Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Nature of Corporations

Those of you who have followed my earlier threads on corporations are aware of my argument that, since the turn of the 19th/20th century, corporations, particularly those spawned in the United States, have a character. That nature, I contend, is anti-democratic, and has also actively worked toward the demise of the middle class.

Today on Daily Kos, on blogger echoes my thoughts and concerns about this well. Entitled This Corporate Life, the writer discusses the recent book by author Douglas Rushkoff, Life Inc.: How The World Became A Corporation and How To Take It Back. Here are a few points made by the blogger and the author that I believe are quite important to any discussion about our current state of national travail.
How would the people screaming around the reflection pool this past Saturday react if you told them that a big part of what drove the American Revolution was not the unfair actions the British government, but the grinding tactics of British corporations?
This fact echoes my own concerns about corporations that few Americans stop to consider: The original Boston Tea Party was an act against a corporation, The East India Tea Company. The American colonists took up arms over the support by the British government of this corporation. The rallying cry, "No taxation without representation" arose out of the fact that the East India Tea Company received favorable tax treatment that the British withheld from American colonists.

Rushkoff shows that corporations don't owe their origins to a desire for fostering innovation or to open up the investor class. It wasn't about building an "ownership society" or encouraging enterprise. Corporations were invented to stop all those things. They were invented because the ruling class saw that the middle class was ascendant, that the would-be bourgeoisie were expanding their wealth and threatening to squirm out from under the thumbs of their upper-class lords. The aristocracy created the corporation to perpetuate the control of the aristocracy.
This is a critical point. As I argued here, the move by corporations to encourage debt for the middle class folks was purposeful, designed to actually bring about the demise of this middle class. By fooling Americans, and others, to accept the false premise that we can be "free" while enslaved to massive personal debt, corporations have succeeded in dissolving the middle class in the United States. By creating a debtor nation, too fearful to speak up in the totalitarian workplace, corporations have succeeded in dismantling the middle class. By trading actual ownership for debt, corporations have successfully enslaved the large majority of us.

Here is another key point:
It’s not that individual corporations are bad. It’s that corporations can’t help but be bad. It’s built into the design.

Integral to every modern corporation is a model that incorporates (literally) the power structure of the late Middle Ages, and the colonization strategy of 18th century empires. They don't open a store in an area, they establish a colony.
Corporations are designed a certain way. In particular, publicly held, for-profit corporations, by law, must increase profits at all costs. The colonial model, which involves, first of all, having power over the colonists, is the centerpiece.

The blogger moves to this key point:
What each chapter of the book drives home is that this activity doesn't require evil people at the helm. There doesn't need to be a cackling set of greedy bastards circling the board table. The structure of a corporation dictates how it will operate. Force of law and force of habit ensures that any action not intended to improve the corporation's means of exploitation is discarded. The corporation is drive to act... like a corporation. It's not an evil plot, it's an evil system.
Please consider this point carefully. Corporations act as they are designed to act. A small group of people have benefited inordinately from this effort. Most of us aren't in that minuscule group.

Until we, as Americans, face this fact, little will make sense. Consider, as an example, the reaction of people under the spell of right wing radio and TV commentators, supporting insurance companies, worrying that the public option will spell the demise of insurance companies. Where is the person who, when actually attempting to get benefits from their health insurance company, ends up thinking, "Wow, what a great company!" ?

Finally, consider these words:
But the stories about corporations aren’t the worst of it. In fact, that’s just the set up. The world is under the control of giant international companies which employ ruthless tactics to break down national barriers -- actually, who often don't even notice national barriers -- and we've all cooperated to the extent that we've helped them dismantle the few things that stood between these relentless abstractions and real people. Yeah, what else is new?

What’s new, at least relatively so, is the extent to which we’ve internalized the values of corporations. We criticize corporations for acting as if only the next quarter counts, but how often do we treat our own investments (an not just our financial investments) in the same way? How often is our response on any issue made on corporate terms, on terms that assume life is a zero-sum game where your advancement means my stagnation?
This type of corporate-think is pandemic. I fully admit that the specter of changing this seems almost beyond our scope. Corporations, and the manner in which they think and operate, are ubiquitous, the norm. To think otherwise seems Luddite. We see the same kinds of arguments about corporations as we do about guns: Corporations aren't either good or bad, it's how people use them.

This notion is false. Corporations will destroy the middle class, and democracy, here and elsewhere unless we recognize this threat and change the laws governing corporations to our advantage. We must make these legal fictions serve our needs. Unless we take this on, corporations will continue to work, consciously and deliberately, to enslave us, to get us to serve their needs.

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