When I see a brand logo, I don’t often think of the corporate structure that sustains its dominance in society. I had never connected the entangled dots in my own mind between a brand’s public image and products and mainstream economic and political structures. I had never paused to consider what a “corporation” actually is, until the narrator in “The Corporation,” asked Harvard Business School Professor, Joe Badaracco, this same question. His response, “it’s funny that I’ve taught in a business school for as long as I have without having ever been asked so pointedly what I think a corporation is,” both surprised and relieved me. I wouldn’t know how to succinctly express what a corporation is; my best guess would be: a transnational or multinational business. Watching “The Corporation,” and reading excerpts from Alternatives to Economic Globalization and news articles about the Citizens United Bill, have sparked my interest and forced me to confront understandings of corporations as persons (what?) and a corporation’s role in the attainment of the hyperglobalized ideal central to the current functioning of our modern global economy.
Beyond understanding a corporation’s basic definition, understanding the institutional and legal mechanisms that allow it to play a critical role in local/regional/national/international business and politics is important. Does the average American know that corporations are considered legal persons, and can sue countries under domestic and international law? I was shocked to learn that between 1890 and 1990, 288 of the 307 cases first brought to court under the newly passed 14th Amendment were on behalf of corporations, as opposed to African Americans. What persuaded American judges to allow soul less, bottom-line driven economic machines to take on the legal status of “person”? With the recent passing of the Citizens United Bill in January 2010 not only are corporations elite, powerful people in American society, they have a disproportionate influence in political elections due to their unregulated and unlimited ability to support candidates, financially and otherwise. This is scary. This makes me very, very scared.
Not to mention the ream of negative externalities corporations create by being the key economic instruments that participate in hyperglobalization, as a means to increase efficiency and profit margin (among many other things). The homogenizing of global economic activity, the powerlessness of individual people and local communities to effectively challenge supra-national, elite corporations, the marginalization of the low-income (soon to be displaced?) farmer and worker, the destruction of cultural, and biological diversity: such a list should cause any individual to stop and question. One doesn’t have a choice to opt-out of economic participation in a lifetime, we rely upon it to survive, and yet this system that supplies our means for survival, also creates the means of our destruction. In the current dominant economic (market-oriented) and political (democratic) world order, there is a straightjacket on our freedom by virtue of the decision to afford such freedom to an economic institution that is not subservient to the people, but to the bottom-line. Change is long overdue.