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GreenSense- Special Edition
How and why corporations are destroying the environment, democracy, and quality of life and what you can do to stop them.
You know the story: An alien life-form from somewhere "out there" arrives on Earth. At first, the invaders pretend to be our friends. They offer to help us solve all our problems - poverty, disease, etc.. - Then it turns out their real mission is to take over the planet and consume all of its resources...including us! Ironically, an unbiased observer from "somewhere out there" might say that, far from being science fiction, that invasion is happening right now. The only difference is that the "aliens" are not from somewhere else; they are from here: They were created by us to do our bidding, but like Frankenstein's monster, once created, they have run amok.
Corporations Out of Control
Most people don't realize what a powerful (and dangerous) invention the corporation is. The corporate form is a powerful way to get big things done. But because it augments the power of select individuals so well, it's as dangerous as it is powerful - especially in a democracy, which can only function reliably if power is not unequally distributed. Furthermore, the corporate form, as it is presently defined, acquires a superordinate "will" of its own, separate from the wills of its owners/employees, a will that allows and even demands inhumane, immoral behavior from the people who are a part of it.
The Corporation as we know it, was originally used by Royalty as a tool to extend and concentrate the wealth and power of the Crown. It is important to remember that the Corporation is still primarily a tool for the concentration of wealth and power.
Listen to the words of U.S. President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, quoted in Time Magazine, May 9, 1938 :
The Framers of our Constitution understood the dangers - In part, the Revolution was a fight against the inhuman abuses of British corporations. Unfortunately, being powerful themselves (They were mostly well-off), they were a little too generous with property rights, and perhaps a little too fearful of the common people to create a constitution that would prevent dangerous concentrations of power in the hands of the few (see Background, below.) Even so, the newly independent States addressed the danger of corporate power by keeping corporations on a short leash, fearing exactly the problems we are facing today.
What happened? The limits originally in place were eroded, at first slowly, then much more quickly, as corporations regained power. In some cases they were able to make use of the strong constitutional protections for property and the limits to sovereignty to advance their power. In others, they simply used money to influence the courts. Now we have come to a point where corporations literally have more rights than real persons, yet corporations have little accountability, compared to real persons. Think that's an exaggeration? Read this!
It's important to remember that, in a real democracy, corporations exist to serve the common good; not the other way around. If any corporation cannot clearly demonstrate that it adds significantly to the common good without causing harm, it should be dissolved immediately - after making full reparations to society. Are all corporations bad? Of course not. However, the corporate form, especially as it exists today, allows and in fact rewards bad behavior.
What all this means is that, even if Congress were to honestly investigate, for example, the chemical industry, find the whole truth, face up to it, and sincerely attempt to create a remedy, They would not be able to enforce it! Corporations (and the people who are a part of them) are simply too well protected by current laws to be held fully accountable, no matter how bad their behavior! Furthermore, their resources and their right to use them to sway public opinion is so great, they would find a way to squirm out of any remedy Congress could apply.
Worse, after all that, some other industry (like biotech) could simply step into the void and fill it with a new castastrophy.
Lock 'Em Up!
This is why we need to find the strength to strip corporations of many of their rights, powers, and their competitive advantage over individually-owned businesses. We need to be able to hold both the organization and everyone involved accountable for corporate behavior.
How might this be done? Even today, corporations must be granted a charter to exist. Simple changes in the way charters are written, granted, and, above all, enforced could help a great deal. Furthermore, we could reinstate the practice of limiting the life of corporations. Also, legislation could stipulate that charters be quickly revoked in the event of misbehavior. And very important: We could make corporations and their officers much more accountable by making changes in the laws affecting corporate rights.
But wouldn't that destroy our economy? Don't corporations need all their rights and freedoms to create a better world for us? They would like us to think they do. And they'd like us to think we'd be living in squalor without them. But the facts are revealing: In the first place, many of the benefits are superficial or illusory, or both. For example, a television may be relatively cheap, but how about a house? how about transportation? What will your week's salary really buy you today, compared to a few years ago? (And speaking of salary, it's pure myth that businesses can't pay living wage and stay competitive.) Ask yourself: How much is pollution costing you, economically and personally? Does a cheap TV offset the pain of asthma or cancer? The truth is, the standard of living in the U.S. has been steadily declining for years, especially when compared to that of other industrialized countries. Meanwhile, the rich have become obscenely richer and the poor have become poorer and more numerous.
And that's before you start to count the astronomical, hidden economic costs of corporations. In fact, once you take the economic cost of corporate welfare and corporate bailout into consideration, getting a grip on corporations would result in a tremendous boost to the economy and to quality of life in general. As just one example, how about an extra $32 Billion/year? That's what the S& L Bailout is going to cost us each year for the next 30 years. How much is that? Enough to add almost 50% to the the entire Education, Training, Employment and Social Services segment of the Federal Budget. (2001 estimate: $65 billion). It's about three times what we'll spend on Community and regional development, and $5 billion more than we'll spend on natural resources and the environment. And who will get all the cash? Investors (most of them wealthy) and the people who caused the banks to fail to begin with. How about one more? Here's an article about a report exposing the electric utilities' claims for "stranded cost" recovery as illegal as, and larger than the S & L Bailout of the 1980's
What about your kids? Advertisers and marketers now spend over $2 billion each year on advertising to children. That's more than 20 times what they spent 10 years ago. These billions are spent each year on psychological studies and advertising designed to promote explicitly antisocial values. Why? It's simple: They assume that greedy, impatient, materialistic kids (and the adults they grow up to be) will buy more product. This onslaught is changing the very nature of our society, for the worse. Have a look at our Kids and Commercialism report for details.
Finally, if you consider all the damage our society's corporation-friendly policies have done to civil life, the benefits would be incredible.
Of course, there is a group that would suffer: the very richest 1 percent of the population. Those folks would suffer the worst fate they can imagine. Instead of being obscenely rich, they would be merely wealthy. For more on how things could be better for everyone (except the very rich, of course), have a look at David Korten's, The Post Corporate World
Wouldn't that be Communism?
It wouldn't even be socialism. The fact is, the corporate-run world we are presently creating is about as far away from Free Market Capitalism as you can get, this side of full-blown Communism. It's actually Corporate Socialism - In other words, a welfare state for corporations. And it's hardly democratic. A country in which major policy decisions are dictated by large corporations has neither a free market nor a democratic government. Adam Smith, who is routinely quoted by "Free Trade" advocates, would be appalled to see the mess we've made for ourselves. Smith made it very clear that his free market principles would only work if businesses were small, functioned in local (not global) markets, and if there were enough competitors that no company or group of companies could dominate the rest. Not exactly the situation we have before us today, is it?
Don't take my word for any of this. Use the links above and below to discover the situation for yourself.
Can we do it?
If all this is true: If we really do need to get a grip on corporate power or suffer pollution, disease, and worse, can it be done? It really depends on us. Corporations didn't take the power they have by force. We gave it to them. When they made impossible promises, we let ourselves be taken in. When they promised 'jobs', we listened. When they promised 'wealth', we said "Yes, yes!". When they asked for more power, we didn't object.
We have to learn to say "No, thanks!" to phony promises of wealth, to "tax breaks" that break the backs of local communities, to "tax cuts" that steal from the poor to give to the rich.
As recently as November 2000, many of us voted for more of the same: Bush or Gore. Many of us didn't vote at all. How many of us have written to any representative, ever, to instruct him or her how we wish to be represented? How will our representatives know what we really want unless we tell them? The good news is that, so far, we still have a political system that could be moved by a groundswell of public will.
So get going and get public!
Ending Corporate Governance The main page explains how and why we can regain control of corporations, as intended by our Constitution. Once you've read the main page, Have a look at the Recommended Reading List of articles on the site and the links page - You'll find much more to pursue.
Of course, the corporate invention doesn't exist in a vaccuum. It's embedded in economics. On a deeper level, It can be seen is as one of many weapons used in a civil war that humanity has been fighting with itself perhaps as long as we have existed: The war over power, whether it will be concentrated or distributed. As a weapon of power consolidation, the corporation has proven to be truly world-class, ranking with tools like gunpowder, metals, and most powerful of all, farming. For an eye-opening account of how this conflict has played out over the past few hundred years, along with some insights on democracy, read this transcript of a talk by Noam Chomsky.
Adam Smith, author of An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations, is widely claimed by advocates of "Free Market Capitalism" to have drawn the blueprint for our current system. It's instructive to read what he actually said...
For some modern commentary on how Adam Smith's work could be applied to enhancing rather than degrading the human condition, see Seeing The Post Corporate World: Life After Capitalism .
Just a few of many (see the Ending Corporate Governance links page for many more)...
POCLAD - The Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy.
Corporate Watch - provides information and analysis on the impacts of transnational corporations.
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