thetakeThe world finally seems to be waking up to the fact that corporatism — the bald and amoral use of power and wealth to control political decision-making, eliminate competition and increase profits no matter what the social and environmental cost — is the scourge of modern society. Corporatists use globalization as a mechanism for increasing their power and profits, the consequences of which are mostly negative to third world countries that misconstrue imperialist expansion as partnership until it’s too late. And corporatists use every political machination at their disposal to interfere with the market, from creating oligopolies that gouge consumers to preemptively suing innovators and entrepreneurs to intimidate them from entering their markets, to using the IMF and other global economic bodies under their control to strong-arm poor, struggling countries into giving the corporatists their land and their resources for a pittance, and, with the complicity of weak and corruptible local governments, allowing the corporatists to ravage and pollute their land and waters and disgracefully exploit local workers. When corporatists press the governments beholden to them to sign laughably-named ‘free’ trade agreements like NAFTA and MAI, they know that these agreements are only ‘free’ for the corporatists — for the people and the land they exploit, these agreements are anything but ‘free’. And on top of it all, taxpayers are robbed by the corporatists’ political stooges to pay monstrous and market-deforming subsidies back to the corporatists, which are nothing less than kickbacks for political campaign contributions and theft from taxpayers.

Progressives have no quibble with true capitalism or true, measured trade liberalization, yet the incoherent and largely corporatist-owned media have labeled anti-corporatists as anti-capitalists, anti-free-marketers, anti-trade and, of course, as ‘terrorists’. And the dumbed-down citizens, at least in North America, no longer learn the lessons of history and economics that could let them see corporatists and their actions and deceptions for what they truly are — ruthlessly and aggressively anti-democracy, pro-oligopoly, anti-labour, anti-environment, anti-innovation, anti-entrepreneurship, anti-consumer and anti-citizen.

In the past year, three books have painstakingly laid out the case against today’s corporatism run amok, and each has provided a recipe to bring this Frankenstein monster back under the control of the people, whose broad interests corporations were originally designed to serve. All of them build on the courageous work of David Korten (When Corporations Rule the World), Charles Derber (People Before Profit), Thom Hartmann (Unequal Protection) and others who have explained both the terrible history and current unbridled litany of ills of corporatism. But these three new books go further and tell us specifically how to put the tyrannical genie back in the bottle.

I’ve already reviewed Joel Bakan’s book (and film) The Corporation. which explains the psychopathy that has been imbued unwittingly in corporations by making them amoral, responsible only to their majority shareholders, and giving them nearly unlimited statutory power and rights (more than we give individuals, in fact). My review laid out Bakan’s 13-point plan and my seven additional suggestions for ending corporatism.

Bakan is a Canadian, but his recommendations consider American and European corporation laws and charters as well. A second, more recent book, The People’s Business, by Lee Drutman and Charlie Cray of Nader’s Citizen Works Corporate Reform Commission, covers much the same territory in a more leisurely and substantial way, and is focused on the US legal system for chartering and controlling corporations. The Commission is made up of of people with astonishing progressive credentials (Herman Daly, Charles Derber, Hazel Henderson, David Korten, Ted Nace (Gangs of America), Anita Roddick, Nader himself and a host of others). It’s conclusions and recommendations are virtually identical to Bakan’s, though they are more thoroughly explained and justified but not as succinctly laid out. Both are specifically aimed at re-engineering corporations to do what they were historically created to do.

Derber has a new book as well, peculiarly named Regime Change Begins at Home. I say peculiarly because it’s not really about Bush or Republicans at all, but rather, as its more apt subtitle Freeing America from Corporate Rule suggests, about corporatism. Derber’s vision for change is a bit more expansive than Bakan’s or Citizen Works’, and he lays it out as follows in the final section of the book:

  1. Take down the 5 pillars of the third Corporate Regime: Eliminating corporations’ anti-democratic features, ending corporate interference in politics, restoring health, education and worker protections to New Deal levels, ending imperialist adventures, and removing the we’re the market, we can do no wrong corporate mystique. Earlier in the book he’s explained that twice before in US history corporatism has been out of control, and on those occasions, with huge effort, it was reined in.
  2. Build a new democracy: Take back control of business, media, education, the health system, and the political system and parties from corporations:
    • Rewrite corporate charters to ensure corporations serve the public rather than vice versa.
    • Strip corporations of constitutional rights that belong only to individual citizens.
    • Get corporations out of politics.
    • Prohibit corporate involvement in education, health, the media and the military.
    • Reform corporate globalization by taxing speculation, mandating global corporate codes of conduct, protect labour and environmental standards in trade agreements, offer debt relief to poor nations, and create new democratically-elected trade and financing authorities.
    • Pass laws to guarantee all Americans food housing, medical care, education, jobs, and a living wage.
    • Renounce imperialism and unilateral wars in favour of collective security
    • Restore and entrench civil liberties

Derber believes these massive changes are possible, because there is a history of successfully overcoming corporatist excesses, because it’s in most Americans’ self-interest (even if they don’t yet realize it), because the US grassroots culture and tradition supports and demands it, and because it is inclusive, consistent with both progressive and conservative values.

So now we have three visions, three re-tellings of the terrible lessons of history about corporatist excess and how it was overcome, and three recipes for overcoming it again now. What’s interesting is that despite the differences in style, format, and effusiveness, they’re really all saying the same things: The people must come to understand what corporatism is, the damage that it is doing, and the successes of dealing with it in its previous manifestations, and use that knowledge to reform the legal and political systems to rein in corporatism and redirect corporations to do what they are good at (raising capital) and to stop doing all the self-serving, destructive and ultimately psychopathic things they are doing today.

For the skeptics who think it cannot be done, I recommend you read The People’s Business or Regime Change Begins at Home, specifically the sections that describe the ravages of corporatism in the past, and the remarkable job the people did, grassroots style, to end it. Then once you’re convinced reform is possible, read The Corporation for the succinct, point-by-point process for doing it.

Image from Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s film The Take.

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  1. Dave, je trouve votre blog extraordinairement brillant et vaste dans ses thèmes. Félicitations. Un bravo particulier pour ce billet sur le corporatisme. Je me permet de faire un lien sur mon propre blog.Keep up the good work!

  2. Derek says:

    > Pass laws to guarantee all Americans food housing, medical care, education, jobs, and a living wage.I think this goes a bit far. Basic subsistence food, a roof over one’s head (maybe not walls), medical care, and primary education; I’m ok with. But when you start guaranteeing *everything*, then you run into real problems.If I am guaranteed a job, then I don’t have to *do* anything. I can ignore my boss, threaten my co-workers, drive away the customer, and waste the investor’s money because, hey, I’m guaranteed a job. If I get fired from this one, then the government has to find me another one.Not only would this demoralize the business world, but I think it would completely wipe out society. One only has to look at what has happened to the indian nations, in the tribes where every member’s basic needs are provided for, the majority have lost any drive to do anything, sinking into squalor and depression.Let’s have the government help with insurmountable problems (where they can), but not remove the challenges of life. It is in facing those challenges, that individuals and communities define themselves.

  3. Raging Bee says:

    “Get corporations out of politics?” How are we supposed to accomplish this? How will we decide which businesses, interest groups, or lobbying organizations shall be stiff-armed out of the public discourse? And who will make such important decisions?If we keep a “corporation” out of politics, does this mean that none of that corporation’s employees are allowed to speak or vote? What about the people who buy its products?What about chartered “corporations” that do good deeds and/or sell socially-beneficial products or services? Are they to be shoved out as well?Businesses – including big faceless corporations – thrive because large numbers of people buy whatever they sell. As such, they represent some sort of need or want on the part of the consumers. How do you propose to silence the businesses without ignoring the real needs they’re paid to satisfy?”Prohibit corporate involvement in education, health, the media and the military.”So a small corporation can’t tell the government it can make, say, better armor for less money than the big sole-source contractor? So a hospital chain can’t offer tips to legislators based on its experience in health policy?Whatever objects are needed to solve our pressing problems will be (are) invented by inventors, engineered by engineers, produced by producers, distributed by distributors, and sold by salesmen. Empty slogans contribute nothing to this process.

  4. Rajiv says:

    You should also look at particularTHE IMPACT OF CORPORATIONS ON THE COMMONS brief on Corporate PersonhoodWar, Inc. End of Agribusiness

  5. Rayne says:

    I think the best, biggest, single change that could be made is the removal of rights from a corporation. A corporation is an entity, a fabrication, not a human being; it serves an aggregate of human owners who already possess rights. The corporation continues to provide benefits to the aggregate owners through the protections it offers as a shield from liability, but any additional benefits should not come at the infringement of rights of actual human citizens. Neither should the aggregate rights of corporate owners infringe on the rights of other non-corporate owners.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Pierre: Merci beaucoup, vous êtes très gentil. Je vais lire votre blog afin de pratiquer ma compréhension execrable de la langue française.Derek: I think you have a pessimistic view of human nature. Just because some people have become dependent on government handouts doesn’t mean that guaranteeing decent minimum standards of life’s necessities will so demoralize and demotivate everyone that economic activity will cease. The cause of the collapse of First Nations cultures was not government handouts, it was depriving them of the right to live the way they had always lived, annihilating their societies with diseases and addictions to which they had no resistance. RB: Read any of the three books and you’ll see how to do it, and actually increase innovation, entrepreneurship and productivity in the process.Rajiv: Excellent links, thanks. I thought POCLAD was on my blogroll — I’ve made a note to add it.Rayne: Precisely. Very succinctly put.

  7. Raging Bee says:

    I’m sure a good case can be made for changing specific aspects of corporate law, the process of chartering corporations, and/or basic features of corporate charters. None of that is the same thing as “getting corporations out of politics,” which is impossible anyway: the interests represented by “corporations” will always find a voice in the public discourse, whatever the laws or org-charts say.It may be true in some sense to state that “A corporation is an entity, a fabrication, not a human being;” but such a statement, and the attitude underlying it, can very easily lead to the dehumanization of the people and human interests that may underlie a corporation’s influence. Besides, whatever the law says, a corporation does indeed consist of human agents, employees, dependents, and consumers. Let’s be careful with the sloganeering, shall we?

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