Thursday, July 28, 2005

Corporatism

Corporatism is a state of affairs in which the influence of large corporations supplants the relationship between the citizen and his government. Under corporatism a charade of democratically elected government is maintained, but unhidden in the background is the vast wealth of corporations manipulating candidates, campaigns, elections, and government itself. George W. Bush smilingly calls this "his base." And, he is not kidding!

In the United States the notion has been, since 1789 and the ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, that the government is "of," "by," and "for" the people. There is no mention of corporations or joint stock companies or even large sole proprietorships. In other words, the country was founded on a set of ideas that completely ignored corporations. Business organization was, in fact, left largely to the several states to define and govern. The failure to predict political parties and nation-sized business organizations along corporate lines is the crack in our Liberty Bell, a crucial problem, perhaps a fatal one.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against limited liability corporations for the purposes of investment. Nor am I against the people who run corporations or who work in and for them. Corporations are not people, though. Deliberately they are not people, they are legal fictions designed to spread the risk of doing business outward from the management/owners team to all the owner/investors, each investor and manager taking only as much responsibility (if things go south) as their share of the stock would require. And, on the other hand, when profits are made each shareholder gets a proportionate share of the divisible profits. In fact, management teams are hired and fired on the basis of how they keep the corporation profitable, since many of the investors have no other source of income but their dividends from stocks they own—you know, the fabled little gray-haired grandmothers living out their years, and people like you who own stock indirectly through 401k and other forms of annuities, and, yes, even high-flying, jet-setting, stock speculators who often worry about and depend upon stock dividends.

Corporatism is also a state of mind, a zeitgeist, a philosophy of life and society, sort of, a background set of assumptions about life that includes corporations as if they were living entities. We all know the expression from the cartoonist Al Capp that "what's good for General Bullmoose is good for America." The General stands for the corporation (GMC), and through the magic of metaphor processing in the same ratio the corporation stands for America. Psychological corporatism associates progress and health in the economy with the prospects for corporations, which is sometimes called their "health." We constantly speak of corporations being good or bad citizens; we think of corporate decision-making like we think about personal decision-making—as if it were independent from the morality and rationality of the people within corporations who actually make the decisions.

Corporations, of course, have "interests." Among these are the goals of the management team and stockholders, and these typically are to secure the best possible situation for carrying out whatever the corporation does. So, in the case of the pharmaceutical industry, for a classic example, the ideal situation is one in which the often large costs of development are off-set by tax breaks and a system of ethics-neutral drug approvals that allows the corporation to bring more drugs to the market rather than fewer. Also on the retail end, pharmaceutical companies are interested in tying down consumer markets so that they can better predict their production needs, and, of course, be more efficient, thus producing larger and larger profits. Any act of government that creates a market is good news to them, even if, like the recent call to test everybody for mental health, the pharmaceutical companies don't have a clue how to cure mental health.

To achieve their interests employees and consultants to corporations talk to people who work for the regulatory agencies and try to persuade them that the corporation's work is faultless and its products of major benefit to the largest number of people. These same corporate representatives also talk to the people who make laws. In fact corporations help get these people elected by making contributions to election campaigns, providing transportation and amenities for events (and vacations) distant from Washington, and by showing how their management teams and other employees individually also contribute.

Because large corporations deal in large amounts of money, and because the needs for nailing down government agencies and lawmakers is so critical, huge amounts of money are made available from thousands of corporations. The total amount of money involved is unimaginable. It is, in fact, so large that the principles upon which our government was founded have been drowned in corporate money and, actually, no longer apply. It's like having a solar system with Jupiter sized planets in every orbit but Earth's. The gravitational attraction of all that money actually moves Earth out of its accustomed (Constitutional) orbit into a wildly eccentric path which leads eventually to unpleasant results.

One of the things that thriving psychological corporatism does is to persuade people that corporations are not only indispensable for the country to exist, but that corporations also know best how to govern themselves and their workers. Inherent within corporations is a "social-Darwinist" view of individuals such that the pyramid shape of the corporation provides a gauntlet through which only the "fittest" may pass. This creates over time an ideology of corporatism among the elite who run corporations and a sense of awe (if not respect) in the populace. It is, of course, a sham, for once established only the sons and (a few) daughters of the elite ever make it to the top of management.

When corporations are committed to a line of business, say, making paper and plastic products for the home and office, they establish relationships with other corporations that deal with energy, transportation, raw materials, marketing, etc. So, Kimberly Clark, for instance, becomes accustomed to using petroleum products for their plastics manufacturing and for the various processes going into making toilet paper and so forth. When presented with the idea that using petroleum may be hazardous to the planet's health, Kimberly assures Clark that the modern world cannot run without petroleum and to not worry so much about it. Over time the idea becomes a statement of principle, that is, the use of petroleum for industrial purposes (including the burning of gasoline to get employees to their jobs) is fundamental and not up for discussion. Later, when some folks continue to discuss it anyway ... as the glaciers melt around us ... the principle of petroleum-based economies being basically harmless develops out of the denial. It is easier to just ignore the bad news and play for long-term processes that will not impugn one's own decision-making!

This situation led a member of the Congress, Rep. Joe Barton, (T-Tex), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, to threaten scientists whose examination of global warming he neither understood nor wanted to believe. Yes, Republican politics played a major role in Barton's McCarthyistic demagoguery, but also the psychology of corporatism and the reality of corporatism was at the bottom of it. Well Barton was roundly cursed by Democrats and Republicans alike for his affront to science and little people in academe, but his work was done.

When corporatism becomes global, that is, as more and more nations accept the "inevitability" of the corporate organization model for controlling the means of production, the power of the corporate view ... the profit-centered view, with its appended ideas of social control and government interrelationships ... becomes pervasive. Corporatism seems to be not only inevitable, but because of its ubiquity it seems to be correct. It important to stop here for a moment and consider that the profit motive has never, ever proven to be a reliable tool, measure, or raw material for fashioning a humane society. It is just too narrow and simple to encompass the full range of human activity. People who believe that life is a game and money is the way you keep score are bereft of humanity and deserve the hollowness of their existence!

How on Earth could so many people be wrong about something? It's easy. It is standard practice for our species as evidenced by centuries of stupidity resulting in the rapid or slow-motion collapse of one civilization after another. The American civilization is not immune. In fact, far from immune, it has been infected with deadly corporatism virus.

You have not forgotten that government is supposed to be by "of, by, and for" the people? Obviously corporatism is wrong for America because it utterly destroys this basic concept.

Since corporations are legal fictions and since we have at our disposal in Congress the means to "perfect" the definition and laws governing corporations, we should forthrightly stand up and fix the situation before it is too late. What is needed is this: we need new set of rules governing the activities of corporate employees, management in particular. Investors would retain their reduced responsibility so long as they do not manage. Management must be treated like we treat airline pilots and bus drivers. That is they must be given a set of categorical imperatives that makes them act for the common good, not just the so-called life of the corporation. A corporation that respects the natural environment should be rewarded; a strip-mining or arsenic flooding goldmines should never be allowed to exist.

Corporations, being legal fictions, are not citizens, and therefore have no First Amendment rights. None! Absolutely none! Accordingly, corporations do not have the right to spend corporate funds in support of or against any political candidate or issue. Corporations should not be allowed to spend any money on lobbying (or other forms of bribery and corruption). It may be necessary, because of the vast amounts of money involved, to prohibit individuals within the management structure of corporations from making large political contributions also. To be fair and to give them equal protection of the law, a total of $1,000 per year from any individual in America—for all candidates and issues combined—should do it! This would apply to you and to me and to Donald Trump and Bill Gates—everyone!

This, obviously, would lead to greater reliance upon the media for information about candidates, issues, and the conduct of government. As we all know, today the media are corporate and do not report the news that is inimical to their corporate interests. This is an unacceptable situation which we would change by divesting from all communications corporations any other kind of industrial holding, entertainment, soap products, etc. Then to assure ourselves of equal opportunity to hear divergent views and to avoid what we now see as a conspiracy in restraint of trade in information (!) we would limit mass media corporations to three press, broadcast, or cable outlets and to an overall market of no more than 10 million people.

Over the next few days, my colleagues and I will be discussing these recommendations. Your input before they are addressed to Dr. Howard Dean and others would be greatly appreciated. If you want to rant, go elsewhere. We want constructive and intelligent contributions.

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