The Corporation (a “quick” gide)

The one overarching theme in “the corporation”, the one narrative that ran throughout almost every cut is “corporations are bad”. The movie is almost pornographic in it’s depiction of all the un-desirable things corporations have done low theses past 100 or so years. Within the first five minutes of the film corporations are described as “monsters, trying to devourer as much profit as possible at anyone’s expense”.  The movie doses not stray far from this theme, but it does offer much in terms of historical support for such a view.

I Liked the description of how corporations started, it seems just so perfectly corporate that the entire legal idea behind a corporation was originally a “gift from the people to serve the public good . By that I mean corporations started as very small concerns, if a town needed a bridge built or something the town would draw up a corporate charter and those people would represent the town and get that bridge built. Some important restrictions were put on corporations and what they were allowed to do, firstly they could not “own” other corporations, secondly there charter dictated how much they could make off their endeavor and how much capital they could raise. This has of coarse changed, the modern corporation as we know it came out of the civil war. The 14th amendment was signed in 1868, and if gave clear rights to former slaves; however it also was cited in many cases by corporations. In the 20 years that followed the ratification 19 cases citing the 14th  were brought by African Americans, over 200 were brought by corporations.  It was not referenced by name in the film, but Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania – 125 U.S. 181 (1888) was the case in which the supreme court stated in a decision that indeed corporations were included in when the 14th was referring to “persons”. In essence the same law that freed the slaves also made corporations what we know them as today, organizations in competition with people but that do not suffer the confines of individuals.

The film goes on to demonstrate the overarching trait of corporations, placing profit for the owners above all else. This is not a flaw by a few “bad apples” but rather a result of the very charter corporations are now created with.  The movie goes on to explain externalities, and how corporations have not “paid the cost” of their business, and goes on the cite MANY examples, from butchers dumping offal in the river pollution, to mis and dis-information to social costs. It goes on to describe the past actions of various corporations in a psychological manner.   Starting with being callous and un-concerned with the well being of others, it attributes this to the sweat shop conditions that clothing ( and other ) manufacturing companies employ, the movie cited Nike specifically, citing documents that show workers make about .3 % of the retail value  of the goods they produce.  It then showed Monsanto and how that corporation lied about its chemicals.  Adding deceitfulness to its running list of attributes.  It caps off the start of the movie with a diagnoses, of corpations really were people they would meet the DSM-V definition of a psychopath.

They then go over shell and how corporations are not homogeneous operations, but made of individuals, and while there might be some virtuous individuals working in a corporation, that does not make the corporation act in a virtuous manner. It goes on to Monsanto and the terminating seeds, the very concept is repugnant on a basic level, but profit is a strong motivation and such seeds and technologies ( and litigation) are a large revenue stream for Monsanto today.

It goes on to describe corporate mindset, Mike More did and interview with the CEO of Nike Phil Knight   and in it he admitted that he had never been in the factories that Nike operated, this illustrated that the people in leadership roles are not concerned with the plight of the worker, just the bottom line, even when offered a free trip to see them he was not interested.

Corporations traded and profited on 9-11, well some did. The movie portrayed one insider who spoke on the matter, but I was far more upset with what was covered next, namely: they are buying and “privatizing” formerly public areas like mass transit, power, lakes and water. The film goes on to describe places where it is illegal to collect rain water like Bolivia. It moves on to corporate mind control, how the largest advertizing corporation  in the world in 1998 conducted a nagging study, with a professed purpose of finding ways to get kids to nag more effectively, thus increasing sales. The former ad exec in the film when asked if manipulating children to sell things was un-ethical responded with “I don’t know, we move product here” In my opinion if a person cannot answer this basic question they should not be in change of anything! Let alone have deep impact on 100’s of millions of kids across the entire world. The movie moves on to describe the more standard forms of corporate image management, how it matters less how they act and more how they are seen to act, Machiavelli stuff.  Branding, it goes into detail how Disney is “family magic” and anything that does not fit that brand goes under a different name, like films that are not family oriented are branded touchstone. Undercover merchandizing, i.e.: advertizing when the person being advertized to is un-aware that a business is trying to sell something.

The movie goes on the describe “briefly” how GM managed to secure a patent on a living thing, and how through appeal the patent office now will allow a patent on anything but a full human, other countries have not ( yet) fell on this line. It went on to describe the implications of having a patent of genetic sequences.

It covered the case of the fox news on Fla., basic idea was Monsanto got BGH to market in the U.S. and other countries it (BGH) was found it to pose a danger. A Dr. in Canada was on film stating how he was pressured to approve things that were not safe. Getting back to Fla. The news team did a story on this, a week before the story was to air they received a fax from Monsanto, so they took an extra week to fact check, which went fine, but a week later they received another letter.  The reports were then asked to change the story, when they resisted they were threatened, then forced to re-write the story 82 times, in the end they lost an appeal and were fired with nothing to show for it. (this was after being bribed).  So they won the jury trial, but when 5 major news corporations filed briefs on the appeal threw the case out, citing that “it is not illegal for news stations to falsify the news”. Canada and Europe still have bans on GBH.

Bolivia…. A poor country whose leadership wanted loans to improve infrastructure, went to the world bank, and the world bank said it would agree to loan over 80 billion, but Bolivia had to “Privatize” a lot of previously public intuitions, like water and oil, and phone and trains. However charging people for water was not a popular policy, charging a person who lives on 2$ a day .50 for water lead to dissent, and the government’s response was… force, lots of it.  A quick section of how corporations helped the Nazis, and a solid impaction of Watson and IBM (featuring a picture of Watson having a meal with Hitler).

It finishes with how corporate money is affecting ( or outright running) our political system, and while it paints an optimistic view of people coming together to reign in corporations, I thing the ending missed the entire point of the movie, historically it has been very bad for those people who stood directly in the way of corporate interests.   One idea that  was suggested was to reform corporations: Bring this stuff to the public view, like Wendy Dieos, the sweat shop worker who testified to congress. (This did impact a little change, but not much Wal-Mart and Kathy Lee are still using sweat shop labor, the benefit was now people know about starvation wages ect..). Also advocated was looking at the legal basis for dismantling corporations, in most states the attorney general can revoke corporate charters, they covered the petition to revoke the union oil co. of CA charter, but nothing was done by the DA.  Lastly it ended with local town meetings where the towns passed laws to keep corporations out.  I dare say none of theses methods will elicit a lasting impact on corporate culture, we need stronger medicine, which segues nicely into the interview with Dave Stockman.

Dave is a free market guy, he likes capitalism and while he is in full agreement that the system we have in the U.S. (and the world) today is not free market capitalism. He speaks of “crony capitalism” a system in which the government is not separate from wall st. rather government is use to deliver sweetheart deals to Wall Street. Moyers opens up with a good quote sums it up “one person one vote means little when those we elect do the bidding of donors instead of voters”.   Stockman worked under Reagan, and quickly turned on the ideas that he professed when in government, namely hands off.  In his view the worst thing about crony capitalism is it takes risk out of the market, that by not letting business that take risks feel the loss of risks all they do is take more risk. He says that nothing came out of 2008, that for the trillions of dollars we spent all we did was allow the gambling to continue. He dose not thing that the entire economy were going to collapse, that the 2008 crash was really a correction one that needed to happen ( and will at some point).  The issue is we are allowing SOME companies to huge amounts short term at low rates, they then take this money and loan it out long term at high rates, as long as the flow of money in continues companies ( well banks) can keep making money off that flow, but when the flow of money in is stopped ( or slowed event) and bills start coming due the company SHOULD have to sell off assets and take losses, he says this is not the case. He cites Jeffrey Himmell the CEO of GE financial. In 2000 he was doing just this, and short term rates shot up so the flow of money in stopped, but instead of feeling the loss, he just called up the FED and got 60 billion in guaranteed loans. This guy was appointed by Obama as the chair of the council on jobs and competitiveness; he is the WORST abuser of crony capitalism, GE who has been shifting jobs offshore for decades. Stockman claims we had no risk, so no real capitalism. In order to reform the system we need a huge correction or a major incident of a scale larger than the crash of 2008.

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