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Corporations

Righty: Business is what made America great, and the modern corporation is the ultimate expression of American business. Here individualism and team spirit thrive in perfect balance, much as in baseball. Corporations reward smart, energetic, ambitious and adaptable professionals — hard-headed realists and visionaries alike — as they demonstrate their abilities and rise to positions of leadership. You can work for a company that reflects your values and find your true calling there. Or you can simply invest in a company you like and reap the fruits of its success. Corporations create millions of jobs with generous salaries and ample benefits. They provide workers with a cheerful, friendly, sanitary environment in the company of like-minded colleagues who have a vested interest in each other’s success. In fact, I can’t think of anything negative to say about corporations, though I’m sure Lefty will come up with an objection or two.

Lefty: An objection or two? Where do I begin? The corporate world is a vast network of greed and evil (yes, evil — remember Enron?) masquerading as suburban good ol’ boys in tassel loafers. No force on this planet is so relentlessly dedicated to the interests of big money at the expense of little people, the environment and the future. The name of the game is exploitation of resources, both natural and human. In their ruthless pursuit of profits, corporations jettison every noble and moral human impulse. They bribe our elected representatives for secret favors. Their leaders are almost invariably conservative white males, and everyone who doesn’t fit the hierarchical corporate mold is trodden under. CEOs are rewarded with obscene (I’d even say insane) compensation packages, making a mockery out of the earnest efforts of average employees. Most companies now expect their rising stars to put in twelve-to-sixteen hour days, skip lunch, endure grinding stress, and essentially sacrifice their private lives for benefit of the “team.” Yet they can be fired without cause or see their hard-won jobs “outsourced” to India. What a brutal farce! I can hardly wait for the next major stock market crash to wipe out the entire corporate system once and for all — and believe me, it will happen sooner or later.

The New Moderate:

The modern corporation is a strange and unsettling paradox: a miniature totalitarian state that thrives in free societies… a bastion of collectivism that glorifies capitalism. Renegade individualists and thinkers generally come to grief within the corporation, while cooperative comrades thrive. It goes without saying that every comrade must embrace the corporate mission, conform to the team culture and surrender his or her individual interests for the greater good of the state — um, company. Comrades aren’t permitted to choose their leaders or elect representatives. Private life and thought recede into the background. Anyone who fails to produce sufficiently or who otherwise runs afoul of the system is purged. Even loyal and productive comrades can be purged en masse if the higher-ups demand it.

If all this is beginning to remind you a certain defunct Communist empire that lost the Cold War, perhaps we should all be alarmed. Americans have been giving themselves freely and energetically to this weirdly un-American system, probably without pondering the more sinister implications of their devotion. It’s easy to see why they give themselves with such relish: MONEY, and lots of it. Corporations pay exceedingly well, especially for ambitious college graduates with no particular talents or expertise other than a knack for fitting in. These fortunate hirelings become managers. And if they do a good job of resembling their bosses, down to the shoes and eyeglasses, they become executives.

Go ahead and accuse me of cynicism. You’d be right. But I’m genuinely stunned by the eagerness with which so many college-educated young people surrender themselves to this questionable system. Yes, go in there and make the money. But remember who you are, and have enough pride to preserve your essence amid the pressures to produce.

Why should corporate employees toil such long hours for such flimsy psychic rewards? The pressure comes from above, of course: from bosses, department heads, directors, and on up the chain of command. All of them are accountable to their superiors. Even those overpaid, overpampered CEOs are accountable — to the shareholders who can drop a company like a water balloon if profits fall a penny short of expectations. And now you see the real reason that corporate life has become so insanely driven: the companies are completely beholden to the fickle speculators who own them. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me that the entire Western economy is in the hands of gamblers, and that we see nothing wrong with this arrangement.

I’m as guilty as anyone of playing the corporate casino game; so are most middle-class folks. We track our stocks and mutual funds as avidly as we check the baseball standings. It’s all legal, strangely enough. But maybe it’s time to question the sanity of entrusting a company’s fortunes to absentee owners who know and care nothing about the individuals who toil down in the cubicles, warehouses and assembly lines.

I’d rather see a company owned by the people who work for it. Every employee who wants to be a shareholder would eventually become one, with a voice and a choice when it comes to company leadership, missions and policies (including those obscene golden parachutes for toppled CEOs). Imagine: democratically run enterprises in a democratic republic. Is it too much to hope for?

Summary: We need to rethink the nature and ownership of corporations to make them more compatible with democratic American values. It seems ill-advised (and a little absurd) to entrust the fortunes of corporations to speculators.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelangelo Markus permalink
    September 22, 2009 5:32 pm

    Even more disconcerting is the fact that legally a corporation counts as a person. Meaning that if the corporation does something unlawful, with extreme examples such as Coca Cola hiring paramilitary forces to assassinate union leaders in Columbia, you can not hold the people who made that decision accountable, you can sue the company for money, you can’t throw people in jail. Unless of course they commit white collar business crimes against their company/share holders.

    Now how does that make sense with our values? I doubt the vast majority of people in this country thinks that fair, but because the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people we’re stuck with it unless we amend the constitution. When you take in to account the fact that corporations practically own a good number of (dare I say majority?) politicians when you take them all together, it’s almost unfathomable of us getting something as difficult as an amendment passed on this issue. Or even getting it considered.

    Any ideas?

  2. September 27, 2009 1:30 pm

    If our leaders somehow worked up the resolve to outlaw lobbying (or at least payments by lobbyists to legislators), we’d go a long way toward restoring government by the people instead of by the corporate elite. But since the legislators benefit from those lobbyist dollars, good luck getting them to outlaw corporate lobbying! The solution? I think someone like Michael Moore should expose the system in an upcoming documentary. He could create the critical mass of public outrage we need to oust our more lobby-friendly representatives from office. Then, too, the creation of a moderate party peopled by anti-lobby candidates might tip the balance as well.

  3. Taliesin Knol permalink
    January 9, 2010 4:30 am

    Corprate Greed needs to to be curtailed without crippling the company, an easy way to do that is pay caps. You can only make X amount of money, and the rest goes to, the government? charity? the company? How about the employees’ bonuses. Add some other very clear, strict guidelines as needed, like we HAD been doing, except this time, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, don’t get rid of them because of your greed!

  4. Andy Tonti permalink
    April 23, 2012 1:44 pm

    Actually, the roots of modern capitalism go back to the beginnings of the 19th century. Sic,robber barons, john jacob astor, the vanderbilts, andrew carnegie. The only US Presidents courageous enough to confront them were Teddy Roosevelt, and I think Woodrow Wilson..
    Every president thereafter has had to concede at various levels to corporate intrusion in national policy-making. They (the corps.) debuted $$$$ into modern politics, and it’s been a downward spiral since.
    .

  5. Ron permalink
    November 15, 2013 10:58 am

    Most companies are started by individuals. Most new companies fail. To start a company, the owner usually has to use his own personal money, must take all the risk, and usually fails. Often times the new business owner puts in long hours and neglects his own family in order to better assure success. When the company is successful, many people are jealous of his/her success.
    On the other hand, why should the owner/CEO/President make $100 million while the workers barely make a subsistence salary. I am thinking that we need to encourage the heads of companies to share the success (this is a developing idea, so don’t be too critical at this point). Perhaps the tax rate that the owner/executive pays is based on how much he shares with employees. What if there were several levels established. For example: first $200,000 is taxable at 30% rate. Next $200,000 taxable at 40% rate, etc.
    But also, the any employee salary plus bonus cannot exceed the lesser of …
    100 times the national minimum wage, 50 times his/her companies average salary,
    ?? percent of total company salary, or $1,000,000. Exceedance would be taxable at 70% income tax rate.
    I made this formula up on the fly … It needs to be scrutinized.
    The point is to encourage sharing the wealth but also allow success.

  6. P. Rottenham permalink
    May 1, 2014 6:05 pm

    Any good idea can be taken to a ridiculous extreme. Capitalism is one example. Runaway corporatism is the result.

    Any conservative will tell you that the corporation owes America nothing. The corporation’s only responsibility is to profit the investors, by any means necessary. On the other hand, if the federal government chooses to hand out corporate tax deductions like every day was Christmas, or to send our troops to fight for oil in foreign lands, what’s the problem with that?

    Even these things are nothing compared to recent Supreme Court decisions, which officially turn America into an oligarchy.

    Once, when the company profited, everyone did so. New jobs were created. Raises came around. Money flowed from the company, through the worker, through Main Street, through the federal government, and back to the company. The circular flow of money was complete. Keynesian economics worked. That was a long time ago, though.

    Now, the money flows not to American workers, but to Asia. Asians grow wealthy while the American middle class withers away. The tax revenue shortfall has made us a debtor nation in 15 years. Yet our corporate tax structure remains as it was in the 30s. We pay them to take our jobs away.

    Rick, I think you’re soft on the corporation. It is America’s worst enemy. Even if we started today, it would take a generation to undo the damage corporatism has done to our country. But if we don’t acknowledge it, we’ll go down for the count.

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