April 06, 2007
Are Corporations Evil? Well, Define Your Terms…

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.


Posted by Chuck Dupree at April 06, 2007 02:20 AM
Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):


What is this double teaming? Not fair.

Only the uninformed would think corporations are benign. Some aren't bad, but those are rare.

Corporate managers couldn't care less for "the people" despite their protestations. They care nothing about the community or its people. They only about how they are perceived by stockholders.

Most corporations do "community service", but it's primarily PR only. They have to look good. On rare occasions there is an altruistic motive behind what they do, but not normally from my perspective.

I'm a corporate animal and see the hypocrisies almost daily. It makes me Ill, but I need the pieces of silver.

If a corporation really did what it said it intended to do for the community and the workers, I would be shocked.

After having said all that, I worked for seven years for a corporation which had integrity. Don't know if it still has it. People were treated fairly regardless of anything (sex, sexual orientation, color and such) and retired at a higher income than they made working. And it was a fantastically profitable company even through the depression.

Hold onto your ideals. They are possible.

Posted by: SPIIDERWEB™ on April 6, 2007 6:35 AM

I guess I'm something of an iconoclast when it comes to ideologies and to writers in general.
Communism was a great idea but it failed in practice. Capitalism has already created holocausts, the Irish famine being a great example (Ireland produced more than enough food to feed it's population, just not enough to pay the rent).
Socialism has worked quite well in many countries, hell, it's worked damn well here, Social Security is the best example of that.
On the other hand, free handouts to the poor have sometimes produced mixed or mediocre results, for example Johnson's great society programs, part of which seemed to create a permanent non working class who had no way to get out.

And there's something to be said for capitalism as an incentive builder.

The anarchists were on to something as well, although they really screwed up when they started using bombs to try to get their message across.

I personally think that combining the best elements of all of these ideologies is what we should strive for.

The one thing I do know is that unrestrained free market capitalism is not the panacea it's made out to be. In fact, it's setting this nation up for disaster, and that's happening fast.

Posted by: Buck on April 6, 2007 3:46 PM

I hope you're right about the "new media", Chuck, but I doubt it. The long knives are already out. Intellectual property rights are one. Another one, not usually noticed as such, is all this uproar about online sexual predators, etc. Do you think the party of Mark Foley, etc and ad infinitum, gives a real shit about sexual predators and porn online? Only on election day. But censorship is forever. Once that door is open, the "new media" as we now know it is on the way out.

Posted by: CCRyder on April 8, 2007 8:57 PM
Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember info?