Long-Term Capitalism

What We’re Reading: May 2024

May 31, 2024  • 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. Reading the news this month, we can’t escape the message that it’s challenging to make major change in U.S. business and society. Yet, this month’s roundup doesn’t tell a story of stagnation or futility. Rather, it reminds us that effective change also happens on a smaller scale, through the aggregation of individual consumer preferences, incremental policies, or the persistent grind of employee actions one store at a time. 

The Economy

US Consumer Confidence Recovers; Inflation Worries Persist (Lucia Mutikani, Reuters) Your What We’re Reading editors hope we don’t sound like a broken record reporting on inflation each month, it’s just that so much seems to hinge on the effects of rising prices. So, how exactly is the public experiencing inflation? Read on.

Target, McDonald’s and Wendy’s Announce Discounts. Has a Price War Broken Out? (Max Zahn, ABC News) This is a sign that the public doesn’t simply experience inflation as something to be passively suffered, but as something to actively manage and resist—and big corporate chains are paying attention. Given the scale of these firms, the impact of their pricing decisions on the broader economy could be significant.

Worker Voice

The Delivery Business Shows Why Unions Are Struggling to Expand (Peter Eavis, The New York Times) It was a mixed month for union drives in the United States. It is true, 1,700 Disneyland Resort cast members (including those who play characters) made headlines with their vote to unionize. However, other major organizing efforts that union leaders hoped would spark a broader union expansion failed. This article examines the structural trends in U.S. business that make organizing for broader change so challenging.

Starbucks Is Set To Resume Union Negotiations As It Confronts Issues at Its Stores (Kate Rogers, CNBC) A fascinating example of a corporate leader listening to workers (including recently organized union voices!) to drive process enhancement. We’ll be following this story closely.


Exxon Investor Sued for Climate Proposal Promises to Back Off (Kevin Crowley and Doug Alexander, Bloomberg) “While Arjuna Capital had already withdrawn the shareholder proposal to accelerate greenhouse-gas emissions cuts that was at issue in the lawsuit, the firm went further in a letter that was sent to Exxon and filed with a Texas court, saying it ‘unconditionally and irrevocably’ promised not to submit any more proposals related to emissions or climate change to Exxon shareholders.” Where does this leave such efforts to push for companies to do better on climate using the tools of corporate governance?

While American Companies Go Quiet on Climate Change, Europeans Keep Banging the Drum (Adam Gale, Fortune) Even as we examine how change in the U.S. may be stymied on issues like climate, we can’t lose sight of what is happening elsewhere on the world stage. See also: UN Maritime Tribunal Says Countries Are Legally Required to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Pollution (Molly Quell, AP News).


Google Promised a Better Search Experience — Now It’s Telling Us To Put Glue on Our Pizza (Kylie Robison, The Verge) “Companies developing artificial intelligence are often quick to avoid taking accountability for their systems with an approach much like a parent with an unruly child — boys will be boys! These companies claim that they can’t predict what this AI will spit out, so really, it’s out of their control. But for users, that’s a problem. Last year, Google said that AI was the future of search. What’s the point, though, if the search seems dumber than before?” As another commentator points out, the mistakes may be humorous to read but have serious consequences for business and society: Google’s Generative AI Fails ‘Will Slowly Erode Our Trust in Google’ (Daniel Howley, Yahoo Finance).

‘All Eyes on Rafah’- How AI-Generated Image Swept Across Social Media (Nick Robins-Early and Kari Paul, The Guardian) This AI image has generated both intense viral visibility and significant controversy. What does it mean that, in a time when corporate promises for AI’s business case seem to fall flat, the political use of an AI-generated image has gained such popularity? And, if AI is already being adopted at scale for political purposes, are tech companies prepared for a bigger test of the technology in upcoming elections?

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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