Posts Tagged ‘Corporate

28
Feb
11

The Common Evil

Last post I mentioned the opening scene in The Boondock Saints, in which it is declared “We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil that we must fear most, and this the indifference of good men…”. It got me thinking.

A couple years ago, I saw a documentary called The Corporation– an excellently done critique of the issues of globalization, neo-liberalism, and Capitalism in general. One particularly interesting segment was devoted to looking at heads of corporations, with commentaries added by Noam Chomsky and ‘Sir’ Mark Moody-Stuart, the former chairman of Royal Dutch Shell (better known simply as “Shell”). Moody-Stuart recounts a demonstration that was held at his house, in which protesters hurled accusations at him and his involvement in the Shell corporation. Moody’s wife (the event was recorded on film) retorts “Who is the corporation?”. Moody-Stuart continues on in his narration to say “But then we sat down and talked to them… in the end what we found in that discussion was that all the things they were worried about I was worried about as well… climate, you know, oppressive regimes, human rights…”. Now Chomsky, on the other hand, had prefaced that segment with some commentary on individuals within corporations. He argues “When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave-owner, uh, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual… slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny are inherently monstrous, but the individuals participating in them might be the nicest guys you can imagine. Benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves… as individuals they might be anything- in their institutional roles they’re monsters because the institutions is monstrous.”

And there’s the issue. GAP clothing is made by sweatshop labor in South-East Asia- who should be put on trial? Who is responsible for the atrocities that are committed? We look at the people doing the actual work- the sweatshop managers and owners and they point up asserting that they were only following orders, and that they don’t have any real power. At the top the CEOs and Executives are pointing down, declaring that they only deal with the big figures- that they’re not aware of anything that goes on at the ground level and can’t be held responsible for the treatment of workers or the environment. It’s the lynch mob scenario- because no one person does the entire murder, figuring out which one person is to blame is tricky.

Personally, I say take ’em all. Just because the guilt is spread around doesn’t mean it’s at all diminished. If Person A brings the rope, and Person B grabs the victim, and Person C points out a convenient tree, it doesn’t mean that each person’s committed a third of a murder- it means that all three are responsible. Same seems to go for a corporation- at any point someone can throw up their hands and say “**** it- I’m not going to do this anymore!”. The sweatshop overseer can walk away, the middleman can walk away, the CEO can walk away. Even if no one person can put a stop the unethical practice, at the very least they can remove themselves from it. We would expect a single German officer in the 1930s to bring down Hitler but a resignation of his post and a denouncement of the Nazis would be in order.

Of course, it’s easy to bash corporations, but guilt reaches far beyond the boundaries of corporate HQ. We, as consumers and workers alike, have to stand back and with scathing objectivity look at ourselves and question our involvement. Am I being party to exploitative or unethical systems? Am I doing all that I can to remove myself? Am I part of the problem?

And it’s not easy- we think of evil as being committed by Bond style villains with maniacal laughter and white cats, or by sadistic concentration camp guards and doctors. The idea of common evil- evil weaved into the very fabric of modern society- is an idea alien to us. However, as theologian and writer C.S. Lewis once asserted “The greatest evil is not done in those sordid dens of evil that Dickens loved to paint but is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”. In short, there is no single person who commits the atrocities that plague us. The evil is within the system- and the system has to go.

07
Jul
10

Norman Rockwell’s America (is Dead)

If you’re familiar at all with contemporary art, then you’ll no doubt have heard of Norman Rockwell. Indeed, chances are if you’ve lived anywhere in the West you’ll have come across one of his iconic paintings (as an original or as a recreation). For the few of you who might not be aware of his work, Norman Rockwell created paintings depicting (most often) bourgeoisie life in idyllic Middle-America*. There’s the family farms and small, private businesses that politicians love to talk about (see Sarah Palin’s “Real America” speech) and Capitalism tries to market to you (see ‘Aunt Jemimah’, ‘Uncle Ben’, ‘Quaker Oats’, ‘State Farm‘, ‘Pepperidge Farm‘ etc.). For many it’s the very face of Capitalism- just look at this 1948 “instructional” video of (exclusively white) high-school teens discussing Capitalism.

Coronet Instructional Films “What Is Capitalism?”, 1948

This is a prime example of the twisted understanding of Capitalism many have, but even in this video we can see the roots of the disparity between the Rockwellian portrayal of Capitalism and the harsh reality. Throughout the film, one word stands out: Competition. The young woman to Jimmy’s right describes how the shop-owner, Mr. Brown, agrees to lend out his truck to ensure she and Jimmy buy from him, rather than the competition. She asserts that Mr. Brown’s interests aren’t in providing service but in making a profit, and it is here we have the crux of the matter. Mr. Brown wants to make profit- the sole existence of his business is to make profit, and so Mr. Brown does whatever he can to ensure his merchandise is sold, rather than the merchandise of his competitors. In short, Mr. Brown is trying to run the other shops in the community out of business to maximize his profits. I’m not arguing that Mr. Brown is morally corrupt (though let’s not rule out of the possibility), we have to understand that in a Capitalist system, the rules of competition apply to everyone. Mr. Brown has to run his competition out or his competition will run him out. Eat or be eaten. At the same time, if Mr. Brown is indeed concerned not with his own livelihood but with his profits, if he does succeed in running his competition out of business he will have a monopoly and Jimmy and his friends will be forced to buy “weenies” at whatever price Mr. Brown sets.

Melodramatic? Consider this:

Starbucks was a small, privately owned coffee shop that has burst into a world-wide empire that has obliterated competition. Walmart also started as a small shopping center before expanding to the point where it has replaced nearly all beloved mom-and-pop stores you see in Rockwell’s art. McDonalds didn’t start out was a global food-chain but just as a privately owned restaurant. Coca-Cola started out as a tonic.

Now of course, there’s the temptation to side with corporations on this issue. One might argue ‘Hey, the fact is that Starbucks, Walmart, and other stores became economic empires by being better than the competition- they deserve the power they have!’. This argument forgets, however, that most corporations don’t get to where they are by simply having better products. The Mr. Brown of the video might run his competition out of business by offering lower prices by (1) temporarily lowering his prices so that his competition will be destroyed and he will make more money in the long run, (2) lowering the quality of his goods, (3) smearing competitors (and if you don’t think this happens, look up a Mac vs PC commercial), (4) lowering the wages of his workers, (5) sabotaging his competitors (corporate espionage), (6) convincing the public that his products are better (actually making them better would decrease profit), or even (7) collaborating with other businesses to harm competition (just look up the tactics of J.D. Rockefeller). Now out of these seven options, do you think that Mr. Brown is going to go with the one that lowers his immediate income? And what happens when Mr. Brown gets a monopoly? Is he going to lose his customers to cheaper options in other towns? Of course not- the astute Mr. Brown is going to open a shop there, and use his profits to undersell his competitors into working for him.

It’s a sad but simple fact. No matter how much we swear by the good, ol’ family farm or shop, small businesses inevitably become big businesses, which become global corporations with a reputation for low prices and even lower wages, product safety standards, and environmental consciousness. To answer the question of the video, what is Capitalism? This is Capitalism: pointless competition, exploitation, monopolization, and the general degradation of all the values we see in Norman Rockwell’s paintings.

*Admittedly, he did do a few pictures of working class Americans and even school children in Soviet Russia- but overwhelmingly his paintings were of the bourgeoisie.

25
Jun
10

Socialism vs Capitalism vs Communism (and a quick note about the tea-party)

According to some pundits the US is currently locked in a struggle between its so-called Capitalist, free-market heritage and the looming threat of Socialism. Keep in mind that the term ‘Socialism’, while once synonymous with ‘Communism’, is currently used to describe a country where the majority of property lies in the hands of the government. Now as you can see by simply looking at some of the policies being enacted by the current administration that the US isn’t moving towards Capitalism or Socialism. Property isn’t being privatized or nationalized to any major extent. What has happened is that the federal government has been increasing in size and power, leading some elements on the right (namely the “tea-party”) to begin making dire predictions of an oppressive Orwellian future.

Now before I start, I feel that I should comment a bit about the tea-party:

Now I don’t have a problem with people protesting big government. As a Communist, I’m as opposed to a powerful central government as much as the average member of the tea-party, perhaps even more so. The problem is that the tea-party isn’t protesting big government! Where was the tea-party when the Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act? The simple reality of the tea-party is that it’s not about resisting big government, it’s about resisting Democrat big government (in the same way, many of those who protested the Patriot Act have failed to complain about the increases in Government power under Obama- yeah the rule applies to Democrats too).

Now back to the point.

Despite the typical, melodramatic slap-fight between the Democrat and Republican parties, it can’t be denied that every once in a great while, the issues of privatization versus regulation of the markets comes up. On one hand there are the Libertarians who state that government involvement in all areas of life should be minimized. The markets should be allowed to boom and crash of their own accord and government interference only exacerbates existing issues and prevents natural growth (an argument Adam Smith first came up with). On the other hand, there are Socialists and Progressives who point out that history has shown businesses to be corrupt and dangerous if not regulated.

It seems more and more that the public is seeing this debate as an either/or dilemma- free market Capitalism or government regulation?

The sad truth of the matter is that both options are equally awful. Consider this: if there’s no government regulation of business (or as anarcho-Capitalists and objectivists would have it, no government at all), what’s to stop the meat industry from selling dangerously unclean meat? What keeps the pharmaceutical industry from selling us untested cough medicine, or even flavored sewer water labeled “cough medicine”? It is true that history has shown us, time and again, businesses have only one goal in mind- profit. Child labor, slavery, dangerous working conditions, chemical dumping, pollution- what would the state of our world be in if there were no laws against these things? If there were no regulations or watchdogs?

At the same time, regulating the free market has serious side-effects as well. Corporations will do anything to get around labor laws or environmental regulations and the like, and the government will find itself forced to constantly increase the number of regulatory departments and their power and extent of jurisdiction. The result is an inevitably gargantuan, bureaucratic government. State capitalism- as the USSR has demonstrated- is inefficient and oppressive.

But despite what the proponents of free market Capitalism and regulated Capitalism would have you believe, it’s not an either/or situation! Communism advocates the abolition of both Capitalism and the state, offering instead a system based on public property and public choice.

15
Mar
10

The Frontline

Since the beginnings of civilization (if this oppressive class-system society can be called “civilized”) the poor and working class have been pushed to the front lines of every battle and conflict. In ancient Greece, soldiers were expected to procure their own armor and weapons- resulting in the wealthy being able to procure decent armor and weapons for themselves while the poor had (at best) worn-out leather armor and homemade weapons. As you can doubtlessly imagine, casualty rates among the poorer members of the vying forces tended to be much greater than those among the wealthy.

Now obviously things today have changed since ancient times. We have the resources to maintain a trained and (equally) equipped military in times of peace and war. Does this mean inequality between social classes (with regards to war and the armed forces) has been wiped out? Of course not!

Now imagine, if you will, that you are a military recruiter. It is your job and your duty to convince members of society to join your army and kill for (or be killed for, as the case may be) their country. Now who would you target? The wealthy corporation owner? Of course not. He’s living in luxury- what motivation would he have to take up an austere and dangerous military life? How about the professional middle-class woman? No way. She’s got two kids and a steady job- even the most jingoistic patriot would be reluctant to leave that behind. Perhaps an eighteen year-old from a bourgeois background? Yeah right. You really expect this guy who’s looking at colleges to go out and potentially die? It’d have to be a seriously dire situation before that happens.

How about working class youths fresh out of high school with no way to pay for college, little or no chance at a decent job, and no future?

Jackpot.

So you approach these disenfranchised, poorly-educated, and more than likely desperate youths and offer them a way out of crime-and-poverty. “Education, dignity, power, and the respect and gratitude of the nation- all this can be yours (oh, and there’s a pretty high chance that you’ll be killed or maimed or develop a mental condition as a result of you killing/maiming your fellow man- but we don’t like to talk about that)”.

There’s a catch to everything.

And so the ranks are swelled by the poor fighting in wars they don’t probably don’t understand or have a stake in. It’s really the ultimate con game. The poor line up to die for their country when their countries have done nothing for them. Just look at the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King Jr. was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, not only because it was opposed to his pacifist ideals but also because he saw war as a diversion of funds that ought to be used to aid the poor (claiming “A nation that continues… to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”). It’s just the unbelievable injustice of it all. Society is built on the backs of the poor. The proletariat sweep the streets, clean the gutters, build our houses and buildings, pave our roads, manufacture our products and produce the raw materials that our nations run on and in addition to all this they die for whatever cause the government deems justified. And for the poor and working class who do not go to war- what’s their lot? Why, it’s their “patriotic duty” to tighten their belts, buckle down, and make sacrifices for the war effort. Overtime at the munitions factory. What’s that? You’re arm got caught in the belt and you desperately need surgery? Sorry- you’re just some working class zero, you can’t afford insurance. Government healthcare? If they hadn’t diverted all the funds to help our brave boys on the western/eastern/southern/northern/ front it’d be no problem. You’re out of work now and the cost of living is going up? If you were middle-class you wouldn’t be feeling the pinch as much, would you? Maybe you should’ve thought about being born into a wealthier family!

You get the point.

And this is where you’ll witness a seeming hypocrisy among us Communists. On one hand, we’re screaming for revolution, the toppling of Fascists, imperialists, and the bourgeois and corporate taskmasters. On the other hand, you’ll probably find Communists at every major anti-war rally going on. Our reply? Our reply is this: We are opposed to war as much as war is opposed to us (for there have been few wars indeed where the workers have had any benefit). For us, there is only one war worth fighting and that war has been going on unceasingly since the immemorial. Our war is against Fascism, against imperialism, and the oppression of the Capitalist system. Let there be no war but class war!

17
Feb
10

How to Kill Democracy

On January 21, the US Supreme Court narrowly voted to block a ban on corporate spending limits in political campaigns. Ironic that one of the greatest blows to the ideal of democracy should come about as the result of a vote.

Essentially, the argument for allowing unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns is that since contributing to campaigns (financially) is a form of free speech, setting limits on how much corporations can donate (and to which candidates) is a violation of the rights of the individual. Now this argument makes the bold assumption that corporations are as much a person as you or me, and therefore are entitled to the same rights. Considering that corporations can benefit from all the rights of an individual but can’t fulfill any of the responsibilities (such as serving jury duty, serving in the military, being subject to the same laws and penalties as the rest of us, etc.), exactly how one reaches the conclusion that corporations are equal to human beings is beyond me.

But that can all be saved for another post. The purpose of this post is to attempt to predict the ramifications of free corporate campaign contributions.

Now it’s undeniable that corporate support has been a major factor in politics and political elections prior to ending of corporate spending limits. An oil corporation could influence a local election by offering campaign support to a candidate in exchange for the understanding that the candidate (should he or she win) will act in favor of the corporation (tax breaks for large businesses, laxer environmental standards, etc.). Now this may all seem to be a bit excessive- after all, corporations offering funds and advertising can’t buy an election.
Why not? Two brands of the same product may have unique traits to them that make one better than the other, yet one gets sold on a national level and the other remains nothing but a local oddity. It’s all comes down to advertisement- if one product is constantly flashed in front of the general public, it will outsell the rival brands. The same system can be applied to politicians. If two politicians are campaigning for the same office, who’s going to win- the candidate who’s advertised on a car’s bumper sticker or the candidate whose TV ads appear every seven minutes and whose face is plastered over every billboard in the state? Now just because the same strategies that are used in marketing can be used in politics doesn’t mean they should be used. In the end, what we have is the warping of public servants into products to be sold for the highest profits possible. The very purpose of the old corporate spending limits was to prevent one candidate from having an unfair advantage over his rivals solely on basis that his politics are favorable to corporations. With the limits gone, what’s there to prevent a candidate, a campaign, or even a whole branch of government from being effectively purchased by a corporation? If corporations now have the power to make or break electoral campaigns, why should politicians even try to serve the people when public opinion is eclipsed by the opinions of tycoons and magnates? What’s to stop the government from becoming a corrupted, withered facade for corporate agendas?

Still, it hasn’t happened yet. We still have the power to resist and demand that our representatives lobby for the reinstatement of corporate spending limits. While it’s still our choice, we can ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

16
Sep
09

The Common Good

It has been postulated by some that the way to a true utopia is the privitization of all industry. To these people, I present this BBC article as evidence that unregulated companies don’t exactly have the common good as their top priority.

Article linked here.