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Do companies ever do the "right thing"?

At 2:18 PM 12/4/95, Ed Carp wrote:

>> That's always a tough position to be in.  If Netscape or Microsoft
>> knew what was the "right" thing to do, I don't doubt that they'd be
>> doing it.
>That's one of the most politically and socially naive statements I've
>ever heard.  Corporations *never* do the "right thing" unless it will
>increase their profits.  Remember, corporations are in business to
>make money by providing a product or service that people will pay
>money for.  Whatever gets in the way of that will fall by the
>wayside.  That's an economic fact of life.

I can think of many cases where companies chose courses of actions that
seemed to be motivated by choices about what is right and what is wrong.

Viewing the "profit landscape," corporations have to balance movement to
the "locally most profitable" regions (fertile valleys) or to movement
further out into even more profitable regions.

It is just not that case that all corporations make decisions about what is
the "most profitable," at any cost. They have Boards of Directors with
influence, and they have various sorts of "mission statements."

This applies to small businesses as well, where the owners often make
decisions about which markets to compete in based on their own personal
moral choices. Vegetarian restaurants, for example, choose not to offer
meat, even when market studies indicate their patronship would probably

I also know of electronics companies that, for various reasons, refuse to
bid on government contracts. (Partly they fear sinking into a bureaucratic
mess, partly they don't want to do military work.)

Finally, many companies understand the value of "good will" (as we discuss
so often in talking about reputations) and think carefully about how their
actions will be perceived _long into the future_.

It is the belief, I think, of most of us that Netscape will have its
reputation diminished if it acquiesces without a strong fight to government
plans for GAK. In this sense, if we are right, Netscape's longterm profits
may be affected by their choice.

--Tim May

Views here are not the views of my Internet Service Provider or Government.
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
Corralitos, CA              | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^756839      | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders are just speed bumps on the information superhighway."