Issue #34

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Is Maximizing Return to Shareholders a Legitimate Mandate?

by Marjorie Kelly

Berrett Koehler

Tel: 800-929-2929
Fax: 802-864-7626

Nations have become democratic, but corporations remain feudal.

In the national dialogue on problems with our economic system, the focus is on symptoms, such as environmental damage, stagnant wages, corporate welfare, overseas sweatshops, bloated CEO pay. We fail to recognize that these spring from a single source: the mandate to maximize returns to shareholders. Or to put it another way: the belief that the needs of capital must come before all other needs. In major public corporations today, there is no rational reason to favor stockholders so highly. It’s a form of discrimination as virulent as racism or sexism, but far more invisible. We might call it “wealthism.” Or we might use the older term: aristocracy.

This provocative analysis is the view of author Marjorie Kelly, in her forthcoming book The Divine Right of Capital.

Kelly’s work strikes to the heart of what is dysfunctional about our economic system. Many others are writing about our system’s failings, but I’ve seen no other analysis that goes as directly, cogently, and insightfully to the heart of the systemic problems as she does.

As one professor wrote on reading her work, “I felt like I was thrown off my horse in the manner of Paul the Apostle... The piece is so beautiful, so obvious, so overlooked, and potentially so explosive.” Another author called Kelly’s work “the start of some very basic rethinking.”

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