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Absence of Ownership
Without owners, corporations run amok -- like children without a chaperone.
We have a problem with absentee owners. Remember several years ago when, under the Clinton Administration, there was pressure on absentee fathers to bear responsibility for caring for their children? We have the same problem with corporations. But in this case there are no parents at all. No oversight and no one making sure that corporations and management act sanely and responsibly.
When corporations were owned by flesh and blood individuals the experience was, generally speaking, that flesh and blood individuals acted the same way with respect to their corporations they acted in their own life, and that they had concerns for the externalities of the corporation and they had concerns for its long-term implications.
Ownership has become more diffuse and corporations now have only a nominal accountability to any identifiable ownership. By identifiable owner I mean a shareholder or a group of shareholders who are willing to accept the responsibility of being stewards and monitoring the functioning of the corporation. It's a case where the word "owner" communicates an incorrect and even harmful impression. Traditionally, the shareholder register consisted of a group of the names of individuals who owned stock in that corporation. As a practical matter today, it's almost beyond belief that you would find the name of an individual on a shareholder register.
Most of us who have ownership in corporations these days -- many of us through retirement plans, 401 (k) plans, IRAs, mutual funds and things like that -- don't really "own" stock in the sense we own things like our house or car. There are many different types of shareholders and the interests of the different parties are not compatible. Ira Millstein came up with a very appropriate metaphor describing share owners as being like the animals in a zoo. Yes, they're all animals but my goodness, they are more different than they are alike.
So, without traditional owners who run the company we must rely on large managing shareholders like pension plans or trustees of funds and endowments to take on the role of owners. But they haven't. These are the absentee owners. And without owners, corporations run amok -- like children without a chaperone. There's no accountability and decisions are made without regard for consequences. That's why in my new book, Citizens DisUnited: Passive Investors, Drone CEOs and the Capture of the American Dream, I call these ownerless entities corporate drones:
They are analogous to the military vehicles that have enormous power and capacity for good and ill. They insulate operators from risk while casting vast externalities and costs onto society.
Want an example? Look at the large banking institutions in the mortgage bubble and financial crisis. We don't even know who owns them but we can certainly name the CEOs. Nearly all of them came out of the crisis quickly, made profits and gave bonuses to upper management while the rest of society is still struggling with underwater mortgages and unemployment. Who bailed the banks out? We did. Their problem. Their fault. Our responsibility.
This is externalizing at its core: putting the problems and responsibilities of corporate operations off onto society while keeping the benefits and profits for themselves. I think this raises the question as to the appropriateness of corporations that do not have an identifiable owner. It has become increasingly clear to me that it's very dangerous to have these ownerless corporations -- drone corporations -- and that there needs to be a way of dealing with the problem of the risks that they present. The author Chrystia Freeland said the U.S., "has created a system of capitalism without capitalists, of private sector companies whose owners have abdicated responsibility for the companies that belong to them." Someone has to take the wheel.
So, about now you're asking who can do this. Who has enough shares, enough clout and enough status to lead the charge? This is what I lay out in the book: foundations and university endowments have particular missions to improve the lot of human beings on earth -- and I believe this implies that they also have responsibility to be stewards of the companies they own. The large foundations like the Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Packard Foundation and the university endowments like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have enough shares and enough standing to be leaders. Along with the large pension funds and mutual funds, these are the groups that manage a vast percentage of our nation's wealth.
At the end of the day, we don't need everybody in all categories of ownership to join in. We just need a few of these organizations to work together so that every corporation has at least one group of effective functional motivated owners to act as stewards and provide that element of accountability that is essential for corporations to exist harmoniously in a democratic society. As Warren Buffett has said, "If you had the top five institutional investors, and when they saw something outrageous the five of them spoke together . . . the world would change."5
1. Tomio Geron, "CalPERS Returns 1% for Fiscal Year," Forbes, July 16, 2012.
2. Rob Kozlowksi, "Endowment execs top pay list for tax-exempt institutions," Pensions & Investments, November 7, 2011.
3. "Top Funders: Top 100 U.S. Foundations by Asset Size," Foundation Center, April 17, 2013.
4. "Vanguard Group Is Increasing Its Positions In These Stocks," SeekingAlpha.com, February 3, 2012, and "State Street Corporation at Goldman Sachs Financial Service Conference Transcript," AlacraStore.com, (accessed January 11, 2013).
5. Nell Minow,"An Interview With Warren Buffett," GMIRatings video on YouTube, part six of nine, September 2010, (accessed January 11, 2013).
© 2013 Robert A.G. Monks, author of Citizens DisUnited: Passive Investors, Drone CEOs, and the Corporate Capture of the American Dream
Robert A.G. Monks, author of Citizens DisUnited: Passive Investors, Drone CEOs, and the Corporate Capture of the American Dream and 8 other books, is a pioneering shareholder activist and corporate governance adviser. He has written widely about shareholder rights & responsibility, corporate impact on society and global corporate issues. Visit http://www.ragm.com/citizens-disunited
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
A study by UK archaeologists finds that longbows caused horrific injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
- UK archaeologists discover medieval longbows caused injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
- The damage was caused by the arrows spinning clockwise.
- No longbows from medieval times survived until our times.
Battle of Agincourt.
The angle of entry into a cranium found during the excavation at a medieval Dominican friary in Exeter, England.
Credit: Oliver Creighton/University of Exeter
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Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.<p>The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.</p><p>One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/" target="_blank">help offset losses</a>). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.</p><p>Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, <a href="https://www.bonejoint.net/blog/did-you-know-that-certain-foods-block-calcium-absorption/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20nutritionists%20have%20warned%20that,may%20increase%20intestinal%20calcium%20absorption." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">when consumed in normal levels</a>. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.</p><p>Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.</p><p>Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.</p><p>The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."</p>