The CEO Story, from Profitability Crisis to Polycrisis

Michael Roberts’ historical chart of the G20 rate of profit.

I’ve written a little about the the invention of the CEO — the title, the office, and the social position described by that term. This chart from Michael Roberts’ blog showing the declining rate of profit can help reframe that discussion.

In this view, the term “CEO” first comes into use in the midst of the profitability crisis, in the late 60s and 70s, after the postwar Golden Age. The CEO’s heyday runs through the neoliberal recovery. The Fall of the Celebrity CEO (to borrow a term from Edelman) coincides with the start of the Long Depression.

Unfortunately, Roberts’ chart doesn’t run up to the present, which would show the rate of profitability continuing its decline in the face of multiple, entangled, global crises all at once, a polycrisis:

A global polycrisis occurs when crises in multiple global systems become causally entangled in ways that significantly degrade humanity’s prospects. These interacting crises produce harms greater than the sum of those the crises would produce in isolation, were their host systems not so deeply interconnected.

Having helped steer society to this precarious juncture, has the institution of the CEO now run its course? And what would it take to reinvent it, so that the business enterprise can help address the overlapping crises we face, improve humanity’s prospects, and play a constructive role in a new social contract? 

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