Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos
This time last year, Apple boss Tim Cook spoke with tenderness about his own universal values. Then again, everybody at the inaugural Bloomberg Global Business Forum (BGBF) did the same. Indra Nooyi cheered for “gender inclusion”, presumably her own, which was briefly enjoyed in the C-Suite of Pepsi. Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba, uttered the words, “inclusive, sustainable, happy, and healthy” to describe nothing, really. Just a list of nice qualities. Justin Trudeau, the 1%’s hunky mascot, turned poverty into a moral failing when he charged the wicked poor with “the politics of envy”. In general, everybody had a marvellous time creating “inclusion”, “justice” and prosperity for all by talking about what nice things these were, then reaffirming the global neoliberal consensus, which only the unpleasant, the poor and envious oppose.
CEOs and policymakers gathered to confirm their capacity and will to change the world by changing no part unfavourable to their ownership of it. Like the Clinton global love-in that came before it, BGBF stops just short of screaming “Unleash the Power Within!” as Christine Lagarde hops across a bed of white hot coals. This was Personal Growth, but for global elites.
I propose that powerful people now require ritual of this type. I propose events like Davos, the Clinton Global Initiative or the BGBF don’t hide the truth from anyone so much as their participants. I propose these people have great emotional need for reassurance. They are reassured at such events not only of their power, but that the most judicious use of it is to keep doing whatever it was that made so few so rich.
Look. Stick with me, here. Consider that a Clinton, for example, genuinely believes that she is good. That when she says she is “part of the resistance” and an “activist”, she believes it.
Consider that the “Activist CEO” believes his job title just as well.
Perhaps Cook, who championed marriage rights and human rights even as Congolese children were beaten and enslaved, as Chinese factory workers were lost to misery, believes it. And maybe Jeff Bezos, who declared this week that he would tackle homelessness believes it as well. He believes this inside every one of his five US estates. This CEO of Amazon, a company whose exploitation of actually homeless Scottish workers is known, believes himself to be a champion for the everyday worker, she who passes out from heat inside an Amazon warehouse.
A cynic doubts this “activist” sincerity. A pessimist fears it. I do. I fear that these blokes are completely legit.
This really is the more terrifying possibility: that the regulators and the corporate beneficiaries of the neoliberal project aren’t just pretending to have a conscience, but believe themselves to have one.
At the 2017 BGBF, Cook urged his fellows to think of their companies as “nothing more than a collection of people”. And he did this, even as it is clear to the laziest business page reader that Cook thinks of his company as no more than a collection of repurchasing opportunities. The guy has made buyback history.
Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has been slow to innovate in all endeavour that is not financial. Still, he can sit on a stage with Michael Bloomberg and claim that he values people and their values. He values the values of the people at Apple so much, he will fight for their legal implementation.
The transcript of this chat is something to read. Bloomberg reporter Megan Murphy asks Cook if he sees his role as a public policymaker, especially when all these governments are doing such a bad job. Cook says yes, of course, and he says it without hesitation. Here are people agreeing, in public, that corporate governance is an example to the nation-state. That those who hold shares of high value are highly valuable to democracy.
Either I’m bonkers to think this is bonkers to say, or they are bonkers to say it. Perhaps a little from columns A and B. Either way or both, I have become convinced that your Gates, your Cook, your Bezos or your Zuckerberg are the immortal leaders of a neoliberal blood cult.
They are not of our species. They can’t be. They are so imperturbably certain that the neoliberal regulation which brought them such indecent wealth had nothing at all to do with the creation of the indecent poverty they now claim they seek to curb. That they can feel so sure that their values are also the values of a “collection of people” and just happen to be those values that never diminish a dividend—well, it’s superhuman belief.
Company values are interchangeable with human values only to the celebrity CEO, who is clearly not human.