Everything that’s wrong with capitalism in two sentences.

I don’t know why I was reading a piece about WHSmith in yesterday’s Sunday Times, but I was. And somewhere in the middle it said:

” The worn-out carpets and leaking ceilings in WH Smith’s high street stores earn it plenty of critics — but not in the City. The retailer’s ruthless cost-cutting has enabled it to dish out more than £1bn in cash returns to shareholders since 2007.”

i can’t tell you how depressing I find those two sentences. Bearing in mind the fundamental tenet of the market economy, that the first responsibility of the managers of a business is to the owners of the business (i.e. the shareholders), doesn’t that tell you everything that’s wrong with such a system? And perhaps most of all, doesn’t it just detonate, and obliterate, and scatter to the four winds that ridiculous and naive idea of the virtuous circle, in which the managers do a good job for the shareholders by doing a good job for the customers? This tells us the exact opposite – give the customers worn-out carpets and leaking ceilings, and the shareholders will be happy as pigs in shit will their £1 billion of cash returns.,

I suppose it is possible that the journalist who wrote this miserable piece – Sam Chambers, since you ask – is wrong,, or at least wrong when you look at it on a different timescale. There may be a short-term win for shareholders in worn carpets and leaking ceilings, but in the longer run perhaps customers will vote with their feet and the shareholders will lose more than they gained.

I’d like to think so. Because I’d really hate to think that I’ve spent my last forty years as a cog in a machine as destructive as this one.

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