I AM Doing Good

I accidentally watched a few minutes of a morning show today, something I try really hard to avoid.  Matt whats-his-name was interviewing Richard Branson, and they were talking about the importance of corporations "doing good".  Once startups get going, Branson said, they need to start doing good for people, meaning I guess that they buy carbon offsets or something.

Guess what?  If my startup is succesful, I am already doing good.  I can't make a dime unless I create value for people net of what they pay me.  Every customer walks away from our interaction better off, or they would not have voluntarily elected to trade with me (and if they are not better off, I will never see them again and I will find lots of nasty stuff chasing future customers away on the Internet.)  I am tired of this notion that a succesful business person's value can only be judged by what he or she does with their money and time outside of business.  I understand the frustration with a few Wall Street and GE-type executives who are living like fat ticks on their connections with government, but most of us only are succesful if we do something useful.

This, from Carpe Diem, is along the same lines.  He looks at an editorial from the DC paper about the entry of Walmart, which says among other things

Despite the peacocking by Gray and others after the agreement was signed, the District is receiving mostly crumbs. Walmart has committed to providing $21 million in charitable donations over the next seven years, an average of $3 million a year. That's a pittance."

Walmart does not have to do squat for the community beyond its core business, because selling  a broad range of goods conviniently and at really low prices is enough. Or if it is not enough, they will not make money.  The promise of $21 million to some boondoggle controlled by a  few politician's friends is just a distraction, I wish they had not done it, but I understand that this is essentially a bribe to the officials of the DC banana republic to let them do business.

Postscript:  I have no problem with doing charitable work outside of work.  Both my company and I do, by choice, though unlike Richard Branson I don't need to have a crew of paid PR agents making sure everyone knows it.

  • http://tjic.com TJIC

    Well said.

    The two businesses I run aren't teaching the illiterate to read or saving dolphins, but they're creating true value in the world. If they weren't I wouldn't have customers. Teaching people to weld, or cut dovetails, or helping them discover new graphic novels isn't magical or huge, but it is something.

    If free people choose to use your service, you're improving the world.

  • Sean

    Branson is the other side of the coin from BP Petroleum. One uses tremendous amounts of fossil fuels and the other extracts and distributes fossil fuels. Yet they both spend a great deal of money polishing a green facade to make them look like good guys to the eco-conscious folks out there. The funny thing is, what they say seems to matter more than what they do.

  • frankania

    Walmart was very welcome here in Veracruz, Mexico, when they arrived 6 or 8 years ago.

    In Mexico there is an old tradition of friendly "price fixing" in which competing stores try not to undercut their rivals. It was even true BEFORE the Spaniards arrived in 1519. The Aztecs had "pochtecas" which were govt. inspectors milling around in the market places to make sure that prices were "right".

    When Walmart came here, they undercut MANY prices on staple items and exotic; the result is that we got a lot more for our shopping peso than before Walmart.

  • Walmart Hater

    "Walmart does not have to do squat for the community beyond its core business, because selling a broad range of goods conviniently and at really low prices is enough."

    Is it too much too ask that they stop enslaving people?

  • JKB

    “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”
    - Milton Friedman

    The "doing good", "giving back" con is just that, a scam to extort money. Isn't interesting who controls the "non-profits" who are on the approved list? And, of course, non-profit simply means, in these cases, that that the senior people take the money that would have been called profit, reinvested or distributed to investors, in the for-profit world as salary and bonus.

    But let's review who has given back more? Perhaps Henry Bessemer, whose steel making process reduced the needed coal by, I believe, 90%? Or perhaps Nikolai Tesla, who gave up royalties on every Kilowatt so we could have alternating current instead of Edison's power plant on every block plan. Or perhaps, Keith Tatlinger, who pressured his partners to give up the patent on the locks that enabled end to end containerization, causing what we now know as the global market.

    Or perhaps Henry Ford, and eventually all the auto manufacturers who gave a great a great sense of pride and power to so many. As it was aptly described in the 'The Big Change: The transformation of America from 1900 to 1950':

    "Similarly the American who has been humbled by poverty, or by his insignificance in the business order, or by his racial status, or by any other circumstance that might demean him in his own eyes, gains a sense of authority when he slides behind the wheel of an automobile and it leaps forward at his bidding, ready to take him wherever he may personally please"

  • Smock Puppet, Channeller of the Perpetually Indignant

    >>> this is essentially a bribe to the officials of the DC banana republic to let them do business.

    HEY, are you saying that Obama is a banana-eating monkey? RACIST!!!

  • Smock Puppet, Channeller of the Perpetually Indignant

    >>> Is it too much too ask that they stop enslaving people?

    OOP, thought the previous comment above was spoof enough, but someone beat me to spoofing the absurdity.

    ...Your comment WAS meant to spoof... right, WH???

  • Smock Puppet, Channeller of the Perpetually Indignant

    >>> Or perhaps Nikolai Tesla, who gave up royalties on every Kilowatt so we could have alternating current instead of Edison’s power plant on every block plan.

    And wound up penniless and near destitute, despite the fact that the entire world is now powered by his creations...?

    He could have bankrupted Westinghouse, but instead gave all his patents over to them for free, including back-royalties.

    Westinghouse corporate showed him their vast appreciation by pretty much never giving him another penny.

    Sorta crimped his experiments in wireless power transmission, as he ran out of his own funds.

    Perhaps there's a middle ground, and, had Tesla been a bit more sensible with his own funds, and retained SOME of the royalties owed him by Westinghouse, the world might be very, very different. Tesla was an indisputable genius when it came to understanding resonance and wave building. There was a tale that he had a little device that he could attack to a structural load bearing pylon of a building, about the size of a fist, that, if left there, tap-tap-tapping away, could set the entire building to shaking violently, as in an earthquake, nominally to destroy the building if left there, by setting up a standing wave in the building itself using the structure's fundamental resonance modes. Y'know, like this.

    Instead, he was able to do almost nothing of significance with the last 25-odd years of his life. Even when he went to Westinghouse and asked for a pittance on what he let them have for free to continue his experiments in wireless power, they essentially told him to eph off.

    He should've stuck it to Westinghouse until they squealed in pain.

  • AWM

    Richard Branson and his Virgin brand is all about PR and always has been.

    Doing good? It doesn't take more than five minutes on the internet to identify many valid and significant criticisms of Virgin branded companies and their personnel's activities.

    The strangest thing is that so many people really do beieve he has some sort of specially ethical business model and ísn't just running the usual multi-national corporation, warts and all.