Will Corporations Inherit the Earth?

February 20, 2018


Tim McClimon

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece entitled, “Corporations Will Inherit the Earth,” Frank Bruni muses about the role of corporations in society at a time that the federal government is -- to use his phrase -- “a bumbling klutz.” Bruni asserts, “It can’t manage health care. It can’t master infrastructure. It can’t fund itself for more than tiny increments of time. It can barely stay open.” In contrast, he says, America’s corporations are operating “with an innovation and can-do ambition solely absent in Washington.”

While Bruni goes on to cite some pretty impressive recent corporate activities (Elon Musk successfully sending his own rocket into space; Amazon joining with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorganChase to create their own health care provider; Airbnb promoting countries the government considers undesirable as tourist destinations), he also correctly notes that Americans are both deeply suspicious of big companies and ever more reliant on them.

On the one hand, many companies are “more high minded, forward-thinking and solutions-oriented than the federal government” and on the other hand their actions “will never deviate too far from their proprietary interests...what’s best for Amazon and what’s best for humanity aren’t one and the same.”

Putting aside the fact that many companies are engaged in major philanthropic initiatives and carbon-reduction efforts that don’t necessarily add to their bottom line, Bruni’s major omission is the critical role played by the third sector – the millions of not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations that are working with both government and business to solve short-term and long-term problems in countries all over the world.

IBM’s innovations with elementary and secondary education would simply not be possible without the partnership of not-for-profit educational organizations. Likewise, Merck and other pharmaceutical companies that are fighting disease in developing countries would not be successful without partnerships with both government and nonprofits. And, American Express’s drive to develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders would not be nearly as impactful without the help of nonprofit partners like the Center for Creative Leadership, Ashoka and Common Purpose.

It’s the civil society -- the third sector, the not-for-profit organizations, the non-governmental agencies -- who are working side by side with companies and governments to bring them together to solve these complex global issues.

It is they who will inherit the Earth.

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