Bashing out articles for the new Big Bidness section of this here website, I’ve gone back to one of the tippiest, toppiest, most foundational Zero texts, one that inspired one of the big three epiphanies of The Grand Zero Awakening: The Corporation by Joel Bakan.
Most humans on earth are aware of how Big Bidness stomps all over humanity’s face in search of its next shabby cash-grab. The Corporation helps explain why: Corporations are legally bound to pursue profits for themselves and their shareholders, placing their own self-interests above all other considerations. They are, in human terms, amoral, antisocial psychopaths, oblivious to the harm they do, disinterested when they happen to see it. That is a million percent my jam.
This isn’t just an anti-corporate rant, though there’s plenty of that in there. Bakan offers a well-reasoned, well-evidenced argument about how the world got in so thorough a pickle. First, corporations and their investors were separated from the consequences of their missteps, misdeeds and losses. By the back half of the 19th century the concept of limited liability was balls deep in British and American corporate law, and corporations were free to eff shit up. Next, by the end of the 19th century, corporations had taken on the legal status of a person with their own identities, further separating them from the faceless managers making lousy decisions. Then, in the early 20th century, came an absolute walloper of a court case – Dodge v. Ford Motor Co – that established corporations’ duty to making their shareholders rich above all else. That positioned corporations nicely for the last half century of neoliberalism, privatisation, deregulation and globalisation that let the psychopaths off their leashes. Legally bound to make as much money as possible while giving as few shits as possible, with massively reduced risks and regulations, corporations set about infesting the world with their moral poison. Suddenly sweatshops make sense. Environmental genocide makes sense. Insincere greenwashing makes sense. They are in the very bones of the corporation.
It’s hard to read while shaking your head in disgust
Having laid out his theory, Bakan backs it up with roughly four million examples of corporate bastardy: Pharmaceutical companies getting rich quick on bullshit drugs for baldness and wonky dicks while people die from less profitable diseases. General Motors working out it would be cheaper to kill its customers than fix its cars. Company after company crushing souls in sweatshops and killing workers in death-traps with no regard for life, happiness, health and/or safety. Friendly neighbourhood corporations trading with the Nazis and modern-day totalitarian states. A bunch of corporate types plotting an actual fascist takeover of America to derail FDR’s New Deal. Advertisers brainwashing impressionable children as “evolving consumers.” Corporate lobbyists making politics grubbier than ever. McDonalds slapping its branding on school workbooks on nutrition. Oil companies trying to shut down environmental treaties and regulations that might cost them a few bucks by preventing our extinction. Proper dystopian miseries, all in the name of profit. Again, very much my jam.
It gets repetitive in places, even at only 200-odd pages, and the 20-page interview with Noam Chomsky feels like filler. But even with that, even after 18 years, this is essential reading. It will drop your jaw, blow your mind, piss you off and fire you up.
Go buy it. Not from Amazon.
Photo credit: The Zero