Shayne Hughes

“The Corporation”: Discover a Key Root Cause of our Current Woes

Date October 16, 2007

After having viewed the film “The Corporation” when it was in the theaters, I recently decided to read the book of the same name. Although much of the information was similar, I found the tone of the book different than the film (or my memory of it, in any case) and I felt profoundly moved by it.

In brief, the cogent and powerful book summarizes the history of the legal creation of corporations, the nature of their intent, and the subsequent role that they play in current society. Since their one and only legal goal is to generate profit for their shareholders, they cannot legally make decisions to protect the common good, or take care of others/the environment, unless it might some how be financially beneficial to them. In fact, they are compelled to “externalize” their costs as much as possible (meaning, to behave in ways that would cause the surrounding communities, government or environment to absorb/pay for collatoral damage. To do otherwise would be illegal.

Soak on that for a minute. To do otherwise would be illegal. We have created a legal structure that is compelled to do things that many of us abhor.

In particular, I greatly appreciated the author’s distinction between the goal and outcomes of the corporate structures and the intentions of those men and women who direct them.

It never ceases to amaze me how we as a people (myself included) can demonize the directors of a company (say, in the oil, automobile or real estate development industries, to name a few frequent targets), and yet when I meet and work with them, they are fine, well meaning, caring people.

Too often, we as humans fall into a behavior of angry blame or demonization, creating “Us vs. Them” dynamics between people or groups. I see this in every single large organization I come in contact with, as well as in more troubling arenas where the consequences are far-reaching (Democrat vs. Republican, US vs. the Arabic/Muslim world). This also tends to be the analytical frame of most books/films of this genre (what I would call “exposé”): “Sicko” by Michael Moore is a recent example of this, or “Who Killed the Electric Car”. They expose the “evil-doings” of these corporate monsters. These types of films tend to get us (or me, anyway) angry and reproachful, all the while feeling powerless to effect change against these monoliths.

The tremendous value of this book lies in stepping out of this dynamic and reminding us that the CEOs leading corporations committing these (at times, atrocious) acts are for the most part very humane people. They are simply caught in the system, and they divorce themselves emotionally from the costs of their decisions in order to survive. Of course, they could do something different (and they often do), but the structural pressure is very difficult to resist (and it’s illegal, as Bakan points out with tremendous irony).

Due to the spectacular power that corporations wield (through lobbying and campaign contributions, etc, especially in the US), it seems unlikely that government will be able to dramatically guide, control or eradicate the externalizing behavior of corporations. Perhaps after the excesses of the past 6 years, the pendulum will swing… In the meantime, I kept asking myself as I read this book what solution there might be at a legal/structural level. If we attempt to limit or regulate the current corporations through government, there will continue to be the same uphill battle. Teddy Roosevelt (the Trust-Buster) and Franklin Roosevelt (with his New Deal) were able to implement changes that brought the system more into balance; but following generations always forget, and we regress again to a state where more rapacious corporate behavior dominates. In any case, it would be a battle fought tooth and nail, with no victory ever really safe.

So I believe that our ability as a human race, within the current structure of the public-private system, to limit the corporation’s pathological behavior is insufficient, especially given the current pace of impact on the planet. We cannot afford to watch the runaway train barrel towards destruction much longer. I do not know a lot about law, but I believe that we need to examine if it is at all possible to create a different legal framework for corporations.

For example, today, the two main non-governmental organizational structures are ‘for profit’, and ‘not-for profit’. We have created a dichotomy with profit as the dominant criterion. Is there no other choice than this duality? Can the legal structure of private corporations be modified or transformed in order to integrate a broader goal, or multiple goals? Can we invent an organization that reflects our whole self (the self that incorporates both our desire for financial abundance, but also relational connection and a sustainable future for our children)? We have many brilliant people on this planet; surely such a legal structure is inventible?

As much as I believe that corporate powers would deride and resist governmental and other attempts to limit their influence (for fear of not succeeding as dramatically as they do without these limitations) perhaps a proposal to abolish the current limited liability structure and to integrate humane and environmental values with financial goals could be more palatable? As I’ve written the idea above, it certainly sounds more radical, but on the other hand, we would be giving something precious back to all the corporate executives currently signing big checks to lobbyists: the legal and social incentive to make a difference. Every one of them wants that deep inside, they’ve simply forgotten or don’t know how given the constraints they work in. If we change the system, their behavior will follow. Perhaps many of them would even be grateful to be able to work in alignment with their aspirations and values…

Problems that I see with my proposal:
– First, I have no idea if it is legally feasible to have a corporation with two goals (or more?). Are we capable of operating without one dominant goal to guide us?
– What would these other values/goals be? I have suggested ‘humane and environmental’ above, but it is not terribly developed. Could we define something universal enough that it would function clearly in all cultures?
– How would we measure the success or failure of these other goals? We can’t account for humane/environmental goals on a spreadsheet, like we do for profit. Money is objective, clearly quantified. Maybe we need to invent a new kind of currency?

I was very grateful to read “The Corporation.” It has helped me more than any other book in recent memory to understand the root causes of our current social and environmental challenges, both thanks to the basic concept it describes, as well as the non-combative mindset Bakan models.


Shayne Hughes


25 Responses to ““The Corporation”: Discover a Key Root Cause of our Current Woes”

  1. Kayleigh said:

    As a 42 year old lawyer and mother of 2 prosrchoele-s, I am probably not your target audience. However, I love these books, and can’t wait for the next installment. Brilliant to post exerpts at the end of your Christie Craig books. Got me hooked on Shadow Falls and your other series!

  2. Nona said:

    This is a very inrmtoafive article. It really sparked my interest on several points. I agree with most of the points and am currently pondering the rest. Thank you for keeping your information so engaging.

  3. Hank said:

    AlainPosted on 19 juin 2008 at 17:42Hé bien Indiana, merci à vous aussi et bravo pour ce nouveau site d&Ãtouq;r©sé! C’est une joie de vous retrouver!

  4. Keli said:

    I miss MAC so much! we had one so near to us in Cape town now i can only browse on the wes.tie.b. Next time i go home for holidays i will have to take some pics of our MAC. thanks for making me drool! :P hehe

  5. Rosalinda said:

    Please pray for me to find meigunnfal steady employment so that I can care and provide for my family and myself. I have been unemployed for a very long time. I need your prayers to give me the strength and courage to keep having faith that I will find work. Thank you for your kind prayers. Amen.

  6. Maud said:

    Thanks for inintducorg a little rationality into this debate.

  7. Rock said:

    The forum is a brgither place thanks to your posts. Thanks!

  8. Kenisha said:

    What a neat arlitce. I had no inkling.

  9. Lorrie said:

    Four score and seven minutes ago, I read a sweet arictle. Lol thanks

  10. Isabella said:

    I think you’ve just captured the answer peetrcfly

  11. Lucky said:

    I could watch Scen’dlhris List and still be happy after reading this.

  12. Scout said:

    That’s a we-lht-oughtlout answer to a challenging question

  13. Delia said:

    Your article was exnlleect and erudite.

  14. http://www./ said:

    Thanks for that! It’s just the answer I needed.

  15. http://www./ said:

    I’m not a fan of the “f” word feedback. It has a negative connotation. I’m working on a substitute. Maybe you or someone else has one.Many in leading positions say they want to hear what their constituents really think. Then when someone steps up and speaks their mind, the leader belittles or minimizes the comment as unimportant. Or worse, they unfairly put the person down for no reason at all.This type of behavior will encourage an inauthentic team who mask their true feelings.

  16. kredit aktuell kredit zins negativ said:

    Lieve Pim, Paula, Merel,tijs, Daan en Sterre.Ik denk aan jullie en vandaag weer een beetje meer.Wat een verlies, wat een verdriet, wat een leegte. En niemand kan dat opvullen.Was het maar waar.Liefs van Ellen.

  17. kredit mobil angsuran 2 5 juta said:

    I totally agree ;even sitting in front of the mirror , and envisioning yourself becoming more confident, can work as well ;:)) Great post and I look forward to sharing more with you:)

  18. said:

    The minimal cost of this app just adds to its appeal. You'll be able to enjoy your fave game and expand your vocabulary wherever you go.

  19. wohnung kauf kredit said:

    I do consider all of the ideas you have introduced on your post. They are really convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for beginners. May just you please prolong them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.

  20. wasa kredit leasing said:

    Excellent weblog right here! Also your site lots up very fast! What host are you the usage of? Can I am getting your associate hyperlink on your host? I desire my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  21. stardoll coin generator said:

    Legalize it as what? Is it going to be like alcohol and people will have to have licenses to sell it? What about folks who want to use it as a ‘prescription’ medication? That’s the confusing part. See where I’m going with this?

  22. said:

    that I should have mashed sweet potato and added that to the flour to give it more taste and texture. That's what her mother did. Perhaps that might help? Or maybe all of us have different ways of making ondeh ondeh… (:

  23. said:

    boa noite!Sou criador de coleiro amador e gostaria de iniciar uma criação de azulão, mas tenho interesse em conhecer a criação para depois adquirir um casal…. como faço para conhecer o seu criatório…. moro na região do barreiro.Moro no bairro teixeira dias…. sei que a epoca agora não é propricia porque estão em muda mas no meio de agosto voltam a cantar…desde já agradeço.Ass. Rodrigo BritoBelo Horizonte – MG

  24. said:

    dalam satu paper yg i pernah baca dulu. (awal2 kemunculan tiga artis dewi remaja ni) izara ada mix pakistan dan dalam paper tu dia kata izara dan nelofa ada hubungan kekeluargaany. tapi x pasti sejauh mana kbnaran paper tersebut. kalau paper yg keluarkan statement tu menipu, mean i pun menipu.

  25. me wellpoint said:

    Alteta Voastra,.Speram ca sanatatea MS Regelui Mihai I al Romanieisa-i permita participarea spirituala alaturea de noi la evenimentul deemulatie de maine.Cu siguranta ca reprezentarea MS va transmite incarcatura mesajului regalaniversar si va stimula actele de caritate din partea celor prezenti.Cultura neamului este liantul spiritual care ne tine laolalta in simtire romaneasca.. . .Urmarind fotografiile ultimilor ani de pe blog trebuie sa recunoastem,cu surprindere si admiratie, ca trecerea anilor nu se lasa remarcata.Fondul genetic al MS Regelui Mihai I al Romaniei s-a dovedit a ficu adevarat Regal..Multi ani sanatosi, armoniosi si de impliniri,va dorim Majestatea Voastra !

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>