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August 30, 2010

Brad Pitt, BP, and Greedy Corporations

Filed under: Business,Politics — Chris Chaten @ 12:34 PM

On yesterday’s “Meet the Press”, Brian Williams interviewed Brad Pitt on his efforts to rebuild New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward through the Make It Right Foundation. The topic of BP using “Make It Right” as their slogan for the clean up of the gulf came up, and Pitt was rightfully a bit surly.  BP did steal the name and use it for their own needs.  If they were ignorant of the foundation, well shame on them, as it’s a pretty public effort in the community.

In that interview, Pitt made this comment:

That’s where this name came from, Make It Right.  That’s what these homes–just do it right.  BP oil spill, just do it right.  Do it right in the first place instead of this obsession with profit margin.

The issue of the greedy corporation come up every time a company missteps (BP oil spill, banks and the housing bubble, McDonald’s and childhood obesity, etc.).  Activists will continue to pillage the “offending” companies, but the effect of their efforts will be largely muted. They keep attacking the wrong thing.

The problem is not that the corporations are run by greedy, heartless “fat cats” (could you have a lazier argument than that?), or by idiots (tone deaf maybe, but stupid isn’t generally a trait of Fortune 500 CEOs).

The problem is that publicly traded companies legally have one mission: to make money for shareholders. Managers who try to pursue a larger social goal at the expense of profit can be held as fiduciarily unfit, and removed from their jobs, and, in some cases, be put in legal trouble.  So yes, Mr. Pitt, it is all about profits.

To enact change, activists need to push for structural change. Unless there is a system that allows companies to serve a dual purpose, attacking individual corporations will only lead to short term and relatively incremental changes in operations.

Vermont recently passed a law to allow companies to incorporate as a “beneficial corporation” (B-Corp).  This allows companies to be charted with two missions: a public/ social component, and a profit component. Sure, we can create laws that help prevent traditional corporations from endangering the public and creating negative externalities, this will never address the root of the activists complaints.


*Don’t take this post for more than what it says. Pitt’s foundation seems to be doing all of the right things for the Lower 9th Ward and should be applauded.


  1. The rich and famous do not want to be seen as ‘pigs’ or go down in history as ‘villains’. They want to be seen as ‘heros’ and go down in history as ‘humanitarians’. The market for their product has become global. The fan base has become global. Therefore, the ‘humanitarian’ effort and ‘good will’ PR machine has gone global.  These ‘humanitarian’ efforts and ‘good deeds’ are not chosen to address the greatest need or injustice. They are chosen almost exclusively to appeal to the largest demographic for their respective commercial products. The largest fan base.  Efficiency or effect is of little or no concern. Its all about PR, marketing, image, and fame.

    This is why the rich and famous have all taken up ‘philanthropy’ or ‘good will’ around the world. This is why so many have ‘schools’ or ‘foundations’ in their name. This is why so many play golf or appear on a TV game show for ‘charity’. This is why so many sign motorcycles, other merchandise, or auction off their own ‘personal effects’ for ‘charity’. This is why so many have TV shows with a ‘charitable’ gimmick. This is why so many arrange photo ops with wounded veterans, firefighters, or sick children. This is why so many have adopted children from around the world (Which they always pay others to care for full time. The hired professionals are sworn by legal contract to confidentiality. Not allowed to discuss or appear in public with the children they care for. Those ‘photo’ and ‘interview’ opportunities are reserved exclusively for the rich and famous ‘adoptive’ parents.). This is why every ‘humanitarian’ effort and ‘good deed’ is plastered all over the media worldwide. Its not about ‘humanity’ or ‘good will’. Its all about marketing, image, fame, and PROFIT. This is why we are so often reminded of their respective ‘good deeds’ or ‘humanitarian’ efforts shortly before or after the release of their latest commercial product. and are both non-profit charity watchdogs. Of all the well rated charities (about 1500) only three are closely affiliated with celebrities. Michael J Fox (not the primary donor), Tiger Woods (not the primary donor), and Bill Clinton (not the primary donor). That’s three well rated celebrity foundations out of 1500. In general, celebrity foundations run like crap because they blow half the money on private jet rides, five star accommodations, and PR crews.

    The fans have been terribly misled. For example:

    Virtually every penny ‘donated’ by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt to date has come from repeated sales of baby photos. With each sale, the baby money goes to the ‘Jolie-Pitt’ foundation. A foundation which has never done anything but shelter funds. The ‘donation’ is immediately publicized worldwide.     

    When Jolie or Pitt have a new movie to promote, a portion is then donated from their own ‘foundation’ to a legitimate charity. This leaves their ignorant fans under the impression that ‘another’ donation has been made. When in fact, its the same baby money being transferred again and again. Another portion is blown on private jet rides, super-exclusive accommodations, photo ops, and PR crap. This saves Jolie and Pitt millions in travel/stay expenses and their respective studios tens of millions in advertising. It’s all very calculated. 

    Of course, Jolie and Pitt could simply endorse any of the 1500 most efficient and effective charities. Of course, the baby money would go much further and do far more good if it were donated to such charities to begin with. 

    But that would be too boring. 

    The ‘Make it Right’ Foundation took in over $12,000,000 the first year alone. Tens of millions overall. Brad Pitt has never been the primary donor, planner, or designer. He is a figurehead and salesman with a position on the board of advisors. Nothing more. Still, he has been showered with glorious praise by fellow celebrities and media outlets around the world. Again, the fans have been terribly misled. 

    In order to move into a ‘green’ home, the innocent victims of Katrina are required to provide a property deed, meet a number of financial requirements, and pay an average of $150,000 UP FRONT. The difference is offered in cheap loans or on occasion (according to the website) forgiven. To date, only a few dozen former home owners have qualified. 

    The ‘Make it Right’ foundation was never intended to help the lower income residents of New Orleans reclaim anything lost in Katrina. In fact, ‘Make it Right’ is part of a calculated effort to rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward without them. Part of a calculated effort to raise property values in the area by displacing the poor. They are by design, excluded. Unable to qualify.
    Of course, Brad Pitt could have simply endorsed ‘Habitat For Humanity’. A well known, proven, and efficient home building operation. Of course, the tens of millions in funding would have gone MUCH further.

    But that would be too boring.
    Big name celebrities have no desire to make the world a better place. 

    Their primary goal is to appear as if they do.

    It’s a sham. Good will has become big business. 

    Comment by Greg — November 20, 2011 @ 10:47 PM

  2. How do modern era celebrities get so incredibly rich? It’s not as simple as making movies and selling tickets anymore. Major studios and TV networks are now owned by giant corporations which also own entities within other industries. Their strategies to maximize profits are more calculated than ever.

    For example, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have had a special relationship with NBC for years. Countrywide and other banking entities have been sponsors. Not to mention Lowes, Home Depot, and Electrolux. But it’s not as simple as selling ad space anymore. NBC is owned by GE. GE also owns at least one major production studeo and entities within the banking industry.

    Giant corporations have been working together for years with major media outlets to increase profits. Part of their strategy has been to cross-market their products and services. Also to affiliate with celebrities and create the illusion of ‘good will’. When in fact, the idea is to increase awareness and demand for every product and service provided within the umbrella of parent companies and corporate sponsors.
    New Orleans is known worldwide for it’s unique culture. Tourism has been big business in the area for decades. Make it Right is now affiliated with Hyatt Regency. A high end hotel right next to the New Orleans Stadium. There is already a giant dual promotion planned for next spring. Ellen Degeneres (NBC juggernaut) is going to play a major role in this dual promotion. Housing, the related financing and home improvements have also been big business for decades.

    If the Lower Ninth Ward is redeveloped with fewer poor people, property values will be increased along with profits made by all those affiliated with Make it Right. The web of affiliation with Pitt, NBC, GE, Hyatt, Lowes, Home Depot, and the banking industry is sprawling to say the least. The operation has also been used to promote at least one ‘home improvement’ TV show that I know of. Holmes on Homes. I don’t recall the network but the show is designed to sell more high end home improvements. It’s all very calculated.

    I’m telling you that good will has become big business.

    If any of you have some more shady details, I’d like to read them.

    Comment by Greg — November 20, 2011 @ 10:48 PM

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