Good morning, Quartz readers!
Donald Trump, Greta Thunberg, Satya Nadella, Lenny Kravitz… there were a lot of big names at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. But the person that generated the most buzz didn’t even have a name.
You couldn’t walk 10 steps at the latest alpine gathering of the global elite without overhearing someone talking about “stakeholders.” The s-word appeared in the title or description of no fewer than 13 sessions on the forum’s main program, and many more in the unofficial fringe.
This reflects the rapid shift in thinking about the purpose of companies. The Davos organizers unveiled a revamped manifesto this week, saying a company’s purpose should be to “engage all its stakeholders in shared and sustained value creation.” Last year nearly 200 of America’s top CEOs issued a similarly touchy-feely proclamation.
But as Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s avuncular founder, pointed out in his opening speech this week, “stakeholder capitalism” has been in the forum’s mission since 1973. And the risk is that it will continue to be nothing more than woke-washing. Corporate bosses’ pay is still tightly tied to shareholder returns. If you really wanted to serve employees, communities, and the like, it would be more effective to make the case that doing so would boost profits. As Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi told a Davos dinner gathering, “the one master that can put me out of a job” is shareholders.
The other obstacle to taking things besides profit into account is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce and a perennial Davos gadfly, said that “the planet is a key stakeholder.” (Just try to measure that.) Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) measures are finding their way into portfolios at major asset management firms, but these broader concerns remain a niche proposition.
So it’s encouraging that the Davosians (Davosiati? Davosoise?) this year agreed to develop some universal ESG measures everyone can agree on. That makes stakeholders the biggest winners of the World Economic Forum this year. Congratulations, whoever you are. Sorry it took so long. —Jason Karaian
FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
The original take on impeachment. US founding father Alexander Hamilton and other constitutional framers anticipated Donald Trump’s impeachment defense. In a 1788 essay entitled Federalist No. 65, Hamilton explained the reasoning behind impeachment: It’s about political offenses and doesn’t only apply to crimes, he explained, and the prosecution is not meant to mirror a criminal trial. Ephrat Livni examines the text that many senators are now citing.
Exposing Africa’s richest woman. Quartz and other news organizations dug through more than 700,000 files to reveal how Isabel dos Santos siphoned vast sums of public money out of Angola during her father’s presidency, and into a labyrinth of more than 450 companies, many based in tax havens. The fallout so far has seen Angola charge her, Portugal investigate the leaks, and PwC axe an executive.
Most of us are “risk illiterate”—but we can change that. The smallest shift in how we gauge risk can have life-or-death consequences. The problem is, most of us struggle to read it correctly. In the first episode of RISK, a new show for Quartz members, Meghan McDonough visits the first-of-its-kind Center for Risk Literacy in Berlin, and also meets Sam Antar, a white-collar criminal turned “professional bullshit artist.”
Teenagers’ dream jobs haven’t changed in 20 years. In 2000, 15-year-olds listed the likes of doctor, teacher, and lawyer as their ideal careers—and nearly two decades later, they chose…pretty much the same professions (though the preferences do vary by order and by gender). What gives? Jenny Anderson finds numerous reasons for young people’s static aspirations.
The Museum of Ice Cream wants visitors to ditch their phones. Businesses tailor-made for the Instagram age are preparing for a new era of social media by touting the importance of authentic experience over posed photographs. Sarah Todd paid a visit to the museum with a simple question on her mind: If we look up from our screens long enough to process the world that Instagram built, will we like what we see?
A third of the world plays video games. About 60% of Americans say they play them daily. And as the global gaming industry grows, it’s influencing much more than how we spend our free time. From entertainment to government to health care, industries are trying to distill and deploy gaming’s immersive power. In this week’s field guide, contributor Mary Pilon covers everything you need to know about the state of gaming and its impact on our lives.
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
Google has no Zuck. When you think of Facebook and Amazon, who comes to mind? Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, most likely. But what about Google? No leader at the search giant has become a household name in quite the same way. That, argues Jumana Abu-Ghazaleh in Medium’s OneZero, makes sustained anger over its transgressions—and there are plenty—less likely, benefiting the “original inventor of surveillance capitalism.”
The pitch of VCs is increasingly dubious. Venture capital in decades past helped bring us companies like Apple and Genentech. Recently, it’s better known for bringing less successful startups into existence, among them WeWork, Juicero, and Theranos. For the New Yorker, Nathan Heller traces the industry’s origins back to whaling ships and wonders whether VCs will do more harm than good this decade.
The global reach of dictators. In decades past, people born in democratic nations could go about their lives largely unaffected by authoritarian forces roiling other parts of the world. Today, autocratic regimes are increasingly able to pressure critics—and sway elections— in the “free” world, and some elected leaders adopt police-state tactics when they can, as Joshua Keating writes for Slate.
Europe is waking up to a massive robbery. In Germany, a trial that began in September is about to dole out punishments for what one minister called “organized white-collar crime of unimaginable magnitude,” referring to a convoluted scheme that produced two refunds for dividend tax paid on one basket of stocks. That scheme, writes David Segal in the New York Times, led to some $60 billion being drained from the state coffers of European countries from 2006 to 2011.
Cats are an emerging YouTube audience. It might sound absurd, but an increasing number of online videos are created for the viewing pleasure of felines. Not all cats are into watching clips, of course—they are famously finicky—but it’s also clear that many are stimulated by footage of squirrels or birds scurrying about, as Sage Lazzaro writes for Wired. One eight-hour bird video designed for cats has earned over 7 million views.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, phone-free location recommendations, and feline-friendly videos to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Steve Mollman and Holly Ojalvo.