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Sunday, December 25, 2005 

My Corporate Christmas

What am I doing on Christmas morning? Not much. I watched a movie called The Corporation. It seems like this will be the decade of the ideological documentary, because there's no end in sight of these things. I like to watch these things whenever they are on the Sundance Channel (Robert Redford's ideological mouthpiece of a cable movie channel) just to see what's out there. If you have two and a half hours to kill (and I did this morning), it might be worth watching. I don't think it's worth watching for its intended point but to understand the motives behind it. A few highlights...

Milton Freidman made a brief appearance, injecting a dose of much needed sanity. When talking about "corporate morals", he asked an almost obvious question. How can an office building be moral? That's exactly what you are asking when you ask a corporation to be moral. A corporation is a structure. It is a legal construct created for a purpose. People have morals. People commit crimes, get prosecuted, and go to jail. We don't throw corporate papers into a prison cell, because that would be pretty freaking stupid. The corporation's charter doesn't need to be behind bars, the people do.

There was a very alarmist portion about the loss of the commons and private ownership taking over. I was pretty taken aback when pollution credits were portrayed as bad things. The filmmakers seemed to view the system as having the entire world owned by someone somewhere. There was no mention of the Tragedy of the Commons. The filmmakers have forgotten that publicly held commodities suffer and are eventually depleted by the selfish behavior of individuals. It is that system that has let companies pollute for so long without paying for it. Environmental groups have used pollution credit systems to buy up credits and hold them, reducing the amount of pollution that can be produced.

There was the familiar claim that ads manipulate kids. They claim that parents have been overpowered by "nagging" and are cannot withstand the purchasing desires of their kids. Give me a break. "No." It's a simple word, two letters long. Start to use it. If you can't deal with your kid whining and crying over some new toy, then you probably shouldn't have kids. If you really can't stand the pressure of an 8 year old, don't own a TV.

Noam Chomsky, the intellectual training wheels for most left leaning college sophomores, made a few appearances bemoaning "privatization tyranny" as he loves to do. He argued that we should avoid privatization and let public companies run at a loss if benefits will appear elsewhere. Chomsky's definition of what you NEED to buy is interesting too. Personally, I think I know what I need to buy. If we lived in Chomsky Land where we only bought what he told us we should, we would all have to wear those God awful sweaters that he wears. Frankly, I don't want to live in a world with that little fashion sense.

There was some girl bitching about the imperialization of branding, but I was busying playing with my new cell phone (how's that for a little consumerist irony?) Sorry, the movie got dull in the middle there. She looked like the type who never got any dates, so she decided to rage against the machine and rage against body shaving.

Michael Moore tried to make the point that the parents of the kids in the Columbine area (made infamous by the school shooting) worked primarily for Lockheed Martin, making as he said "weapons of mass destruction." Pretty weak point, considering neither of the shooters parents worked for Lockheed. David Kopel points this out, "Of course the connection is nonsense. While one killer's father once served in the Air Force, neither family worked in the defense industry. The other killer's parents were gun-control advocates -— so much so that they forbade him to play with toy guns -— unlike the many children who are shown with toy guns elsewhere in the film." But let's blame it all on the eeeeeeevil corporation instead of placing the blame with the individuals.

Here is the message that I got from the movie. Blame the institution of the corporation for everything. This is just absurd. It is just another plank in the argument against any personal responsibility anywhere. Everytime that a corporation breaks a law, there is an individual behind that decision. Why not prosecute them for actually committing the crime? Don't drag World Com through the mud, throw Bernie Ebbers in prison.

I found the use of the word "corporation" strange. Throughout the movie, it was always used in a negative way and directed toward what I think are a very specific and small group of corporations. Basically, anytime a company does something bad, they are a Corporation, a villain of classic Disney movie proportions. I know people who have their own corporations. One of my old college professors created one for his business. Is his corporation a "psychopath" as the movie claims, simply because it exists? No way. That is where the true point of the movie lies. It's simply anti-capitalist. They use the term "corporation" (which is excessively broad) and try to give the term a universal negative connotation. They ignore the fact that they are talking about individual crimes and practices, not something inherent in the corporation itself. I don't think my professor's one-man private investigation corporation is really raping the natural world that much.

From a legal point of view, corporations are artificial persons. This is a reoccuring scary point that is made over and over. But why are they treated that way? There is no real other option. How else do you organize a group of people for a business? Do you get every one of them (the shareholders) to sign every contract that the corporation enters into? Do you have to sign the contracts again when a shareholder sells his stock to someone new? For all of you who have been wronged by these evil corporations, how would you sue them in another system? Do you file suit against every individual shareholder? The court costs alone would bankrupt you. Then major corporations would be totally insulated from lawsuits unless you organized the mother of all class actions.

Do a little exercise with me. Imagine a world without all of these corporations. Pfizer is portrayed in the movie as a bit of a bastard. I'm sure they have been picked as just the example of all pharmaceutical companies, heartless money grubbing creatures that they are. Now imagine a world without these companies. Who is producing the drugs? Who is doing the research and development of new treatments? In Chomsky's world, these would be publicly owned companies. That's a linguistics professor's way of putting a nice shine on what would be called government owned companies. That's right, a drug company brought to you by the people who gave you the Department of Motor Vehicles and the US Post Office. Do you think that would be run efficiently? Do you think that Washington would let it run without sticking their noses into day to day operations?

Now imagine every corporation run like that. The amount of bureaucracy would be staggering. Instead of all of the power being in separate board rooms and by individual investors, the power would be in Washington. The bulk of the power would likely not be with the elected officials either. They would be in the agencies with the career bureaucrats. The unaccountable people that you never get to vote for would have the real power. And unlike corporations, the government never goes out of business. That sounds like a recipe for tyranny worse than anything that was shown in the movie. In the marketplace, you vote with your dollar. Don't like what a company does? Buy from someone else.

Well I figured that my first real post back ought to be a big one. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch the end of the Disney World Christmas Parade, like the good little corporate whore that I am.

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About me

  • I'm Steve
  • From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
  • "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." P.J. O'Rourke
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