by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
September 9, 2003
corporateering: When corporations exceed their traditional role in a marketplace to dominate the cultural sphere and compromise individualsí rights, freedoms and power, and the democratic systems that protect them. The act implies corporations vying with a democratic people for sovereignty over their society and societal rights by redefining the basic rules of society, law and ethical customs to the detriment of individuals.
Whether our friend Jamie Court, the executive director of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and author of the new book, Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom ... And What You Can Do About It (New York: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam) will succeed in his mission of infusing the term "corporateering" into U.S. political discourse is unclear.
But what is certain is that Courtís book is raising a critical set of issues that are dominant themes in contemporary U.S. life but generally ignored, including by corporate accountability campaigners.
Courtís primary concern is the way that corporations regulate society to exert a controlling influence over popular culture and to deny individual freedom.
Though Court does devote substantial space to hyper-advertising and the issue of corporate control of the mass media, his focus is not primarily on the corporate degradation of popular culture.
Rather, Courtís concern with culture is the way that corporations have managed to shape fundamental beliefs about the way society should be organized, so that "corporate perspectives are becoming prevailing perspectives." There is now substantial public accord with shibboleths like: Regulation will increase consumer costs. Or, interfering with the free market will destroy the business climate. These are the core defenses of companies facing popular demands for public controls. They are so successful as defenses now -- as they were not three decades ago -- because they have become generally accepted nostrums. These are the kinds of ideas that people tend not to say in everyday conversation, but to offer up on their own if someone suggests restraining corporate power. In other words, as Italian political theorist and activist Antonio Gramsci might say, corporations have achieved hegemonic power.
The mantras of economic freedom and deregulation of the corporate sector, Court argues, "have credibility because of the power of the logic that underlies them -- that the good life is an unregulated transaction."
There is strong evidence to disclaim the idea that markets work efficiently in an unregulated state. And Court documents how deregulation of the California energy market paved the way for the multi-billion dollar rip-off of consumers in the state, and how failure to regulate HMOs has led to the denial of quality healthcare to millions, among other examples.
But even more penetrating is Courtís contention that the idea of unregulated transactions is fundamentally misleading. Failing to regulate corporations leaves them free to regulate people.
An important contribution of Corporateering is the framing of an array of corporate abuses -- traceable either to deregulation or government failure to regulate in the first place -- as the regulation of individuals, and denial of individual freedom.
For example, failure to regulate corporations frees them to regulate peopleís time. Corporations bombard people with commercial messages and intrusive phone calls (and the FTCís recently implemented Do Not Call registry illustrates how regulation of corporate conduct can free individuals from the shackles of corporate regulation). Regulatory vacuums free corporations to infringe on personal privacy rights, by monitoring office e-mail, trading in private financial information and otherwise. Form contracts from credit card companies, car dealers, HMOs and others require individuals to sacrifice their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. These contracts regulate peopleís action in case of a dispute with large companies, forcing them to accept mandatory arbitration that is biased in favor of large corporations.
Corporateering concludes with a brief listing of reforms to control corporate power. Though not novel, the list is useful. Proposals range from taxing corporate advertising to barring mandatory arbitration in consumer contracts, from time-limiting all deregulatory efforts to imposing personal liability on corporate managers who knowingly allow corporate wrongdoing.
The book is also a call to readers to spread the concepts employed in the book to ever-widening circles. Though it may appear trite, there is a sense in which this proposal is fundamental. The first step in freeing ourselves from corporate regulation is freeing ourselves from corporate regulation of our thinking.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org).
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