Updated -- 21 September 2003
Corporations tend to get a bad rap. The good news is that they don’t necessarily receive a lot of bad press. This is because they tend to control the media, and in some cases, are the Media. Clearly the Media c ompanies are corporations, and/or are owned by corporations. Duh. Meanwhile, those individuals who work for corporations, even the Transnational Corporations, may think that it’s not as bad as it appears from the outside. But this may only be a case of a gross inability to see the forest for the trees. (Or simply the wholesale, wanton and irresponsible destruction of the same trees, which when piled up alongside the river bank, inhibit any alternative viewpoint.)
ompanies are corporations, and/or are owned by corporations. Duh. Meanwhile, those individuals who work for corporations, even the Transnational Corporations, may think that it’s not as bad as it appears from the outside. But this may only be a case of a gross inability to see the forest for the trees. (Or simply the wholesale, wanton and irresponsible destruction of the same trees, which when piled up alongside the river bank, inhibit any alternative viewpoint.)
But even those who see corporations as potentially the good guys, sometimes see the dark side, and suspect that there may be some need for reform. One case in point is Robert Monks, a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, who operates an investment fund with more than $250 million under management, and who has written books about wealth and power, including, The Emperor's Nightingale: Restoring the Integrity of the Corporation in the Age of Shareholder Activism (Addison Wesley, 1998).
Monks has been concerned about the adverse effects of corporate power on society. But by and large, he is still a corporate reformer, i.e. not a corporate abolitionist. He does believe that it is the owners of the corporation who should determine its destiny. In that mode, he -- as the controller of a lot of stock ownership -- is not above flexing his investment group’s stock muscles from time to time.
Monks did join forces with George Soros, in a campaign against Waste Management Inc., a company with a long history of corporate wrongdoing. Monks identified Waste Management as a company with low stock value, sloppy management and misleading accounting. He then organized shareholders on the Inter Net, and forced the resignation of two CEOs. Eventually, the Monks group convinced the third CEO that the level of rot within the company was so great that the only way out was a merger with a cleaner, smaller company. Eventually, Waste Management merged with the smaller USA Waste.
In his book, Monks describes what he calls the four corporate dangers: unlimited life, unlimited size, unlimited power and unlimited license. (Which, of course, is coincident with limited liability. And therein lies the problem!) Only shareholder activism, Monk argues, can bring about the four “solutions”, i.e.: long-term life, appropriate size, balanced power, and accountability to long-term owners. He believes other efforts at controlling corporate power -- such as corporate chartering, investigative reporting, regulation, independent boards -- are bound to fail. From his viewpoint, only an activated shareholder movement can bring corporations into line. And as a major stockholder, this provides him with a considerable base of power, i.e. there might be a slight conflict of interest there.
Even if Monks is right, even if well intentioned, the odds are that his efforts will be in vain.
When the U. S. Supreme Court in 1886 (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad) held that a private corporation was a natural person under the U. S. Constitution [the 14th Amendment to the Constitution for the United States of America], the way was opened for corporations to dominate the public and private life of society, define the economic, cultural and political agenda for humans and all other living things, and perhaps most importantly, allow corporations to assume The First Amendment rights, wherein they can say anything, and yet... still have limited liability.
An absolutely fundamental difference between living, sentient beings and corporations is that human beings have unlimited liability, and corporations have limited liability. Human beings can forfeit their freedom, their property, even their lives for everything from libel and slander to mistaken judgment to accidents to intentional acts. Corporations can not even be driven out of business for the most questionable acts -- except perhaps in rare cases of public outrage. The latter, however, is wholly unacceptable in that an uninformed or misinformed public opinion could have been molded by -- you guessed it -- another corporation or group of corporations, also known as the media.
For those who’ve seen the movie, Erin Brockervich, the question to ask is: “Did anyone at the corporate utility (employees, directors, consultants), once it had agreed to pay thru the nose for destroying the health and lives of hundreds of people, ever do a single day of jail time? Did the corporation then recoop its liability losses by simply raising the rates for its services? Now, THAT’s limited liability, the “corporate veil” at work!
Enter the United States Government, with the where-with-all to curb corporate tyrannies. Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked out too well for anyone but the corporations and their highly paid (bribed?) political operatives. Current campaign financing laws, combined with the “revolving door” between corporations and government, are the means by which corporations control absolutely the politics of nations. The degree to which corporations are out of control is best illustrated by the recent massive theft at the upper levels by CEOs -- aided and abetted by Independent Accounting Firms. As the CEO of the New York Stock Exchange departs after eight years, he takes a mere $168 million home with him! Gee, I hope he can find another job.
Corporate Politics is in all respects the prime mover in the destruction of Constitutional principles and the idealized American way of life. Whether it is Oprah providing aid and soft money (i.e. free, extensive publicity) to the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates -- while ignoring completely the qualified and legitimate third party candidates -- or the international banksters being responsible for the US Bankruptcy, and its after-math, corporations rule the world from the unethical base of the “bottom line”.
About the only saving grace in Corporate Rule is that different corporations have different agendas in many situations, and thus the competition of the greedy keeps some aspects at bay. At the same time, however, organizations which support non-profitable institutions, such as public schools and environmental causes, have a very reduced ability to compete with the 900 pound gorillas.
[Suggestions whereby the non-profit organizations should have access to the same power that Corporations possess, show a lack of foresight. Making still more 900 pound gorillas is not the way to solve the problem of 900 pound gorillas.]
Prisons, for example, once the purview of government (and non-profit), are increasingly being taken over by (for profit) corporations. The corporations are, in most cases, paid on the basis of the number of convicts or prisoners in their “care”. The result is that these prison corporations, in order to bolster the bottom line, i.e. have more prisoners, begin to bribe judges and courts so they will levy heavier sentences, and even send individuals to prison who don’t deserve it, or who are simply not even guilty -- all in the name of profit for the shareholders. [But of course, the stockholders see precious little, as the CEOs and top ranking executives skim off the top most of the ill-gotten gains in the form of compensation, Golden Parachutes, fringe benefits, stock options, etceteras.]
Corporations not only strongly influence domestic policies within the United States, but also affect American foreign policy, by the simple expedient of an unbridled support of Capitalism by the American Government (or governments, when State governments are included). This in turn leads to tremendous inequities in the way the Military Industrial Complex (which President Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago) treats the people of the world. What we have is a Corporate Pac Man Conglomerate gobbling up resources from countries all over the world, and in the end so infuriating (often rightly so) the people of those foreign lands, that terrorist organizations the world over have easy access to disgruntled and disillusioned individuals. And not just from third world countries, as the presence of American and European proxy-terrorists have made clear.
The American Government’s wholehearted support of Corporate Capitalism, combined with what amounts to general greed, stupidity, and power-at-any-cost, has led to a Crisis of American Government, where The Art of Cover Ups has risen to new heights of sophistication, and Americans and non-Americans alike no longer trust anything the US government says, does, or in which it becomes involved.
The final horror is a situation where the awesome power of the United States, its military and industrial base, and its collective citizenry, is not used to curb Corporate abuse, but instead to aid it in its nefarious agenda to accumulate ever greater power in the hands an elite. Instead, all indication are that governments throughout the world are slowly handing over the reins of power to what can only be called a Corporate State.
So... What are the victims of Corporate tyrannies to do?
As Carolyn Chute, author of the 1985 classic, The Beans of Egypt, Maine, and a staunch corporate abolitionist phrased it: “...if faceless financiers and their tool, the corporation, aren't completely out of our lobbies, out of all our campaigns, and out of our constitution soon, looks like We, the People are going to come in the middle of the night with a can of gasoline in every hand and one fat match."
This is not necessarily a recipe for a Revolution, or even Anarchy on a massive scale. But inasmuch as it might have a deleterious effect on the bottom line of the Corporations, they might consider taking Ms. Chute’s sentiments with a certain amount of concern. Just as labor unions forced their way into the mainstream, despite the government’s assistance to the corporations in attempting to destroy them during the first half of the Twentieth Century, there is a point where it’s no longer profitable to forge the Corporate State.
A curious, highly ironic article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 9-11-2001 (i.e. the morning edition written and published before the more notorious events of that date). The article was about the many protests against the World Trade Organization, and had a quote from a person of considerable authority who stated confidently that, “DC will not burn!” Admittedly, the Pentagon is across the river from “DC”, but I think the point is made that protests cannot be automatically dismissed out of hand.
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]