Letter to the Editor: Shareholder profits are short-term thinking by corporations

Reader Butch Reynolds talk about the bottom line.

Like Rich Elfers, I experienced a decrease in benefits and degradation of a corporate culture multiple times resulting from leveraged buyout acquisitions by larger corporations (“American capitalism’s focus on workers, not shareholders, is returning”, published Nov. 22). The more pleasant and rewarding work environments that propelled the success of the smaller company were soon lost and it was only a matter of time before employee morale was diminished and voluntary departures rose. The short term bottom line took precedence over everything else including long term growth, product/service improvement, and employee retention.

It appears to me that we have finally recognized some of the adverse effects of such short term thinking. Was Milton Friedman’s shareholder primacy dictate intended to mindlessly ignore the future health of a corporation, including its human capital, for short term financial gratification and executive bonuses? I don’t think so. It is interesting that as far back as in 1914, Henry Ford raised worker’s pay to $5 per 8 hour day as opposed to $2.34 per 9 hour day. Reportedly he wanted his employees to be able to buy cars that his factories and his employees were mass producing.

In the post WWII years our economy grew, industries flourished and many otherwise low education workers achieved a middle class living standard with the help of unions. Successful American unions avoided anti-capitalist or socialist political goals but strove to improve the wages, working conditions of its members within the capitalist system by providing workers with more bargaining power. However, from the 1980s and decades since, the short term shareholder value won out with the off-shoreing of both our labor and industry. During this time, the short sighted policies led by GE’s Jack Welch led to cost cutting through massive layoffs and reduction in the R&D investments necessary to develop new and improved products just to please Wall Street and increase stock value.

More recently, the Covid pandemic has shown the weakness of our dependence on unreliable exterior supply chains and our need for more sustainable industrial production at home. Hopefully a more “enlightened self interest” approach to shareholder value will yield a longer term approach to attaining and maintaining prosperity for our businesses and all of our citizens.

L.S. (Butch) Reynolds

Bonney Lake