france-without-doping-armstrong.
14 Crasnick, Jerry. Francoeur: Players Want Stiffer PED Penalties. ESPN, 7 July 2016, espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/16869165/jeff-francoeur-atlanta-braves-says-mlb-system-dealing-drug-cheats-flawed.