"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.



The idea of a benefits company seems at first like little more than a feel-good deal, except that if emphasis really is eventually put in its terms, and if strong incentives start to develop for their designation, something important could emerge.

The state report on them describes the concept this way: “Benefit Companies enjoy legal protection to create value for society, not just shareholders, while meeting higher standards of accountability and transparency.”

Imagine for a moment that a large portion of the businesses, let’s say a lot of the major ones, started to operate under those kind of terms? Suppose they were given strong incentive to pay attention to and operate within the interests of the communities where they do business? Suppose that they way they treat employees, other businesses, customers and the general citizenry has to factor in the interests of those parties – not just the owners of the central business?

Given the way so many national and multinational companies operate today, that sounds like something from a discarded verse of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” But it doesn’t have to be fantasy. Corporations, in this state and country and in the rest of the world, operate according to rules set up at governmental levels. Suppose strong incentives were brought to bear to require they behave in these ways? How different would our society be?

The new Oregon law on benefits companies is only a micro step in that direction. But it does dare to ask the question.

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