The Divine Right of Capital addresses the privileges that have accrued to corporate wealth resulting in a society divided into class divisions paralleling the age of the divine right of kings. In the process Marjorie Kelly unpacks the workings of the stock market while unloading on the structure of corporations. Her objective is move the status quo toward “economic democracy,” described as “a new economic order that respects the workings of the market while reclaiming its gifts for the many rather than for the few.” After owning, editing and publishing a magazine called Business Ethics for fourteen years, Kelly came understand that progressive sounding corporate rhetoric meant nothing.
“I have seen corporations announce family-friendly policies, only to turn around and lay off tens of thousands. I have seen companies pursue environmental stewardship, but only to the extent that it enhances the bottom line. I have seen companies create profit-sharing incentives, but at the same time hold down wages and cut benefits. I have seen corporations become generous citizens, but only as they demand far more in tax concessions.”
The central axis driving corporate culpability is fiduciary duty, the supposedly unitary obligation to maximize returns to shareholders. All corporations enjoy limited liability, which means the communities within which they live have little to no legal leverage over them. When an Exxon Valdeez spews or a BP oil platform explodes nobody is held accountable. People die, large swaths of the environment are destroyed and nobody goes to jai. Worse, victims (people and the environment) get no compensation. Instead batteries of corporate lawyers fend off such responsibilities as secondary to the primal duty to maximize profit. Judges, politicians and the general court of public opinion let them get away with it. Why? Corporations have acquired divine rights just like kings in the days of Robin Hood. A patriot at heart, and admirer of the Founding Fathers, Marjorie Kelly asks us why corporations should not be held to the same levels of responsibility as are people?