Friday, April 28, 2006

Business As Usual

One of the things my Republican acquaintances constantly tell me is that business, you know, American "free enterprise" business as conducted by Ma & Pa all the way to GMC and Exxon Mobile, is most progressive and creative part of our civilization. These people believe that business not only organizes the productive forces of the population but has a built-in need to express social and environmental concerns and that these are forged by the marketplace for the benefit of all. The fact that business is, by definition, responsible for the life-style of materialistic consumerism is off-set, they might think, by a durable faith in the Judeo-Christian God. It is a reasonable balance for them, although none of them seem to understand that a durable faith and understanding of the credo might have relevance to the conduct of business.

I would like to begin this essay with a trip over to a recent New York Times editorial about lawn care, for this is a neat little lesson in the nature of "free enterprise" conditioned by "free enterprise" politicians. Take a look and then come back. You will understand why my replacement mower will be electric and why I have such little faith in the "inate goodness" of business enterprise.

Yes, it is true, business provides the opportunity for those a little short on "enterprising spirit" or lacking sufficient capital to start their own business to work and to contribute to the success of the enterprise of others. Businessmen and women believe they have a fair bargain when they pay workers off within their business with a wage or salary. This is a vestige of the commodity mentality, however, and leads to the idea that workers are dispensable bearers of labor, rather than sweat-equity participants in the business. Business must take into account that both wage and salaried workers accumulate a contributor interest in the well-being of the business and take pride, like the owner, in producing a respected good or service.

But this is rare in America these days. There seems to be among corporations and proprietorships a sense that NOW is the only important time, and NOW is the time to "get ours while the getting is good." If I believed for a moment that the board rooms of America's corporations were enthralled by the imminence of The Rapture, I could understand this shortsightedness. If I believed that stockholders actually force the resignation of corporate administrations for a "slow quarter" or even a "slow year," then I could understand the CEO's behavior from another point of view. But, folks, these are excuse answers designed to cover up the truth that once business achieves that magic "repetition rate" and the dollars come flooding in, the average and the above average corporate executive becomes narcissistic and believes him or herself to be especially privileged, a person God loves more because of the bounty he or she reaps. The profit motive, despised in word, but honored in every deed becomes the vis viva, the living force of the system.

When you are finished reading my thoughts on corporations, I would like you to take a moment to read about The Ten Worst Corporations of 2005. You can read about them now, if you want, but the rest of what I have to say does not depend on that essay. You will see the profit motive gone wild in action.

An internet friend of mine passed this quotation along to me earlier this week. It seems to be appropriate, but bears some study.

The country is headed toward a single and splendid government of an aristocracy founded on banking institutions and monied corporations, and if this tendency continues it will be the end of freedom and democracy, the few will be ruling and riding over the plundered plowman and the beggar....

Thomas Jefferson

The point is that among the founding fathers Jefferson understood the mathematics of large enterprises. He understood that the corrupting influence of money would not restrict itself to the vanity and pocketbooks of corporate leaders, but would (and already had) manifest itself in politics, creating an anti-democratic force that would soon engulf the nation and make of it something quite different from what Franklin, Jefferson, Madison and the rest of us hoped it would be.

Corporations are inherently selfish, greedy, self-serving institutions. They are designed to make money for those who invest in them. They are managed to provide handsome salaries and bonuses for those who lead them. Back in the period immediately after WWII corporations used to understand that the people they employed (and the employees of other corporations in other areas of the economy) were the consumers of their goods and services. Accordingly, pay was more closely alligned with this consumer notion. Now, though, corporations see labor only as the most significant expense of production and try to limit their commitment to it. Rather than seeing to it that workers are also consumers, they believe that a globalized market (especially the NAFTA/CAFTA market) will provide the consumers they need for today's profits.

Of course it is shortsighted and wrong, but they do it anyway. The reason is that they understand how little they are actually paying wage and salary earners for their loyal contributions compared to corporate income, profitability. They are paying them nothing for this and expect that the workers will, in turn, have no loyalty, which means that they need not be loyal either. This notion overlooks the reality of work in this century (or any other), namely that workers commit their very lives and families to the enterprise.

The irony of the politics of corporate greed is this: when they have, by crook and fraud and misrepresentation, gotten complete control of the government ... as they now have ... they are incapable of maintaining the system that spawned them. Like dogs eating in a day a week's worth of food while the owners vacation, they will starve the next six days and whine about it like the curs they are. Mike Whitney recently published this notice on Rob Kall's OpEdNews. It is perfectly clear that the Bush administration aiding abetting the feeding frenzy of corporate greed and shortsightedness has buried our nation in the makings of a come-uppance that will make the Great Depression seem like the good old days. If and when we come out of this imminent debacle, we must readjust and overhaul our legal system to understand corporations and businesses for what they are—necessary but inherently anti-democratic.

James Richard Brett