|The 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:
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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