A critical examination of the nature of the modern corporation

The Corporation - Joel Bakan

I guess I discovered this book after watching the documentary movie of the same name, though I suspect that the book was based upon the movie (normally such movies tend to spawn books which explore the topics that the movie explores in greater detail). The corporation itself is a dichotomy, namely because despite what is wrong with these entities (Bakan proves that they have all of the characteristics of a psychopath), these entities are also responsible for our current lifestyle. To be honest, to remove the economic institutions we have today and return to the era of the cottage industry and the local store owner will drive up prices and undermine our luxurious lifestyles (which will also be the result of doing nothing).

That does not necessarily mean that it is good for us to live the luxurious lifestyles that we are living in the west, particularly since our lifestyles (as all in history who live such extravagant lives) are supported by slavery. While they may not be slaves in the literal sense, they are slaves in the economic sense, living on less than two dollars a day and working extra-ordinary hours in horrendous conditions. Despite the fact that many of the senior executives of these corporations (as well as the shareholders, which include any of us who have a pension fund) pretend that they don't know how these goods are being made, or the conditions that the workers are working in, in reality (as is demonstrated in The Big One where Michael Moore asks Phillip Knight of Nike to go with him to Indonesia to see the conditions of the factories that the shoes are produced in; an invitation which Phillip Knight politely declines) we all wish to remain wilfully blind to the reality of what is going on (namely because we don't actually want to give anything up, and the more that we have, the less we want to give up).

Granted, while I may not own a car, and resist the temptation to buy things that I do not need, I still live a rather luxurious life, and the fact that I can jump on a plane and fly to Europe and back, is a testament to that. There are people that I work with that to them such an adventure is little more than a pipe dream, and I am not even earning big bucks. This is because I have no dependants and little debt, I have a much higher disposable income than many other people that I work with, even those who hold higher positions than I do.

There are a few things that come out of this book (or I should say the movie, because that is what I am writing from – though I have read the book) that I wish to explore, and one of them is the corporation as the externalising machine. Externalisation is the art of making something somebody else's problem, despite the fact that you are the cause of that problem. For example, when a corporation dumps all of its toxic waste into the river, and lets the government and the community deal with it, then it is externalising waste management. When it is too expensive to actually deal with the waste properly, and the laws that prevent the corporation from dumping the wast are weak, or even non-existent, then the most cost effective way to deal with waste is to externalise it (that is dump it into the river and make it somebody else's problem).

Labour is another thing that is externalised, and one way to do that is to contract out certain areas so that the corporation can cut back on labour costs and not have to feel responsible for how products are used. In fact, where in the past a corporation was defined by what it made and in turn sold, this is pretty much disappearing as we speak. Nike do not make shoes, they contract that out to some sweatshop in Indonesia which is not even owned by them. Instead, they buy the shoes, and then sell the shoes, either direct to the consumer or through an intermediary. As such Nike is no longer a manufacturer of shoes, they are simply a brand that makes money by being a middle man. However, it is not even that by contracting labour to the sweatshops that the product becomes cheaper. The price of the product actually stays the same, it is just the profit that the corporation makes increases (and even then there is no guarantee that the shareholders will ever see any of that profit. Instead they will keep the profits, which no doubt will result in an increased share price, and even then the shareholder must know when to sell (which is nigh impossible) to maximise their investment).

What we need is not to get rid of the corporations, because at heart we need them to be able to maintain our extravagant lifestyles. However, what we need is a paradigm shift, within ourselves and within our society. We have to begin to learn to be content with less. The Socialists are right when they say that even if we live in a country like Australia, we must still remain vigilant less the freedoms and the laws that we have here are undermined by corporate greed. However, how many of us live in houses with electricity, and how many of us watch television? Can we go without our laptops or our mobile devices? It is because we desire these things that the corporations remain in control. Granted these devices make our lives easier, but at what cost? Even if climate change is not a man made phenomena, the pollution that is spewed into the air, and the toxins that are pumped into our water supply, are having a significant impact upon the world in which we live, and to be honest with you, it is unsustainable.

We may wonder if there has ever been a similar period in history like our own, and my answer is that on one hand there hasn't been one, but in another there has. The period I point to is that of the mid to later Roman Empire, where people were living such luxurious lives that they blinded themselves to the ecological destruction that they were causing. It is not simply that either, because inflation was running rampant, and while the rich were getting richer, the basic necessities of life were unreachable by the masses. Rome ended up collapsing, and with it creating a dark age of epic proportions, and that is something that we are even now also looking at.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/524062801