Corporate America Unmasked

Most Americans recently polled reportedly seem to hold favorable opinions about America’s corporations.1 If true, it means that most Americans don’t know what I know and what they need to know. Trained as an organizational psychologist much of my research and consultative work during my career were for government agencies at the local, state and federal level. But I also have studied exhaustively the corporate side of organized life and have written more about it than the government side.2 My overall conclusion, not opinion, regarding all large organizations, especially large corporations, is that when they are unmasked their leadership is found to be morally depraved, and their organizations dysfunctional. I frame this overall conclusion about corporate America as an overarching simple truth that subsumes many other simple truths.

A Moral and Functional Framework for the Simple Truths

The primary intent of this article is to unmask corporate America by telling you about those simple truths. Even simple truths need an explanation, otherwise their full meaning and validity may be missed, and the massive and relentless lies may remain unchallenged. So, I want to tell you what they mean in the case of large, publicly traded corporations, at least to me.

a) Morality

Many decades ago I learned what morality really meant from a brilliant lawyer turned ethicist, believe it or not. He had studied all cultures throughout time and identified what he called the ten universal values: accountability, caring for and respecting others, commitment to excellence, fairness, honesty, integrity, justice, loyalty, promise keeping, and responsibility.3

Throughout history these values have been breeched more often than practiced. The breeching of any one of these values always, without exception, is an act of wrongdoing, of one kind or another, whether it be of a wrongful economic, psychological, social, or physical nature. Their breeching is always harmful to some degree ranging from the trivial to the devastating and deadly. Immorality, therefore, in whatever form it is manifested lies behind every wrong deed and its consequences, both of which are usually rationalized by the wrongdoer as being moral. Moral rationalizations salve consciences for those wrongdoers who have a semblance of conscience (one syndrome of psychopathy is the absence of a conscience).

Even though the compromised and ludicrous U.S. Supreme Court ruled a few years ago that corporations legally are persons, a corporation, per se, can’t act immorally. Only people can. And in the case of corporations, or any organization for that matter, its leaders and close subordinates are in a position and have the predisposition to willingly act immorally. Peons near and at the bottom either do the wrongdoing ordered or expected or face the consequences of their disobedience.

b) Functionality

Functionality refers to how well or poorly a corporation, in this case, is designed, managed, and operated to fulfill its purpose. If the purpose is an immoral one, such as maximizing profit from the sale of weapons to the government, there is ipso facto wrongdoing, regardless of how well the three criteria are met. Nevertheless, the dysfunctionality of corporations must be addressed as a simple truth because it facilitates wrongdoing.

Since a corporation has neither a brain, tongue, nor limbs, it cannot, per se, act dysfunctional any more than it can act immorally, but it can be dysfunctional because of what people have done to it knowingly or unknowingly.

c) In the Beginning

Before getting to a listing of some simple truths, let’s answer the question of how and when did they begin.

They began when immoral plutocrats from depraved Mother England invaded the new land and brought with them a template for corporate America. The template was none other than Mad King George’s state chartered corporations. They were designed to indenture their workers, loot their customers, and enrich themselves and the King’s bank. How could corporate America have turned out any differently, even if early members of my own profession (yes, you read it correctly) had not advised managers on how to boost productivity at the expense of the workers without whom there would be no products.

Morally Depraved and Dysfunctional Corporate America: A List of Some Simple Truths

What follows next is a sordid list of abbreviated simple truths I have learned over many decades about large, publicly held corporations. I have organized them into four categories; inputs inside and then outside the corporation, followed by outputs, first wrongdoing and finally its consequences. Whether an input is inside or outside the corporation depends on the input’s origin. We will start with the input side and then move over to the output side. The lists are a sampling of simple truths. A more complete set of lists can be found elsewhere.4

a) Inputs Inside the Corporation

  • Bigness begets bullying, monopolizing and other badness.
  • Tallness, (i.e., the typical hierarchy of people stacked on top of people) begets passing the buck and distancing the decision makers and their decisions to rely on wrongdoing from lower level subordinates who must carry out the actual wrongdoing.
  • The corner office where the overpaid, still greedy CEO presides issuing ignoble expectations and/or explicit orders that can’t be met without wrongdoing.

b) The subservient board of directors

  • The CEO’s minions in the chain of command, including especially corporate lawyers and accountants.
  • Perfunctory ethics programs.
  • Conscience salving philanthropy programs.
  • Upside/down incentive programs rewarding “negative successes” (i.e., wrongdoing that succeeds in meeting or exceeding expectations).
  • The most depraved: weapon and ammunition makers, banksters, energy extractors, all polluters, pill makers, health care corporations, and all outsourcers.

Inputs Outside the Corporation

If there were no inputs outside the organization facilitating corporate wrongdoing it is hard to imagine that there would be any corporate wrongdoing. I have always said that “it takes two to wrongdo.” Here are the most salient of those inputs:

The subservient partner of the corpocracy, government, and corporate dependence on the following:

  • Toothless state charters.
  • Bribed (campaign funded) politicians and compromised judges/justices doing the corporate bidding by providing lax or nonexistent regulations and enforcement, tax breaks, bail outs, subsidies, weapons buying, “legal” exonerations, and other gifts ad nauseum.
  • Shareholders sheltered from corporate wrongdoing.
  • Consultants like organizational psychologists.
  • The “behavior shapers” (i.e., think tanks, front groups, religion, education}.
  • Foreign enemies deliberately created by the corpocracy.
  • Bystanders (i.e., the silent, subjugated Americans).

Corporate Outputs: The Act of Wrongdoing

To reiterate, transgressions against the universal moral values are, ipso facto, wrongdoing. In other words, actions that breech these values do wrong, simple as that. The possibilities and opportunities for corporate wrongdoing are so boundless that any corporate wrongdoing you can imagine probably exists. As an exercise consider imagining the worse and then go looking for it. I bet you will find it. The wrongdoings listed here, however, have not been imagined. They have all been documented many times here and there.

  • Wrongdoing against own employees; e.g., union busting, reneging on pensions, underpaying and overworking employees, punishing whistleblowers, knowingly allowing hazardous working conditions, and massively laying off temporarily or permanently employees be.
  • Wrongdoing against consumers; e.g., over charging, falsely advertising, filing lawsuits against complaints, knowingly making serious product failures, racial profiling and redlining, selling returned merchandise as new, and implanting “spy” chips in products.
  • Wrongdoing against each other; e.g., breaching contracts and fraudulently dealing with retailers, spying on competitors, and swallowing up smaller corporations.
  • Wrongdoing against the government, believe it or not, by biting the hand that feeds them; e.g., stonewalling investigations, shredding tell-tale documents to impede governmental investigation, privatizing public services, overcharging and selling flawed products such as unworkable weapons.
  • Wrongdoing against the environment; e.g., polluting, polluting, polluting from corporate wastes.
  • Wrongdoing against America’s powerless; e.g., all the above and more are done at their expense.
  • Wrongdoing against other countries; e.g., private contractors performing military operations, weapon and ammunition makers products used against mostly civilians in other countries, and outsourcing to other countries knowing about their inhumane treatment of workers.

Corporate Outputs: The Consequences of Wrongdoing

  • For employees; e.g., exhaustion, stress, debt, injuries, restricted family life and leisure.
  • For customers; e.g., products that fail, that injure, that kill.
  • For others in the industry; e.g., turning them into a “battlefield” of competitors.
  • For government; e.g. being scorned and humiliated, being defrauded, being totally prostituted, silently recognizing the hypocrisy in preaching democracy but not practicing it and letting it be stolen from the American people.
  • For the environment; e.g. slowly killing Mother Nature—that about says it all.
  • For America’s powerless; gradually becoming a third world country and all that its consequences entail such as homelessness, unemployment, foreclosures, insurmountable debt, insufficient or no health care coverage, overall inability to meet the most basic of human needs, etc., etc.
  • For other countries; e.g., stolen resources, devastated lands, villages and cities, and wounded and dead civilians.

In Closing

There you have it, a snapshot of corporate America at its typical worst. I suppose one could find a socially responsible corporation somewhere that is neither morally depraved nor dysfunctional. (let me know if you know of one or more). Two respected researchers independently went looking for “great” corporations and claimed to have found some.5 But upon doing some further digging I found a lot of dirt on all of them. While they had deep financial pockets, greatness does not mean being money deep.

It begs the question to ask what can be done to reform corporate America. It can’t be reformed without reforming servile government. I don’t have a viable answer for reforming either, nor does anyone else so far. All my proposals are in dust bins here and there.6 I have yet to see a massive public outcry that sends corporate America or its partner reeling. And the American people have mostly been bamboozled by corporate media and public relations spiels and tantalized and mesmerized by baubles and beads.

I despair of my futile armchair activism and scribbling screeds. Unless I change my mind or can’t break the habit, my next article will be my swansong in venues like this one. After that I will write something more uplifting, an illustrated pre-schooler’s book titled something like, David and His Pet Crocodile. It will be based on an unbelievably true and funny story. And there will absolutely be no big words or footnotes, and no mention whatsoever of really bad wrongdoing.

  1. Maniam, S. Most Americans see labor unions, corporations favorably Pew Research Center, January 30, 2017. []
  2. See my books: Corporate Reckoning Ahead. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2015; The Corpocracy and Megaliio’s Turn Up Strategy. Palm Coast, FL: Democracy Power Press (Kindle Edition), 2012; The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch. Author House, 2011; Corporations and the Gold Standard. Palm Coast, FL: Democracy Power Press (Kindle Edition), 2010; and Tall Performance from Short Organizations Through We/Me Power. 1stBooksLibrary, 2002. []
  3. Josephson, M. “Teaching ethical decision-making and principled reasoning”. Ethics: Easier Said than Done, 1988, Issue 1, 27-33. []
  4. Brumback, G.B. An Evil Root. OpEdNews, March 8; Dissident Voice, March 15; The Greanville Post, March 20; Uncommon Thought Journal, March 21, 2017. []
  5. See these two books: Collins, J. Good to Great. HarperCollins, 2001; and Treacy, M. Double-Digit Growth: How Great Companies Achieve It-No Matter What. Portfolio, 2003. []
  6. To cite all my proposals and the books and articles containing them would take too much space and be pointless anyway. Many of my proposals, though, can be found in the sources cited in the second footnote. []
Gary Brumback, PhD is a retired psychologist and Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. He is the author of The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; and America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying. His most recent book is Corporate Reckoning Ahead. Read other articles by Gary, or visit Gary's website.