Corporation as Snake

I have previously written of my opposition to taxing corporations for the purpose of furthering ‘shalom’, or harmony in relations between humans and other humans and humans and creation.  My opinion has not changed.  The power to tax is by definition a coercive power, and all forms of coercion have the threat of violence to make them effective.  Shalom, or harmony, cannot be initiated or supported by force.

It has bothered me, however, that some could read that opinion and conclude that I get a warm and fuzzy feeling about corporations.  I most definitely do not!  I have come to view  the corporation as one of the most dangerous forms of organization on Earth.  This article is an attempt to explain why I feel that way.

Corporations do not have a soul but they do have a spirit.  Corporations are made up of people but are by legal definition not a person, and therefore cannot have a soul.  A person with a soul to whom one could make an appeal for justice or harmony might be swayed to alter a course of action because it is the right thing to do.  A corporation is a gathering of board members and CEO’s and CFO’s and a slew of other officials who wish to generate the maximum amount of profit to fund personal lifestyles on a scale that would make the robber Barons blush.  Besides generating lakes of cash for their own use they also gather oceans of cash which they distribute to shareholders, some of whom own very large blocs of stock and who will engineer the replacement of the corporate executives if they falter in the acquisition of ever more money.  And so money; the acquisition of it by whatever means can be managed, is the spirit of the corporation.

Corporations exist to produce things.  On a limited scale corporations produce new things by recycling old things, but the usual way that this production of new things works is that corporations extract natural resources from the land and sea and process those resources into products.  Corporations, as stated above, love to make money, and the greatest amount of money can be made if the natural resources are extracted as cheaply as possible.  The easiest way to do this is to rip the earth open or strip it bare, take what you want, and leave the mess for somebody else to worry about.

This type of behavior is not encouraged in the developed countries, although there too money talks, and so the preferred method for obtaining resources on the cheap is to go to a poor country, bribe a few officials, and take what you want.

The people of these countries see precious little of the wealth that is extracted and trade a pittance wage for the despoliation of their land and poisoning of their water and air, and when the resources are gone the people are left with no more wealth and support than they had before the corporation came, and no undamaged land upon which to fall back.

Corporations have enough money to buy and sell entire countries, but they do not have to do that.  A couple of generals, a chief person from the most prominent tribe or cultural group, or a band of idealistic educated young people are bought for a lot less than the cost of a country.  These people in turn distribute patronage and weapons and soon there is a mineral rich, cash poor country selling whatever the corporation will buy for pennies on the dollar.

Just as corporations are able to buy poor countries, they are able to influence rich countries and manipulate laws and law-makers to establish favorable conditions or bend unfavorable ones to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the citizens of those countries  Corporations do this in all nations because corporations are beholden to no nation.  A fist full of dollars (or pounds or Euros, or bhat or sucres or whatever) is as welcome in Germany as it is in Guinea Bissau.

The carbon based units that make up the boards and executive teams of multinational corporations live where they want but feel no loyalty to that national state when the money is on the table.  A stream which is polluted in Nebraska is no different that a stream which is polluted in Niger as long as the shareholders are happy and next year’s boat has been selected and ordered.

The opposite end of the corporate raison d’etre is no more winsome than is the one just described.  Corporations exist to sell things too, and most of the things that they have to sell the great majority of us have no need to buy.  This is why the advertising industry has been created.

People need to be told that they must buy something.  Left to their own devices people will usually settle on a way of living and continue on with that until some obvious need comes along which demands change.  the Ad Industry (Mad Men?) devotes billions of dollars to convincing me that unless I have a rotary shaver to clip my nose hairs my life sucks and I will never get the girls.  Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, on television and the radio and the internet and even printed on one enterprising young man’s head in Nebraska, commercials are offering us the solutions to substandard lives that we didn’t even know that we were living, to be corrected by buying cars, deodorants, beer, and everything else that you can imagine.  In fact, I feel to this day that my own life failed to optimize it’s potential because I never did get that Pocket Fisherman (advertised only on TV).

The industry has actually exceeded it’s goals.  What began as a drive to increase the appetite for acquiring things grew beyond that into an appetite for the act of shopping itself, where the pleasure of seeking and purchasing an object or service dissipates into thin air upon the purchase of said object  and is replaced by the urge to shop for and buy the next object or service, which in turn loses it’s value and so the circle goes on.  This religion of consumerism supports the corporation which feeds our habits as surely as a pusher feeds the habits of the junky; at a price, of course.

I do not mean to imply that all members of corporate teams are cynical and purposely evil, especially as I do not know them all.  There will be many exceptions.  My concern is that corporations are largely anonymous entities with enormous financial resources and no particular national or creational loyalties, and as such tend inevitably to become predators looking for whom they can devour.

Taxing Corporations for Shalom

I am reading a book right now that begins by speaking of shalom, or a state of peace, justice,  and harmony between people and people, people and creation, and people and the Creator. I am only in the beginning of the book but already the author has suggested that a way of restoring shalom in our society is by taxing corporations in order to obtain funds for ameliorating the poverty and injustice experienced by the people on the margins in our American society.  I always bristle just a little bit when I see that position put forward because I do not believe that it can be successful in any way.

To begin with, I am not intentionally putting forward the talking points of any political party.  If there is any similarity between my position and a political party’s it is probably the result of plagiarism on their part.  Government agents from both parties have been listening to our conversations so it could happen.  Anyway, I do not wish to be part of the political conversation going on in our society at this point.  I am writing solely about the restoration of shalom by means of taxation.

It can’t be done.  Shalom requires a society of inhabitants who are willing to give of their plenty to address the needs of the poor.  It also requires just people who will sit in judgement to assure that the rights of the poor are not stepped on by the wealthy or vice versa.  Shalom requires a society which understands the true meaning of shalom rather  than a shalom of my rights against your rights.

Taxing an individual or a corporation is the very opposite of shalom.  The wealthy person in a state of shalom gives because he knows that the purpose of having wealth is to share it. The poor person in a state of shalom who is poor because of some misfortune knows that the means of her existence will be supplied until she gets back on her feet.  The slacker knows that the full weight of society will be brought to bear upon him to correct his ways and return into shalom.  If an unwilling person is taxed in order to restore shalom the money is obtained by coercion, which carries behind it the treat of violence if compliance is not forthcoming.  Shalom is never restored by violence or the threat of violence.  Shalom in the Kingdom of God is obtained by the voluntary action of the person living in harmony or striving to do so, and this was modeled by Jesus Himself.  When the rich young ruler asked what he must do to follow Jesus he was not told “Go, sell your neighbors possessions, give them to the poor and follow me”.  Instead, he was told to give of his own wealth, which he was not willing to do in the end.

I have heard many political opinions concerning why corporations should pay some taxes or more taxes or whatever, and they often relate to owing it to society or some other construct which lays the obligation of paying and paying more at the feet of justice.  That is fine, and would be a good topic for some other conversation.  For the purpose of restoring Shalom, however, taxing corporations or anybody else would be completely counterproductive.  At least, that’s how I see it.

Chasing Thunderstorms

In the 1950’s when I was growing up in San Diego it was in the midst of a very dry weather cycle there.  Our stated average annual rainfall was about 10 inches, but I don’t remember ever getting that much rain until the 1970’s when all of the county’s reservoirs, most of which had boasted of little more than puddles at the bases of the dams for as long as I could remember, were filled to overflowing.  During those dry years I loved to see and get out into that infrequent novelty that was rain, and took every opportunity to do so.

One thing in particular that we enjoyed was the occasional thunderstorm that built up over the Laguna Mountains to the east of the city.  Any given day would begin as usual, but on very special days by late morning big, puffy clouds could be seen boiling up over the mountains and my father, brother Brad and I would glance knowingly at each other and it was game on.  My mother would see that look in our eyes and know what was coming too.  Mom had the misfortune of being the only one in our family with good sense, in that case at least, and she knew that what we were about to do was sheer idiocy and that she would more than likely lose her family that day.  That my mom was wrong was owed more to luck than brains.  When the thunderstorms rose up over the mountains Dad, Brad and I would love nothing more than to drive up into the mountains and chase them down.

My father had a 1950 Studebaker Champion in those days, which was the finest automobile ever made for one overgrown kid and his two witless sons to chase storms in.  It was big and comfortable and seemed to be able to go places that a Jeep wouldn’t attempt.  My father bought that car with a total of two miles on it:  the two miles that factory workers drove it to be certain that it actually ran before they sold it.  Dad bought the thing at the factory in South Bend, Indiana, and drove it on Route 66 most of the way back home.  From that time onward that car purred like a kitten; a large, bulbous, asthmatic kitten, until the day he traded it in for a ’63 Mercury.

We would climb into that iron stagecoach and head in the direction of the largest of the thunderheads knowing that the picture would change by the time that we arrived on the mountain.  On the way my father would tell stories about his childhood in Georgia or adventures in the Navy.  I remember one story in particular of him plowing behind a mule when his plow bit into a bumblebee hive.  As Dad told it, a buzzing, swarming, angry cloud of bees boiled up out of that rent in the ground and split in two, administering justice equally to mule and child alike.  The mule bolted one way, dragging a rapidly disintegrating plow behind him, while Dad ran with the feet of Mercury to a nearby pond into which he dove, ignoring the possibility of water moccasins, and stayed under water as long as he could until he would have to breach the surface, pay for it with one or two new stings on his increasingly lumpy noggin, take a deep breath and then submerge for another while and hope that the bees felt compensated or bored enough to move on.

Up we would climb into the the mountains and the center of the storm would seem to move first here, then there, then somewhere else.  Dad was a sort of prototype for the G.P.S.  He knew main roads, back roads, private roads and darned near no roads all through those mountains.  We would wind or creep along those trails until he began to close in on our prey.  Usually the first thing that we noticed was the wind.  Dad told us that as rain was falling it pushed the air out from under it and that is how we get the big winds from thunderstorms.  I think that is true, but I couldn’t swear to it.  Then we would get the lightening and thunder and the first drops of rain.

I am always amazed at how inadequate a word “thunder” is.  If the lightening strike is eight to ten miles away “thunder” may be adequate I suppose, but if the lightening is only a mile away or less “THUNDER!” is more appropriate, or “ARMAGEDDON” maybe, or even “THE MOLECULES AND ATOMS FROM WHICH YOU BODY WAS COBBLED TOGETHER BY THE CREATOR WILL BE RETURNED TO THEIR RANDOM PRIMEVAL STATE”.  The effect of thunder at such close range would be staggering to a person with an IQ approaching room temperature.  Fortunately for us we were not encumbered in that fashion and prepared ourselves for our plunge into the maelstrom.

The aforementioned Studebaker came with one particularly convenient feature.  The hood would begin in the middle at an apex and slope down towards the sides of the car where the headlights were housed in what looked like two torpedos on either side of the front.  The depression where the hood and those torpedos met made for a perfect saddle where two kids could sit while a deranged adult drove slowly, never more than 5 miles per hour, through the heart of the storm.

The experience was overwhelming and exhilarating.  The lightening would strike all around us; frequently we could smell the ozone.  The rain would sometimes come straight down and sometimes blow right into our faces.  My brother and I would be ecstatic and squeal with unrestrained delight with every crash of lightening, and I say “crash of lightening” because it was often so close that the bolt and the boom were simultaneous, and at every wave of water that would pelt us from above or in front or wherever like a tsunami washing over a low-lying atoll.  Dad would stay away from the low places because he knew of the danger of flash floods.  Somehow the danger from a gazillion volts of lightening didn’t occur to him or to us either.

When it was over, which it was all too quickly, we would pile back into the “Studie” wet to the bone and shivering like the convicted.  Dad had blankets for us to sit on and cover up in, and he would run the heater full blast until the windows were fogged up from the water evaporating from our clothes.

We would make our way to the nearest restaurant; the Julian Cafe or the Alpine Tavern or that little place in Santa Ysabel, and get hamburgers and french fries and a coke, and leave wet stains on their chairs when we departed to return home to our mother who could scarcely believe that her family still lived.  Of course, Brad and I were fast asleep by the time we got home; sleeping the sleep of the innocents.