Buck brought up the question of whether corporations are inherently evil, and a fascinating discussion ensued. As of this writing, most commenters took a neutral view, comparing, for example, corporations to guns, a comparison I considered particularly apt.
To me, associations of folks who get together to accomplish something they couldn’t do alone are great. I’m for democratic associations of people who can decide among themselves what ought to be done, and how to do it. That seems to me both libertarian and socialist. The ease and frequency with which we formed associations was one of the things that impressed Tocqueville the most about the young United States.
Whether corporations are evil or not depends on definitions. I contend that the corporate structure is inherently destructive to the social fabric, in that it implements and reinforces privilege and inequality. That doesn’t mean all corporations are evil; in fact I’m shopping a book proposal partly focused on a corporation I worked for that was a joy for employees and a boon to neighbors, and generated an immensely loyal customer base. Must have been a family-run thing, you think? No, 85,000 employees on at least four continents. Truth be told, it was the only great job I had in the software industry; and every subsequent experience was a disappointment, so it could be argued that the job made me unhappy. But it also proved that it was possible to succeed, and make lots of money, honestly and directly. The only company I was ever proud to work for…
In theory, capitalism rewards initiative and ideas. In my experience in the software business, theory was rarely in evidence. Mostly, the ideas came from engineers, while the vast majority of the rewards went to the officers and the sales force, who were therefore generally hoping for short-term gains, after which they were out the door. Anecdotal data indicates that equivalent patterns have been spotted in other industries.
Current corporate structure, as Chomsky often says, is inherently fascist. Top-down control structures conflict with democratic societies. What we need is something more like the factory management Republican Spain used. If memory serves (Martha??), the coalition of the willing against the Anarchists (the legitimately elected government) drew in Catholics, Fascists, and Communists. What they had in common was their interest in control, and their fear of the appeal of the alternative. The Anarchists were more interested in freedom and distribution of the proceeds; and as a result their worker-run factories produced about a third more per worker. That even put the fear of God into the Communists.
Of course individuals and small groups who incorporate or set up partnerships are not included in this fascist-structure critique. As Mrs. Batard says, that’s a tax-and-liability thing. She’s right that it doesn’t constitute evil in itself, certainly not according to the rules of the capitalist game. But what ethical or moral structure would call such behavior positive or constructive? Capitalism encourages amoral decision-making, which frequently provokes immoral action.
In the end, I’m against all control structures. The worst offenders right now are clearly corporations, who are eternal and unaccountable. They also control the old media. But the new media, viz. us, is killing ’em.
I agree with Chomsky, surprise, about government: the eventual goal is to get rid of it, but right now it’s the best weapon we’ve got against the old top-down control structures, which have morphed from monarchies into CEOships. We’d better use what’s at hand.
The battle to control corporations is the defining issue of the next generation or two; it seems to me it’s now or never. Hopefully I’m wrong, and we have more time than that. But the data on shrinking ice caps, and the escaping methane in the Siberian tundra, and the warmest winter on record are not good signs.