The (Valuation) Politics of Privatization

Debbie Becher  (2017)

Review Essay of “Barman, Emily (2016): Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.” Contemporary Sociology 46(5), pp. 521-526 .

Barman’s new Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value illustrates how the pursuit of social good through business has become a more capacious activity than previously recognized, embedded in almost every arena of the modern corporate world. She demonstrates how the pursuit of social good has become integral, almost ingrained, across practically all industries and private organizations operating under capitalism today. She makes the point through the book’s three sections. The first covers the least surprising and earliest examples of this kind of activity: nonprofit organizations that self-consciously pursue do-good missions, as an alternative to or directly through market activity. The second part follows those who operate on the outside and attempt to force or nudge for-profit corporations to create social goods (or avoid social bads) by, for instance, labeling consumer goods as “fair trade” or “organic” or by crafting investment priorities around avoiding tobacco and guns. More broadly, these are cases of what is often called private regulation, including early initiatives to enforce “corporate social responsibility” and “socially responsible investing.” The final part of the book puts the most surprising developments on display: for-profit, multi-national corporations of all kinds that are taking on the charge. Here Barman highlights corporations that are being pressured to orient their activities toward the social good. This section includes the mainstreaming of investment evaluations by Bloomberg and colleagues that link social welfare to corporate profit. It also tracks the development of multi-national “inclusive businesses” whose core goals include poverty elimination and community development. Caring Capitalism does not examine what these corporations are actually doing to achieve social goods; instead, the book is focused on how they demonstrate such achievements across practically all corporate fields of activity.

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