Don’t Go There, Heritage

In “‘Socially Responsible’ Corporations: Whose Wealth Are They Spreading Around?”, Heritage Foundation analyst James M. Roberts proposed an experiment to test “the market for corporate social responsibility.”  Apple could sell one iPod for $99 and another for $125, with the extra $26 in the second one going to progressive social causes like the environment and education.  “If consumers wanted to pay the extra $26, voting with their wallets for a cause they believe in, they could.”

Reason’s Jesse Walker lampooned this proposal, repeating it word for word with “high CEO salaries” substituted for “corporate social responsibility,” and the extra $26 going to buy Steve Jobs “expensive consumer items.”

Seems to me that, in arguing that it’s unlibertarian for a corporation to offer a limited range of products, and not offering cheaper alternatives without embedded costs of this or that sort, they’re  leaving themselves wide open.  They might have to address the question of just how many product features and designs result from oligopoly markets in which people select from whatever crappy choices are put on their plates.   I can’t really say I’m all that surprised the author of a by-the-numbers Heritage piece failed to anticipate the smartass uses his “argument” could be put to.  It’s about  like something Dick Armey phoned in from FreedomWorks.

And say!  Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that the Heritage Foundation complains about corporations spreading their shareholders’ wealth around, when according to its website it has “more than 566,000 individual, foundation and corporate donors”?

Somewhat perplexed, I attempted to contact Heritage:

“I’d be most obliged if you’d give me a list of all your corporate sponsors and the amounts of their contributions.  Some of them might be interested in taking up a research proposal of mine, in the spirit of Mr. Roberts’ article:  offering two identical products for sale, one with and one without a price markup to cover a donation to Heritage.”

I never did get that list.  But making shift with Google, I found out that Heritage’s sponsors include Coors, Scaife, General Motors, Ford Motors, Proctor & Gamble, Chase Manhattan Bank, Allstate Insurance, Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, American International Group (AIG),  Dow Chemical, ChevronTexaco, Exxon Mobil,  Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Pfizer, PhRMA, Microsoft, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Honda, Altria Group (Philip Morris), Alticor (Amway), and United Parcel Service (UPS).

On second thought, those donors may be getting a pretty good deal on the money they’re “spreading” Heritage’s way.

Perhaps coincidentally, Heritage’s policy agenda seems to dovetail nicely with the business models of its corporate donors.  They seem to consist disproportionately of corporate welfare moochers and beneficiaries of protectionism.  I mean, Microsoft and all those drug companies would be pretty well screwed without strong “intellectual property” [sic] protectionism, wouldn’t they?  As for Boeing and Lockheed Martin—my goodness!—if it weren’t for the perpetual  warfare state Heritage so enthusiastically supports, with all its bloated military-industrial spending, those companies might have to find actual customers willing to spend their own money on their products.  And I vaguely recall that General Motors and some of those banks and insurance companies might have gotten a bit of government money somewhere along the line, if my memory’s not playing tricks on me.  So Heritage’s policy recommendations seem to be rather important for the business models of its donors.

Maybe we ought to try a different experiment:  offering the taxpayer two alternative tax bills, one with and one without corporate welfare to Heritage’s donors.  Or two consumer prices, one with and one without the “intellectual property” protectionism Heritage advocates.

Despite their apolitical non-profit status, those Heritage wonks manage to get some pretty good seats at the policy making table (especially when the Republicans control Congress).  Their 1995 Annual Report quoted vice presidents Stuart Butler and Kim Holmes:  “Heritage now works very closely with the congressional leadership…. Heritage has been involved in crafting almost every piece of major legislation to move through Congress.”  “Without exaggeration, I think we’ve in effect become Congress’s unofficial research arm…. We truly have become an extension of the congressional staff, but on our own terms and according to our own agenda.”

So maybe those contributions are money well spent, after all.  If you’re a giant corporation that profits by sucking off the government tit, I guess the best thing to do is buy yourself a “free market” think tank to make sure you’re never exposed to the horrors of an actual free market.

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