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.