Long-Term Capitalism

What We’re Reading: December 2021

December 20, 2021  • Creating the Conditions for Long-Term Capitalism

What We’re Reading is a roundup of current news and commentary on the challenges and opportunities of aligning business decisions with the long-term health of society. As 2021 ends, this issue asks: Where might we look for sources of renewal in business and society in the year ahead? To answer that question, we examine where reserves of cash, influence, trust, and hope stand at the close of a second difficult pandemic year.

The Economy

Americans’ Pandemic-Era ‘Excess Savings’ Are Dwindling for Many (Talmon Joseph Smith, The New York Times) Cash is the most obvious form of “reserves” that one can imagine. This article provides an essential overview of savings across socioeconomic strata after roughly two years of economic crisis and stimulus. It also offers a powerful warning as the Omicron variant spreads: “Millions of Americans could be buffeted by financial volatility again with little safeguard as new variants of the virus emerge. For some, that reality has already begun.”

Companies Plan Big Raises for Workers in 2022 (David Harrison, Wall Street Journal) Encouraging plans, but the news isn’t wholly positive, as much of these raises are designed to compensate for inflation.

Controlling the Virus Is the Key to Reducing Inflation (William English, Yale Insights) This article answers the next logical question: What can be done to stop inflation from draining away workers’ gains?

Worker Voice

Three Myths of the Great Resignation (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic) “To put it as concisely as possible: The Great Resignation is mostly a dynamic ‘free agency’ period for low-income workers switching jobs to make more money, plus a moderate surge of early retirements in a pandemic.”

Kellogg to Replace 1,400 Strikers as Deal Is Rejected (Guardian Staff and Agencies, The Guardian) A further sign that even the extraordinary labor market conditions of the pandemic only go so far in correcting workers’ structural and power disadvantages in the United States.

Purpose of the Corporation

Corporate Political Spending Is Bad Business (Dorothy S. Lund and Leo E. Strine, Harvard Business Review) “Corporations are facing pressure from employees, customers, society, and even investors to be more aware of the effects of their conduct… And yet pressure persists to donate to candidates and legislators, particularly those who favor the company’s preferred regulatory policies, putting the company at an almost unavoidable risk of ensnaring itself in the hypocrisy trap.”

The Psychological Cost of Companies Sounding Ethical for Money (Brian Gallagher, Ethical Systems) The “hypocrisy trap” isn’t the only potential pitfall. New research explores an even more fundamental issue: What happens when ethical values are reframed as competitive advantages?


Amazon Emerges as the Wage-and-Benefits Setter for Low-Skilled Workers Across Industries (Sebastian Herrera, The Wall Street Journal) As we examine the big picture of our rapidly shifting economy, it is worth bearing in mind the leverage that an individual firm can have (admittedly, not just any firm!).

Whistleblower Frances Haugen Still Believes in Silicon Valley (Steven Levy, Wired) A piece that poses the question of resources in a different way—how do you find internal reserves of hope when you’ve seen firsthand the dark side of your industry?

For more on our work to align business with the long-term good of society, sign up for our publications and visit our website. (Please note, the purpose of this newsletter is to highlight what Aspen BSP staff are reading, and is not intended as advertisement or endorsement of content or viewpoints.)

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