Business and democracy in the 21st century

Powerful and fragile, the company in democracy

by Dominique Schnapper and Alain Schnapper

Odile Jacob, 256 p., € 22.90

The debate is essential, but often lacks nuances. For some, multinational groups are taking power in the world for the benefit of a small number of particularly greedy hypercapitalists. For others, in an increasingly weakened democracy, the company is gradually becoming one of the new places of politics, by exercising a “Civic responsibility” more and more extensive.

Drawing on their respective experience, the first as a sociologist specializing in citizenship, the second as a practitioner of industry and distribution, Dominique and Alain Schnapper seek to shed light on the reflection, between theory and practical examples. The fact that they are mother and son made it easier for them. “No doubt no longer needing to prove anything to ourselves, we were able to concentrate on the pleasure of the common intellectual journey”, they write nicely.

The two authors recall that historically the autonomy of the economic compared to the political in the XIXe century was at the origin of the development of “The most effective action collectives in contemporary societies” : businesses. The abolition of privileges and the protection of property rights have fostered the development of a market that encourages investment and innovation. In reality, they point out, the liberal national state and the “classic” enterprise have enriched each other. The generalization of wage labor after the Second World War allowed the development in Europe of a welfare state which ensured the security and social well-being of the population.

Still this “Social democratic heritage” has been called into question since the 1980s by a triple acceleration: technical progress, competition due to globalization, and the financialization of the economy. This has led companies to focus on their core business and to increase subcontracting, which upset the balance that the company had been able to find. “Employee company”.

To get out of it, the authors have high hopes on the reflections started after the 2008 financial crisis on the political role of companies. “The leaders of the largest of them say they recognize their power and consider ways to direct and control it. “ This has been reflected on both sides of the Atlantic in the adoption of projects allowing leaders to“Orient their policy in the direction of a collective interest, that is to say that of all the parties involved in the mission that the company gives itself”. This is the case, for example, with the status of a “mission enterprise”, permitted in France by the Pacte law in 2019.

The state should not, however, be lost and lost. He alone is able to drive the choices structuring the functioning of society: “The collective interest that mission-oriented companies can defend cannot replace the general interest carried by the State to achieve what is called ecological transition: the decarbonization of the economy by mobilizing others. sources of energy and the adaptation of behavior to declining resources ”.


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