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.