The objective function matters, and there are no perfect objectives. That is the message of the last two classes. Once you have absorbed that, I am willing to accept the fact that you still don’t quite buy into the “maximize value” objective. That is fine and I would like you to keep thinking about a better alternative with three caveats. First, you cannot cop out and give me multiple objectives – I too would like to maximize stockholder wealth, maximize customer satisfaction, maximize social welfare and employee benefits at the same time but it is just not doable. Second, your objective function has to be measurable. In other words, if you define your objective as maximizing the social good, how would you measure social good? Third, take your objective (and the measurement device you have developed) and ask yourself a cynical question: How might managers game this system for maximum benefit, while hurting you as an owner? In the long term, you may almost guarantee that this will happen.
Building on the theme of social good and stockholder wealth a little more, there are a number of fascinating moral and ethical issues that arise when you are the manager in a publicly traded firm. Is your first duty to society (to which we all belong) or to the stockholders (who are your ultimate employers)? If you have to pick between the two and you choose the former, do you have an obligation to be honest and let the latter know? What if you believed that the market was overvaluing your stock? Should you sit back and let it happen, since it is good for your stockholders, or should you try to talk the stock price down? On the question of socially responsibility, there are groups out there that rank companies based upon social responsibility. I have listed a few below, but they are a few of many:
JUST Capital: https://justcapital.com/rankings/
Calvert Social Index: http://www.calvert.com/perspective/social-impact
Dow Jones Sustainability Index: http://www.sustainability-indices.com
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Environmental organizations, labor unions and other groups all have their own corporate rankings. In other words, whatever your key social issue is, there is a way to stay true (as a consumer and investor). Notice how the rankings vary even across them.
Post Class Test: http://www.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/pdfiles/cfovhds/postclass/session4test.pdf
Post Class Test Solution: http://www.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/pdfiles/cfovhds/postclass/session4soln.pdf