Monday, 4 July 2011

Constraining the Corporation

You see them every day.  

The flagrant and contemptuous displays of money and power in the service of money and power.

From the bailout of the Wall Street criminals, to renewed offshore drilling after the Gulf disaster, to tornado victims held hostage to budget concessions.   

And while they are favorably treated by the mainstream media (sanitized and spun for our consumption, of course), and perhaps more perceptively chronicled in the best of the alternative sites, money and power continues unilaterally and unabated to shape your destiny. 

The trends that have come to so completely reflect the human condition are these: Staggering wealth is amassed by the few, at an alarming and accelerating rate, while the permanent and growing underclass becomes increasingly irrelevant to those in power.  We live in a state of perpetual war, both at home and abroad.  The health of the planet is increasingly at risk and, with it, our very survival.  And representative democracy has long-since ceased to reflect our will, as politicians openly cater to the demands of a tiny elite - so emphatically described by Lawrence Wilkerson:
"What we have today is a corpratocracy. We have the president and the congress in the hands of Big Food, Big Pharmacy, Big Oil, Finance, Insurance and Real Estate...the President doesn't run this county; the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State don't run these people, and God help us (!) the American people don't run this country!  Big Money runs this country." 
It is Big Money, the multi-national corporations, that so completely control the key issues affecting the human condition.  The multi-national corporation is the vehicle by which money and power serves money and power, the mechanism through which the elite influence (read: buy) policy makers for their exclusive benefit.  As a group, multi-national corporations have become the most dominant economic and political force the world has known, and they have become perhaps the greatest threat to mankind in its history. They are driving a headlong rush to our ultimate demise.

Simply put, corporations are killing us. And they are killing us in ways both large and small, long-term and immediate, as even a partial list will show - they drive the negative trends in our changing climate (while denying the science that proves the case); they pump ever greater volumes and varieties of carcinogens into the environment without real oversight; they create the conditions for debilitating systemic poverty and unemployment; and, as integrated partners with the military, they participate in and profit from the subjugation and misery of people around the world.  

Strange that this most successful form of human organization, one that exists and endures only through human effort, an entity created entirely of the human imagination, could be our ultimate undoing. Not surprising, though, considering its legal mandate to maximize shareholder wealth - the potential for corrupt and criminal action is baked into the corporation's DNA.

And yet, perhaps there is the faintest hope.  Precisely because the corporation is an invention of the human mind, it seems obvious that we simply correct the mistake, that we rethink the corporation! Why are we held hostage by a creature of our own imagination?  To answer, the present realities are so completely aligned against any change you can believe in, the infrastructure so completely ingrained.  Money and power, in the service of money and power, will not be undone.  It is an insurmountable force beyond remedy, one that relies upon our ingrained sense of learned helplessness, based on a strategy calculated to suppress any concerted response.  We are supposed to be rendered helpless and mute by the daily barrage of job losses, entitlement reductions, labor bashing and diminishing civil liberties. Each is a hammer blow intended to ensure our inaction.

No, this thought that we can redress our errors is a fantasy - to imagine that corporations could be subordinated, that elected representatives would actually reflect the will and serve the needs of the many, that our looming catastrophes could be averted.  As Chris Hedges said, "The war is over, and they won." 

Still, given the disasters that will surely reward our inaction, there is an imperative that we at least try to reclaim the power to correct this flawed idea known as the corporation.  Derrick Jensen suggests that there is a tipping point at which we must take action, a point where we can wait no longer.  What would it take to bring fully into the consciousness of the majority the clear and present danger represented by the multi-national corporation?  How could we mobilize the 90% to impose their will, for their well-being, on an elite that is killing them?

Many of the most admired figures in history have spoken out against the corporation - from Abraham Lincoln to Albert Einstein - and today a determined core of committed commentators bear daily witness to the criminality of multi-national corporations.  And yet, the ground-swell for change seems completely absent.  As Ralph Nader recently asked: "What could start a popular resurgence in this country against the abuses of concentrated, avaricious corporatism?"  The surprising events of the "Arab Spring" demonstrate (again) that populist sparks are not easily predicted.

But, at the very least, we need to anticipate and to prepare for the spark, if not actively set for it the most favorable conditions.  We must clearly establish in the public mind that multi-national corporations are at the heart of all the trends that so seriously threaten us. We must advance the notion that their power can be subordinated and that their linkage with the political class can be dramatically curtailed and made transparent.  We must challenge the supremacy of the corporation as we also champion positive alternatives to it.  We must organize, and begin now to exercise the wide range of actions available to us, across international boundaries, and in collaboration with the widest possible array of compatible interest groups.  And we must articulate the vision of where all these efforts could ultimately lead.

So, yes, by all means, let us make the effort to change the system! Let's embrace the wisdom that "a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world".  But change it to what?  We enjoy everyday the fruits of the multi-national corporations' labors, so can we really build a future without their produce and products? There is certainly a place - a need, in fact - for large economic entities. In any changed world, people will still go to work and make products and deliver services; in a system of new economics, though, we'd wish to do it in a much more enlightened way (hence the need for a clearly articulated vision of the future). How, then, do we constrain the excesses of corporate power while building acceptable economic alternatives?

We start by moving past simple protest.  It's easy, if not warmly satisfying, to conjure righteous anger for the corporate executives and the politicians who serve them.  But doing so serves their interests much more than ours, since it steals the focus from what needs to be done.

So, as outlined in this, my initial post, we've got important things to do.  Let's get started.

(First posted on June 12 at OpEdNews.)

No comments:

Post a Comment