By Peter Bloom and Carl Rhodes
- The Ethics of Neoliberalism; The Business of Making Capitalism Moral (2017)
- The Bad Faith in the Free Market; The Radical Promise of Existential Freedom (2018)
- CEO Society: The Corporate Takeover of Everyday Life (2018)
Corporate Executive Officers (CEOs) have become the cultural icons of the twenty-first century. Figures like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are held up as role models who epitomize the modern pursuit of innovation, wealth, and success. We now live in a CEO society—a society where corporate leadership has become the model for transforming not just business, but all spheres of life, where everyone from politicians to jobseekers to even those seeking love are expected to imitate the qualities of the lionized corporate executive.
But why, in the wake of the failings exposed by the 2008 financial crisis, does the corporate ideal continue to exert such a grip on popular attitudes? In this insightful new book, Peter Bloom and Carl Rhodes examine the rise of the CEO society, and how it has started to transform governments, culture, and the economy. This influence, they argue, holds troubling implications for the future of democracy—as evidenced by the disturbing political rise of Donald Trump in the United States—and for our society as a whole.
Table of Contents of CEO Society
- Introduction: the threat and promise of CEO salvation
- Welcome to the CEO society
- The idolisation of the CEO
- Competing in the executive economy
- The CEO politician
- The CEO as a model for living
- The generous CEO?
- The bad faith of CEO salvation
- Afterword: the high cost of the CEO society
Kosmas Tsokhas on Australian Economic History Review wrote:
"In their book, CEO Society: The Corporate Takeover of Everyday Life, Peter Bloom and Carl Rhodes consider one troubling outcome of the permeation of neoliberalism in society: the social phenomenon that regards CEOs as synonymous with the pinnacle of success. The illustrative example that they postulate throughout the book is, understand-ably so, Trump — though they also offer references to other billionaire CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos. Synthesizing many of the discourses in which they engage, Bloom and Rhodes ask provocatively: How has neoliberalism turned our society into one that unapologetically adulates the persona of the CEO? [...] CEO Society is certainly an appealing and a thought-provoking read. The book is posited at the interface of two growing bodies of critical scholarship in the field of organization and management studies: (i) the literature that demonstrates how the ubiquitous logic of neoliberal capitalism subsumes any substantive idea of social responsibility [...]; and (ii) the critiques of economic inequality and how it constitutes social relating [...]. However, Bloom and Rhodes do not limit their analytical scope to reciting extant arguments. They move the debate forward by illuminating how the precepts of neoliberal capitalism have not only engendered the normalization of economic inequality, but symptomatically established the conditions for idolization of the CEO. Their position is compelling. Indeed, at the very minimum, it offers one possible explanation for what occurred on 8 November 2016."
"Peter Bloom and Carl Rhodes focus on famous CEOs, who have been both founders and major shareholders in the corporations with which they have been identified, like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs,Tesla’s Elon Musk and Virgin’s Richard Branson, The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett. Their approach is quite nuanced as they elaborate that although such CEOs have been described at the same time as visionaries and pragmatists, as inventive entrepreneurs and monopolistic proprietors, as wealth producers and tax evaders, and as generous benefactors and get-rich-quick artists, these business leaders have promoted through their public relations machines that they have had to be economically aggressive in order to be creatively productive. [...] The message to the public has been to compete with one another, without pangs of conscience, and to use the methods of corporate executives, ‘ruthlessly playing the game to win’, as if this will enable them to rise above the prosaic materialism of everyday life and achieve‘their hopes and dreams’. Furthermore, for Bloom and Rhodes, the ideological and normative ascendancy of the executive elite in the last 30 years or so has been associated with the emergence of neoliberal doctrines. This has culminated with the notion that a career in a corporate boardroom has prepared politicians such as the United States’ Donald Trump, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull to make the tough choices and unilateral decisions to manage crises and to impose market solutions on sluggish bureaucracies and reluctant electorates. These are said to be essential for nations in order for them to be fiscally responsible, technologically agile, and energetically efficient in an unsettled global economy [...] Inasmuch as Bloom and Rhodes exaggerate the mastery of CEOs over the corporations they head, they underestimate the extent that company boards have increased their interaction with institutional shareholders to obtain investor feedback on CEO performance, in relation to share prices or returns on equity or asset values, when CEO remuneration has invariably included bonuses and stock options. [...] In recent years, a number of high-flying CEOs have been brought down to earth by under-performance. [...] As far as we can tell, at least in Australia, these efforts to re-invent and re-energise, what Bloom and Rhodes assert to be the cultural hegemony of the CEO society, do not appear to have met with a lot of success."
- "Is Lionizing CEOs Dangerous for Society?" - interview with Peter Bloom at ProMarket, 29 June 2018
About Peter Bloom and Carl Rhodes
Peter Bloom is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of People and Organisations at the British Open University, Co-Founder of the research group REEF (Research into Employment, Empowerment, and Futures), and Chair of REF preparation for Business and Management. His other books include Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (Edward Elgar Press) and Beyond Power and Resistance: Politics at the Radical Limits (Rowman and Littlefield International, 2016).
It is commonly posited that the future of work in a technologically determined inevitability that people, organizations and nations must respond to if they are to prosper, or even survive. Dismissing such political resignation, Carl Rhodes' research attends to the ethical and democratic dimensions of the future of work, and how this future might be one of shared prosperity. Of special interest is how ethics can come to bear on contemporary business so that organizations, especially corporations, might be held to account by citizens and by civil society. The ethics he advocates is one that seeks to disturb the types of taken for granted cultures and practices that have led to mounting levels of global inequality, employment precarity, and exploitative work practices.