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Bolivia Nationalizes Natural Gas
May 3, 2006 9:56 AM   Subscribe

My mother is very worried. ExxonMobil moved in and helped Bolivia develop, she says. Now they have food and medicine, thanks to the kindly hand of Big Business. But now Bolivia's kicking them out. After Exxon spent 3 billion dollars helping them! What will happen to the next poor country that needs Exxon's help?
posted by redsparkler (110 comments total)

 
they'll have to pay up front.
posted by tiamat at 10:05 AM on May 3, 2006


See also Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Just finished it and it's got me all depressed about my country.
posted by boo_radley at 10:07 AM on May 3, 2006


Poor ExxonMobil. Whatever will they do? It doesn't really sound like a big deal to them anyway. According to your second link, "The only Bolivian investment of Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. oil company, is a minority stake in a nonproducing gas field controlled by Total."

posted by Roger Dodger at 10:07 AM on May 3, 2006


Well, Bolivia is now free to retrieve all of that gas and oil with its own technology and skilled labor. Best of luck to them.
posted by tgrundke at 10:07 AM on May 3, 2006


um...
posted by shmegegge at 10:13 AM on May 3, 2006


Please. The minute that an opportunity for any profit presents itself, the oil companies will be back with bells on...with allowances for credit risk of course.
posted by banishedimmortal at 10:16 AM on May 3, 2006


That's right, tgrundke, because they're not American they are, therefore, ignorant peasants.
posted by ciderwoman at 10:18 AM on May 3, 2006


When talking about this with my roommate, he recommended Confessions Of An Economic Hitman, as well. So I think I'll be definitely checking that out to learn more about that whole tangled web.

This whole thing came about while I was talking to my mother on the phone this morning, and mentioned high gas prices. She brought up Bolivia, I said it sounded awesome, and she berated me. Perhaps we are equated in her mind, Bolivia and I, both being ungrateful recipients of monetary assistance from outside sources. But she really did sound pretty worried about those other poor countries. I think the phrase "scratching in the dirt with sticks" escaped her lips.
posted by redsparkler at 10:19 AM on May 3, 2006


Well, Bolivia is now free to retrieve all of that gas and oil with its own Venezuela's technology and skilled labor.

Best of luck to them.

Ditto.
posted by Makoto at 10:21 AM on May 3, 2006


Just FYI, all of the big oil companies are insured against these state take overs and other geopolitical events. They make a call to their insurance company and say "Um, yeah, our [minority stake in blah | $900 million dollar facility | 200 employees] just got nationalized." It's weird, but it's true.

The risks you take to make big money involve big risks.
posted by zpousman at 10:24 AM on May 3, 2006


"thanks to the kindly hand of Big Business"

herein lies the oxymoron....
posted by HuronBob at 10:24 AM on May 3, 2006


If it's actually a big deal, then I fully expect covert or overt US generated unrest, "regime change" of one sort or another or just grinding them into the ground through sanctions or punitive steps via the IMF.

ExxonMobil probably has more representatives in the US Congress than my home state of South Carolina does. They'll get something done if they need to.

Sometimes I'm accused of being cynical, though.
posted by MasonDixon at 10:27 AM on May 3, 2006


Where in these articles does it say anything about Exxon investing $3 billion in the Bolivian oil industry? Aside from the tiny investment highlighted above by Roger Dodger, there's no reference to any recent involvement by Exxon in Bolivia.
posted by brain_drain at 10:28 AM on May 3, 2006


Well, Bolivia is now free to retrieve all of that gas and oil with its own technology and skilled labor. Best of luck to them.

Foreign oil companies are not being kicked out of Bolivia. They have 6 months to renegotiate deals for access to Bolivia's natural resources. There is also a constitutional legitimacy question about the current oil deals anyway, since they were not originally approved by the legislature.

This has already happened in two other South American countries. Experience in these other countries has shown that foreign oil companies don't leave because they still make a profit, even after renegotiation. It just isn't the massive profit that they made before.
posted by jsonic at 10:28 AM on May 3, 2006


ciderwoman:

Please emphasize that those were your choice of words, not mine. I made no inference as to the intellectual capabilities of the citizens of Bolivia whatsoever.

The unstated pretext to my comment is this: if Bolivia had the resources and knowledge to develop those oil fields initially they probably wouldn't have needed Exxon's assistance to do so. Now that they have control of those fields, they sure better hope they have the knowledge and resources to keep the fields operating and producing profitably.

Take a look at the repatriation of lands plan in Zimbabwe and how well that went: starvation and destroyed crop fields due to inexperience and lack of resources on the part of the people to whom the lands were 'handed over'.
posted by tgrundke at 10:30 AM on May 3, 2006


US Troops will be deployed to this new Axis of EVIL.

But, it is Bolivian soil, they can do anything they want, more power to them.
posted by IronWolve at 10:31 AM on May 3, 2006


Additionally - this isn't about a total takeover, it's about a renegotiation of contracts so that the Bolivian government takes a far larger chunk of the pie (I believe a 50% tax and 70% ownership, if memory of the NPR piece last night serves correct).
posted by tgrundke at 10:32 AM on May 3, 2006


Just out of curiosity, does anyone have a BS-test summary on 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man?' How much of what he claims in the book can be verified? I'm inclined to agree with a lot of the stuff he says, butI'd rather not jump on board just because of ideological compatability.
posted by verb at 10:32 AM on May 3, 2006


When talking about this with my roommate, he recommended Confessions Of An Economic Hitman, as well.

I highly recommend this book. It casts not only Iraq and our violent market manipulation of S. America in a new light, but note which companies have all the contracts for post-Katrina reconstruction in NO.

I hope Morales turns out to be an OK guy. For a long while, Bolivia was averaging more than one new government per year!
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:33 AM on May 3, 2006


brain_drain: The 3 Billion quote actually came from my mom. Sorry. It isn't very reliable. At all.

I do think it was really worthwhile to see how this information is filtering down, though, and what conceptions people are getting. You're right, though. I've been doing more research, and Exxon doesn't appear to be the primary entity affected.
posted by redsparkler at 10:37 AM on May 3, 2006


What terrible links. one is to a general information about Bolivia, one to the news story, and one to Exxon's propaganda page.

Here's a n insight into why they might want to kick out the big corporation:
Until the mid-1990s Bolivia was the owner of its petroleum resources, which it developed in association with foreign corporations. Through a variety of royalty and tax arrangements the government and the companies split the earnings fifty-fifty. In 1995, amidst complaints of official corruption and mismanagement and under pressure from the World Bank and IMF to do so, Bolivia privatized its petroleum resources into the hands of foreign companies. Those privatization deals also slashed the government’s share of the profits down from half to just eighteen percent.

Theoretically, privatization was to give the corporations a powerful incentive to boost production and, while Bolivia’s portion of the profit pie would be smaller, its total net earnings would increase – theoretically. However, even as production increased threefold, depleting a key nonrenewable resource at an escalated rate, Bolivia’s earnings basically stayed flat. Foreign companies, meanwhile, were reaping a financial bonanza. “The profits that the companies were making were extraordinary in comparison to what the state was making,” said Francesco Zaratti, President Mesa’s specially appointed delegate in charge of the gas issue.
posted by destro at 10:38 AM on May 3, 2006


Take a look at the repatriation of lands plan in Zimbabwe and how well that went: starvation and destroyed crop fields due to inexperience and lack of resources on the part of the people to whom the lands were 'handed over'.

And what has this go to do with you?
posted by larry_darrell at 10:41 AM on May 3, 2006


Bolivia doesn't even have a navy. This'll be a cakewalk. Those little indian people with the funny hats will be greeting us with open arms when we liberate them from these communist dictators.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:45 AM on May 3, 2006


Take a look at the repatriation of lands plan in Zimbabwe and how well that went

Um, Zimbabwe is a dictatorship ruled by a power-mad lunatic. I'm not sure it can be used as a reasonable example of the predestined results of nationalisation, or indeed of anything other than the results of being ruled by a power-mad lunatic.
posted by Artw at 10:48 AM on May 3, 2006


Morales kicks it up another notch.

Mr. Morales said Monday that the gas decree "was just the beginning, because tomorrow it will be the mines, the forest resources and the land." [...]

A peasant leader of the ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS) party said "our guys" had been sent into industry offices "to seize information from the companies."[...]

"We are going to find out exactly how they got their contracts."

posted by sonofsamiam at 10:50 AM on May 3, 2006


He's doing exactly what I would do in his position. Hell, I'd probably shoot a few oil execs in the head just for sport.
posted by 2sheets at 10:53 AM on May 3, 2006


Oh, bullocks. First and foremost, Bolivia sells all its gas to Brazil or through Brazilian ports. Brazil actually built the pipe that moves all gas out of Bolivia. Petrobras, the Brazilian oil behemoth, is the most affected company and the one posed to lose more, followed by the French-owned Repsol.

And the geniuses writing or agreeing with things like "Bolivia is now free to retrieve all of that gas and oil with its own technology and skilled labor" should learn a bit about the country and its History before opening their mouths. First, allowing foreign companies to explore their soil did absolutely nothing for Bolivia up to now. Second, Venezuela and Brazil, both large oil producers, both owners of large state oil companies, are not going to stop helping Bolivia with technology and man-power. And finally, Bolivia is not doing anything different from what many other countries did before - making the natural resources a State property in order to ensure its own people receives the largest share of whatever benefits come from these resources exploration.
posted by nkyad at 10:54 AM on May 3, 2006


The 3 Billion quote actually came from my mom.

Can I just request that people base MeFi posts on something other than quotes from their mom? Nothing against mothers, but the whole "mom said" format is one of the strikes against this post (another being what destro pointed out: lazy links).
posted by languagehat at 10:55 AM on May 3, 2006


I notice some people tossing "oil" around, please nota bene that Bolivia has a LOT of natural gas in the ground, and comparitively not that much oil.

A lot of the same companies are involved, but the market is different. Natural gas is harder to move around, for one thing.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:00 AM on May 3, 2006


wow, I thought the "my mom said..." aspect of this post was a joke.

flagged.
posted by shmegegge at 11:04 AM on May 3, 2006


I like the "my mom said..." stuff. People on Mefi are too anal. Also, good for Boliva.
posted by chunking express at 11:07 AM on May 3, 2006


According to the Financial Times, the major international companies operating in Bolivia's energy sector are: Brazil’s Petrobras, Repsol of Spain, Total of France, and BG and BP of the UK. Not ExxonMobil.

Oh, and: Repsol’s chief executives were imprisoned in March on oil-smuggling charges...

Via Brad DeLong, who thinks this is a bad idea. Decoupling Bolivia from the world economy will be costly and painful. Having your major extractive industries run by political hacks will be very destructive. And doing so in a way that will maximize the alienation of Brazil and Spain is just plain stupid.
posted by russilwvong at 11:09 AM on May 3, 2006


Second, Venezuela and Brazil, both large oil producers, both owners of large state oil companies, are not going to stop helping Bolivia with technology and man-power

Bingo. The whole South-American Bolavarian revolution-clique will support Bolivia with natural gas and oil know-how. There is a socialist-left resurgence happening in South America, and this is just a natural continuation of that process. As for the three billion dollar figure, it's estimated that the 52.3 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves in Bolivia, presently in the hands of foreign corporations, are minimally worth $120 billion. So, it wasn't a a bad investment for Exxon in the least. 3 billion dollars to the Bolivians is a tremendous amount of money, equivalent to 43% of the country's GNP.

So I say, good for them. Latin America's resources have be slowly burned away for the good of foreign investors, while a massive peasant class has been largely left to fend for themselves. Companies like Exxon colluding with corrupt governments, and propping up un-democratic regimes is precisely why we have the current problems we do in South America.
posted by SweetJesus at 11:11 AM on May 3, 2006


3 billion dollars to the Bolivians is a tremendous amount of money, equivalent to 43% of the country's GNP.

Should be GDP, not GNP. Also, that figure looks a little high now that I double checked it (from the linked article) - it's more like 7% in today's figures.
posted by SweetJesus at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2006


My mom said she didn't give a flip what languagehat thinks. :-)
posted by nofundy at 11:21 AM on May 3, 2006


Q&As from the BBC on the subject.
posted by penguin pie at 11:22 AM on May 3, 2006


As far as I can tell the biggest player in Bolivia is Petrobras, the (30%) state-owned oil company of Brazil. Given the political leanings of the Brazilian government, and their desire to be the dominant regional player, this seems to be much more of a SA regional issue. Bolivia isn't even on the list of US importers for natural gas.

Besides, as others have pointed out, this is really about getting a better deal from the multi-nationals, not kicking them out. Nationalizing natural resource bases is hardly revolutionary: that well-known communist bastion, Saudi Arabia, maintains sovereign ownership of their producing fields. Every company operating in the Saudi kingdom is (at least) 51% Saudi-owned. The majors all have no trouble operating in these environments.
posted by bonehead at 11:24 AM on May 3, 2006


(Oh, and if you think this is commie-evilness, you need to read up on what Gasprom has been doing in Russia for the last decade).
posted by bonehead at 11:25 AM on May 3, 2006


French-owned Repsol ..............errrrm.... Spanish integrated company actually.
posted by adamvasco at 11:26 AM on May 3, 2006


ExxonMobil operates in more than 200 countries and territories. Through our heritage companies – Esso and Mobil – we have been operating in Latin America for more than 115 years. Today, we employ nearly 9,000 people in our upstream, downstream and chemical operations across Latin America and the Caribbean representing investment totaling nearly $4 billion.

http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/Newsroom/SpchsIntvws/Corp_NR_SpchIntrvw_RWT_170504.asp

Since the total cumulative investment over 115 years in Latin America is $4 billion, it's unlikely that the investment in Bolivia alone is $3 billion. Also it is unclear whether these are nominal or inflation-adjusted figures.

p.s. please don't quote your mom in your next post.
posted by storybored at 11:26 AM on May 3, 2006


Your mother? Flagged.
posted by skallas at 11:30 AM on May 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Bolivia doesn't even have a navy.

Yes, it does
posted by maxwelldemon at 11:33 AM on May 3, 2006


nkyad: "And the geniuses writing or agreeing with things like "Bolivia is now free to retrieve all of that gas and oil with its own technology and skilled labor" should learn a bit about the country and its History before opening their mouths."

If Bolivia does in fact have access to the tools to profitably extract those goods, then more power to them. I don't think its necessarily a great idea to nationalize, but if they can make a go at it, then great.

I don't think that has much to do with the country or its history.
posted by tgrundke at 11:41 AM on May 3, 2006


MetaFilter: I'm inclined to agree with a lot of the stuff he says, but I'd rather not jump on board just because of ideological compatability.

Free thinkers who agree ideologically and still demand proof. The very essence of an informed citizenry.

Damn, this would make a beautiful tagline for the Dems to pick up.
posted by mystyk at 11:43 AM on May 3, 2006


artw, what does the form of government have to do with access to, or rewards from a natural resource? My point here is that in Zimbabwe land was summarily taken from those who knew how to successfully work it and handed over to people who had no knowledge, thus leading to starvation.

My point is that if Bolivia is going to take control of those fields (which they may not do, just take a very majority controlling stake in current foreign-owned operations), they sure better have the skills and knowledge to successfully maintain those fields if they ever do in fact kick the foreigners out.
posted by tgrundke at 11:44 AM on May 3, 2006


My Mother told me not to flag this post...and to nationalize privately owned chocolate factories
posted by Megafly at 11:48 AM on May 3, 2006



Nothing scares Western corporations more than economic nationalism. People running their own affairs is always easily misrepresented as communism. Hopefully Mexico will be next to join the Axis of Good (tm).
posted by imperium at 11:52 AM on May 3, 2006


I see there are people here having unresolved issues with their mothers.
Just wait 'till I tell mom what y'all said!

Go Bolivia!
posted by nofundy at 11:55 AM on May 3, 2006


My mom says bullocks are like, cows.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:58 AM on May 3, 2006


Glad you clarified your point tgrundke. Your original choice of words sounded like you were assuming the Bolivians couldn't take care of themselves. But subsequent comments and their links gave solid evidence that they can. This post does show MetaFilter discussion at its best... taking a bad post and adding good facts and good links.

New MetaFilter Rule: You can't use your mother as a source, unless she has a blog. (resparkler, yo mamma's an ExxonMobil PR shill... I always wanted to dis a MeFite's mother...)
posted by wendell at 12:02 PM on May 3, 2006


Hopefully Mexico will be next to join the Axis of Good (tm).

What should Mexico nationalize? Pemex has been around since 1938.

[my mom has no opinion on this matter]
posted by birdherder at 12:06 PM on May 3, 2006


Nevermind the my mom says part... the kindly hand of big business, the benevolence of foreign oil companies... in Latin America! this *is* supposed to be a joke, right?
posted by funambulist at 12:11 PM on May 3, 2006


redsparkler: Perhaps we are equated in her mind, Bolivia and I, both being ungrateful recipients of monetary assistance from outside sources.

Interesting observation. Stimulating thread.

imperium, I agree with you and cool term, Axis of Good (tm).

Multinational corporations by their present economic and legal nature, devolve into "the pathological pursuit of profit and power". Corporations are legal entities, which have no obligation to serve the needs of anyone but their investors. For public relations purposes, in order to put some sort of human face, a camouflage, on the inhumane machinery, a corporation, such as Exxon, may donate money to public service. However, this is usually to distract the public's attention from extensive, much greater harm caused by the corporation's relentless greed. My favorite documentary on the subject, The Corporation, is well worth watching.

The Bolivian situation is intensely interesting to me. It's about giant corporations attempting to crush the little guy. And so far the little guy is winning!

The Bolivian Gas War followed the attempt of corrupt officials to privatize municipal water supply, which is what precipitated the election of Evo Morales, now president of Bolivia. The story of Evo Morales' rise from small coca leaf farmer to national leader is an extraordinary one.

"While Morales stated that the nationalization initiative will not take the form of expropriations or confiscations, he directed the military to occupy and secure various energy installations. Foreign energy companies were given a six month "transition period" to re-negotiate contracts, or face expulsion. Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in South America."

" Vice President Alvaro Garcia said in La Paz's main plaza that the government's energy-related revenue will jump to $780 million next year, expanding nearly sixfold from 2002. Among the 53 installations affected by the measure are those of Brazil's Petrobras, one of Bolivia's largest investors, which controls 14% of the country's gas reserves. Brazil's Energy Minister, Silas Rondeau, reacted by considering the move as "unfriendly" and contrary to previous understandings between his country and Bolivia. Petrobras, Spain's Repsol YPF, UK gas and oil producer BG Group Plc and France's Total are the main gas companies present in the country."

Viva Morales!
posted by nickyskye at 12:16 PM on May 3, 2006


Ah, I think I had some grand idea in mind, that through showing the way my mother presented the information to me, I could somehow personalize the large scores of people who still have such great faith in the power of large corporations to "save" a country, and that those countries should be eternally thankful to have someone looking out for them.

I'm not usually an Oil! Exxon! Alarmist! sort. It took the phone call for me to learn about what Bolivia just did. I didn't know about Bolivia's history with natural gas, either, until I looked it up.

The recent protests over the possibilities of negative change in our immigration legislation have meant that I've taken a new look at Central and South America's economic conditions, and I've also started listening to the different perceptions people have on the situation, and those perceptions are going to make a lot of difference in how these events play out in the United States.
posted by redsparkler at 12:27 PM on May 3, 2006


Ah, I think I had some grand idea in mind, that through showing the way my mother presented the information to me, I could somehow personalize the large scores of people who still have such great faith in the power of large corporations to "save" a country, and that those countries should be eternally thankful to have someone looking out for them.

Your mother presented a position as an uninformed ideologue. It happens all the time here on Metafilter and around the world. People from the left and right side of the political spectrum do it, as do people who support big government or big corporations.

All you have really done is expose your mom to public ridicule in a forum where she has no chance to defend herself.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:43 PM on May 3, 2006


It's funny that seemingly reasonable people can cheer as capitalism turns to socialism turns to communism. Morales is following in the footsteps of Venezuela's Chavez and Cuba's Castro. By pandering to the peasant class (and doing nothing much for them, meanwhile) he usurps power from the business and middle classes so he and his corrupt cronies can extort the nation's wealth.

Viva Morales!
posted by b_thinky at 1:02 PM on May 3, 2006


Nationalization isn't always a disaster, and the claim that "those people" do not have the skill or the know-how to make things right has been used to justify a lot of interventionist crap. One need only say "Suez Canal" to dredge up those wonderful memories; the idea that the Egyptians were incapable of maintaining the Canal was a big part of the popular argument for action to reverse Nasser's nationalization. It also suggests that non-European countries cannot, you know, hire expertise they don't have. All it is, is a variant on the "benighted savages" and "beneficial occupation" arguments of yore.

As for the Zimbabwean mess, that's a whole different animal; land restitution has largely been cover for cronyism and profiteering, and those who have received land do not have the inputs to raise food much less the money necessary to maintain their enterprise. That's a disaster of kleptocracy, not a disaster of nationalization. Witness the nationalization of mineral rights conducted by South Africa, which has not created any such disaster.
posted by trigonometry at 1:04 PM on May 3, 2006


It's funny that seemingly reasonable people can cheer as capitalism turns to socialism turns to communism.

If you have ever been to Bolivia, if you have ever met these very poor people, you will perhaps forgive a libertarian for hoping for the best re: Morales.

Socialist distributionism is worse than true free markets.

But it's not worse than imperialism in capitalist clothing. A lot of very dirty deals were cut to buy the resources and land out from under the people who live there. They have absolutely no leverage. Their most profitable crop is actively destroyed with our tax dollars.

I hope Morales, a native and former coca farmer, will at least kick out the amoral crooks who make billions while people starve not even a mile away.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:15 PM on May 3, 2006


trigonometry - you are correct, it is not always a disaster. Saudi Arabia's Aramco oil company, state owned, has done a fairly good job of running itself, but again, it is not without cronyism or corruption and less than any other large corporation. Aramco has not provided statistics and measurable data on the true status of its oil reserves, nor the methodology by which it calculates those reserves, since 1982.

Latin America as a whole has taken a turn to the left after the 90s turn to the right. I don't think that's the issue up for debate in this discussion, but it doesn't make me comfortable or sleep better at night knowing that a government can and will forcibly seize (assuming the oil companies don't re-negotiate at the barrel of a gun...that gun being the contract skewed in the state's favor) property like this.

Again, it's not to say that the foreign companies have not raped Bolivia for every dime they could extract, either. I just don't see this "renegotiation" as the Bolivians call it, to be a particularly good sign.

As to Zimbabwe - I understand your point, but it takes far less knowledge and skill to dig a hole and mine than it does to successfully feed your people vis a vis stable crops, or to have the technical knowledge and expensive infrastructure to extract oil and gas. The Bolivian move is ultimately a move to pacify the lower classes and for the government to make a populist stand, ala Chavez or Castro.
posted by tgrundke at 1:17 PM on May 3, 2006


I like the "my mom said..." stuff. People on Mefi are too anal.

Just to be clear: I didn't mind it as a rhetorical device, I minded it as a source of "facts" for the post.

Your mother? Flagged.

Now, see what you did, redsparkler? You got your poor mother flagged.

But this has been an interesting discussion. Well done, all.
posted by languagehat at 1:18 PM on May 3, 2006


It's funny that seemingly reasonable people can cheer as capitalism turns to socialism turns to communism. Morales is following in the footsteps of Venezuela's Chavez and Cuba's Castro. By pandering to the peasant class (and doing nothing much for them, meanwhile) he usurps power from the business and middle classes so he and his corrupt cronies can extort the nation's wealth.

I may be an idiot, but from what I can remember, Castro overthrew Batista's regime and seized power in the 50's. Chavez and Morales, on the other hand, are democratically elected leaders (by wide margins, mind you) in countries that have been traditionally ruled by colonial interests from thousands of miles away. There was no middle-class in Venezuela - the country was ruled by the white, european-decendants of the Spanish at the expense of the poorer, largely native (and darker) population. 4/5's of the country was being controlled by the top 1/5, along racial lines.

And just exactly what has capitalism done that's been so helpful to Latin America? The whole continent is the product of misguided imperialism and near-sighted cynical tradeoffs. For all the people who speak about democracy and the will of the people, Venezuela and Bolivia are fuckin' shining examples of those two principals in action.
posted by SweetJesus at 1:25 PM on May 3, 2006


tgrundke: You may want to investigate the mining industries a little more closely; "dig a hole and mine" elides just how difficult an enterprise modern mining is. Most of the surface wealth (or near-surface wealth) is long-gone, and modern mining for precious minerals is a rather complicated (and environmentally awful) process. They're not creating "big holes" like they did in the 19th century in Kimberley and on the Witwatersrand anymore. Strip-mining and quarrying are different animals to what I was mentioning. In the SA case, though, they simply changed the relationship with the private companies to one of leasehold and taxation of minerals taken out of the ground, effectively ensuring a larger share of the profit will go to the state; they did not evict the private companies wholesale.

That said, I agree that the timing of the Bolivian move is heavily driven by the desire to make the populist stand--but then, could this have benefits for Bolivia otherwise? Does the populist impulse simply give them cover to do something that's long been in the best interests of their economy? That's what I'm curious about--it need not be simply one or the other. (That said, it could also be a crass move, a la Zimbabwe, where the land issue and slowness of restitution was exploited by the kleptocrats in ZANU, but somehow I doubt it will turn out that badly.)
posted by trigonometry at 1:27 PM on May 3, 2006


Take a look at the repatriation of lands plan in Zimbabwe and how well that went: starvation and destroyed crop fields due to inexperience and lack of resources on the part of the people to whom the lands were 'handed over'.

So the choice of so many of these resource rich nations is akin to a woman who can either marry a man who beats and rapes her but provides for her bastard children or to go it alone and starve. It's an easy choice but they both kinda suck.
posted by any major dude at 1:32 PM on May 3, 2006


All you have really done is expose your mom to public ridicule in a forum where she has no chance to defend herself.

On the other hand, you haven't seen the way his mom handles those nunchucks.
posted by storybored at 1:36 PM on May 3, 2006


Chavez and Morales, on the other hand, are democratically elected leaders (by wide margins, mind you)

And you won't even mention the cencorship and corruption when you talk about Chavez? The guy is a dictator; their democracy is a farce.

I guess the jury is still out on Morales (and this move), but he made this move after meeting with Chavez and Castro. If his economic policies are at all similar to theirs (Chavez literally does take over private businesses at gunpoint (or implied gunpoint)), this is a major setback for Bolivia.

I won't argue that things have always been perfect in South America, but two wrongs definitely don't make a right.
posted by b_thinky at 1:37 PM on May 3, 2006


Multinational corporations by their present economic and legal nature, devolve into "the pathological pursuit of profit and power".

The thing is that you can substitute any human organization, any movement, government or even a non-profit charity for "multinational" and your sentence would still make sense.
posted by storybored at 1:38 PM on May 3, 2006


Saudi Arabia's Aramco oil company, state owned, has done a fairly good job of running itself

I would say the difference here is the state of Saudi Arabia is owned by the Saud family. Therefore, a state owned business is owned by them. When the government is owned by the people, and the government owns business, corruption, incompetence and inefficiency rise (hi, USPS, Amtrak).
posted by b_thinky at 1:41 PM on May 3, 2006


redsparkler, one of the excellent aspects of Metafilter is that it can be a place of learning and intelligent dialogue, in spite of some people being mean on occasion and on occasion the nastiness can be downright hilarious. It's naturally more funny when one isn't the object of the ridicule. I've enjoyed your honesty in this thread.

Empires who colonized and now multinational corporations who've done that in economic ways to developing countries, sell themselves as benevolent parents but inevitably end up being abusive ones, draining the life out of their 'children' while demanding gratitude. I think the premise of your sequence of thought is a valid one and pertinent to the increasing economical and social maturity some developing countries are discovering in their individuation (well, in this case, recovering from having been oppressed) process.

There are many theories about the narcissism of corporate culture and economic structure. Understanding history, politics, economics and understanding psychology go together.

There is another interesting article on the present Bolivian situation, including information about the creation of a trade pact with Venezuela and Cuba.
posted by nickyskye at 1:44 PM on May 3, 2006


Nickyskye, from your second link there's this quote:

"A society of private property is a society of deprivation. What is owned by a few is denied to the many. "

Now, call me naive, but doesn't sound a wee bit like propaganda?
posted by storybored at 1:52 PM on May 3, 2006


There are many theories about the narcissism of corporate culture and economic structure.

I agree. There are also many theories about the narcissism of governments. And I would argue that narcissistic leaders in government are far, far more dangerous than narcissistic leaders of corporations.

But its interesting that we have a documentary about the badness of Corporations, but we don't have a documentary about the badness of Governments.
posted by storybored at 1:58 PM on May 3, 2006


And you won't even mention the censorship and corruption when you talk about Chavez? The guy is a dictator; their democracy is a farce.

Whether or not the guy is autocratic is up for discussion, but when you start tossing around a loaded word like "dictator" with respect to Chavez, you lose creditability in my book.

I'm not the biggest fan of Chavez, as I've written here, but I'm not nearly arrogant enough to call him a dictator. He had a 3/4's majority when passing his constitutional referendum in 1999, which was voted on by all Venezuelan citizens. When he was overthrown and the military sized power in the one day coup of 2002, over 2 million peasants traveled to Caracas, and surrounded the presidential Palace, demanding that he be reinstated (he had been "disappeared" out of the country at that point). No aid or watch dog organization worth their salt has ever claimed that the elections were non-democratic. You're talking out your ass on that point. He's democratically elected - even if we don't like his Bolavarian democracy.
posted by SweetJesus at 1:59 PM on May 3, 2006


Will nobody think of the multinational corporations?
posted by Artw at 2:11 PM on May 3, 2006


I would say the difference here is the state of Saudi Arabia is owned by the Saud family. Therefore, a state owned business is owned by them. When the government is owned by the people, and the government owns business, corruption, incompetence and inefficiency rise (hi, USPS, Amtrak).

You are claiming that socialist constructs work better in dictatorships than democracies because, in dictatorships, socialism is just another privately-held enterprise? That is straange.

In a corporation the company is accountable to its shareholders, who demand greater profits, efficiencies, etc. Other business types have similar pressures. Dictatorships aren't accountable to much of anyone in that way. Their incentives are entirely different.
posted by furiousthought at 2:11 PM on May 3, 2006


This is the most retarded thread ever.
posted by tweak at 2:19 PM on May 3, 2006


Hooray for nationalizing industry? Only when politicians we agree with do it. No matter if it's a good standard of action or not.

How would most of the commenters in this thread (save maybe the last 5-10) feel if fucking Silvio Berlusconi nationalized the tourism industry in Italy? They'd flip shit, because the state shouldn't be tyrannizing business owned by individuals in such an egregious manner. Exxon is still owned by people - shareholders in fact.
posted by tweak at 2:25 PM on May 3, 2006


Why does it always have to go back to grand theories and generalisations and abstractions about what capitalism does and companies do and governments do? What's wrong with seeking and processing the specific information about the specific business deals involved and the economic situation of the specific country in question and its history - that one may find things that clash with the abstractions, maybe?
posted by funambulist at 2:25 PM on May 3, 2006


In a corporation the company is accountable to its shareholders, who demand greater profits, efficiencies, etc. Other business types have similar pressures. Dictatorships aren't accountable to much of anyone in that way. Their incentives are entirely different.
posted by furiousthought at 2:11 PM PST on May 3 [!]


Actually I didn't mean dictator. I meant monarch.

The monarch isn't accountable to anyone, really, but people are accountable to him. In our (USA) postal system, there's not much incentive to improve anything. They have a monopoly on 1st Class Mail, it's very difficult to fire government employees for performance reasons and a new postmaster general will be appointed every couple years anyways. So the culture is all about short-term, trying to survive until the next day.

In a monarchy, such a service would be required to either a) make a profit for the king or b) keep the people happy in exchange for tolerating a monarchy (monarchs have to give lots of benefits to their people to buy their happiness). The service would be better as a result.

I'm not saying I favor a monarchy, I'm saying I favor privatizing businesses like this. Instead of praising Bolivia's Morales, we should be hailing Japan for privatizing its postal service.

Viva Japan!
posted by b_thinky at 2:29 PM on May 3, 2006


funambulist - Exactly. These "free market" types are much like communists in that they seek an economic ideal that exists precisely nowhere in the real world. There is no such thing as a free market, anywhere. And nowhere is there less of a free market than in energy concerns in South America - that ground has been comprehensively trampled by neo-colonialists and vulture capitalists.

Tweak - Fuck Exxon.
posted by Artw at 2:32 PM on May 3, 2006


I'm not the biggest fan of Chavez, as I've written here, but I'm not nearly arrogant enough to call him a dictator.

Does he support terror?

Does he compel people to make decisions they would not make if not for the threat of force?

Are elections free and fair?

Are members of the opposition party investigated, beaten, jailed or killed?

Everything is scale dependant, but he's definitely reached the status of Dicator Lite, fast approaching Major Dictator.
posted by b_thinky at 2:34 PM on May 3, 2006


SweetJesus, nicely said.

Artw, yes!

tweak, this thread is not about how great it is to nationalize industry! It's Exxon that's been tyrannanizing or funding tyranny. For example in relation to Equatorial Guinea: "Exxon Mobil, knows that it is financing tyranny, but apparently (it declined an invitation from "60 Minutes") regards its collusion with the dictator as a fair price to pay for the stability needed to exploit the offshore oil deposits."

storybored, the definition of propaganda. According to Wikipedia: "Propaganda is ...aimed at influencing the opinions of people, rather than impartially providing information...disseminating false or misleading information in favor of a certain cause. Strictly speaking, a message does not have to be untrue to qualify as propaganda, but it may omit so many pertinent truths that it becomes highly misleading."

If one takes a single sentence out of context it can sound like propaganda. The person who wrote that sentence doesn't seem to be a propagandist but does have opinions.

You said: narcissistic leaders in government are far, far more dangerous than narcissistic leaders of corporations.

The thing is that multinational corporations are the new political powers. boo_radley astutely brought up exactly that point by referring to the brilliant -and brave- book, "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man".
posted by nickyskye at 2:42 PM on May 3, 2006


tweak, if I may borrow your own words, that is the most retarded analogy ever, given a) the humongous difference in every aspect between a tourism industry and natural resources like gas or oil, and b) the sheer impossibility of having a nationalised 'tourism industry', even under a dictatorship, actually.

[and, to nitpick, c) Berlusconi is no longer in power, but even if he was the analogy would still be retarded for reasons a) and b), and besides, you're talking about a politician with a pretty big corporation and deals with other bigger corporations, not a socialist ex-farmer... what's even more hilarious, his gov't did pass laws to sell off a slice of the national cultural and artistic heritage (not 'the tourist industry'! but while we're on the topic), mostly public buildings, and minister even suggested privatising basically all of it including public domain beaches and at some stage even the Coliseum, but I forget if that last one was satire or not, it was hard to tell. Uh, no it wasn't sature] /derail.


Here's an idea, to continue from previous comment: maybe, just maybe, instead of arguing if, when it comes to natural resources, nationalisation is good as such or privatisation is good as such, always, everywhere, for everybody, maybe it would be interesting to see why so many people in Bolivia support this move and what led to it and what came before. In short, some of the stuff destro and others have pointed to, all of which is not exactly top secret material, at least, I thought it was all rather well known.
posted by funambulist at 2:53 PM on May 3, 2006


Exxon is still owned by people - shareholders in fact.

Why don't you let me come by your house and rifle through your cupboards to see what I can find to feed my family who, after all, is filled with people too. Oh, what about your family, you ask? What are they going to eat? Fuck 'em.

Does he support terror?

Yes, but the last time I checked so do we. So do most first-world nations in one capacity or another. Fuck, they routinely boil people to death in Uzbekistan as a form of interrogation, but they're constantly brought up a shining example of America's commitment to democracy. Besides, draw me a picture that shows how support for terrorism makes someone "not" democratically elected.

Does he compel people to make decisions they would not make if not for the threat of force?

Uhhh, you're going to have to cite specifics, here. What decisions? What threat of force? Against whom? Is he threatening people en-masse to vote for his polices or he'll attack them? - no, you're high if you believe that.

Are elections free and fair?

They have been. Show me one report that states otherwise...

Are members of the opposition party investigated, beaten, jailed or killed?

In Venezuela? Not really, at least if you're talking bout state sanctioned violence towards the opposition. In fact, most of the political violence internal to Venezuela comes from corrupt members of the Venezuelan National Guard who support the rightist AUC in Colombia, and don't like Chavez. This is one of the reasons that Chavez is arming peasants with assault rifles - as insurance against another military coup.

There are leftist gangs and rightist gangs that have been fighting in that part of the world for the better part of the last 75 years, so yeah, I'm sure there is sectarian violence in Venezuela - just like there is in most unstable nations. I could mention that Venezuela's neighbor Colombia is the world leader in kidnappings (~4,000 a year) and car bombings, and has been fighting a civil war for 50 years. In the past 5 years, there has been an up-swing in violence in Colomba. The fact that the violence hasn't spread to Venezuela shows that Chavez has at least some control over this. We provide 4 billion a year to the Colombian government, which they then funnel to groups like the AUC, to continue the civil war (and keep coke out of the US...). What good has that done? None.

Everything is scale dependant, but he's definitely reached the status of dictator Lite, fast approaching Major Dictator.

Bullshit - you don't like his politics, so therefore he's a dictator to you. Not like you have to meet some threshold of reality, or anything like that. Not like words mean anything, any more...
posted by SweetJesus at 2:56 PM on May 3, 2006


Does Saudi Arabia have any Magna Carta-ish traditions in its government? If not there's no difference between it and a dictatorship. Regardless, dictatorships have to satisfy a certain number of people, too. I don't see how that differs from a monarchy. They have to keep people from revolting, so they co-opt the wealthy ones, and whip the poor ones up in various irrelevant frenzies that have nothing to do with how well the postal service works. As a current example Saddam did this the same way King Saud does the same way Syria does and Jordan does. I just think the notion that absolutist governments work more like markets than democracies do to be very strange. You can have an authoritarian government that is greatly sympathetic to market principles and ideals. Or you have one that's really, really not. There's too much variation.
posted by furiousthought at 3:10 PM on May 3, 2006


Bullshit - you don't like his politics, so therefore he's a dictator to you.

Haha, you like his politics, and therefore are willing to look the other way when it comes to his brutality and corruption.

I admit, I do not like his policies. Socialism is a broken ideology, an equation that does not work. I don't believe it should be tolerated any more than slavery.
posted by b_thinky at 3:11 PM on May 3, 2006


Oh, an amusing tangent: In 2002 "This week, Bolivia’s undersecretary of Social Defense, Ernesto Justiniano, reported that his office had authorized the exportation of 350,000 bricks (about 159 tons) of coca leaf to the United States 'for the manufacturing of the soft drink, Coca-Cola.' "

Perhaps once that cat got out of the bag on the net...now, according to Wikipedia's info about coca: "The Coca-Cola Company used to buy 115 tons of coca leaf from Peru and 105 tons from Bolivia per year, which it used as an ingredient in its Coca-Cola formula (famously a trade secret). The cocaine itself does not end up in the drink nowadays, but the non-drug containing flavourings are still used."
posted by nickyskye at 3:42 PM on May 3, 2006


Metafilter posts are a bit like interrogations - as soon as you invoke your family, you've already lost...
posted by runkelfinker at 3:42 PM on May 3, 2006


Why don't you let me come by your house and rifle through your cupboards to see what I can find to feed my family who, after all, is filled with people too. Oh, what about your family, you ask? What are they going to eat? Fuck 'em.

SweetJesus, it's time for you to cool it on the masturbation for hot Morales-on-Chavez action.

And for fucks' sake, my point was all this talk of the 'people' of Bolivia failed to mention that there are people associated with every group and that one would do well to remember that. Looks like you completely flew by that in your self-righteous lefty fury.
posted by tweak at 3:50 PM on May 3, 2006


umm, isn't Norway's gas an oil pretty state owned? they seem to be doing pretty well.
posted by canned polar bear at 3:51 PM on May 3, 2006


Nicely noted canned polar bear. "The Norwegian economy is generally characterized as a mixed economy - a capitalist market economy with a clear component of state influence."

As a matter of fact: "A century ago, Norway was among the poorest countries in Europe. To-day, one hundred years later, Norway is among the richest countries in the world. Energy has played a key role in this development." and " Norway the third largest exporter of oil in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Norway is the world’s fourth largest exporter of natural gas, after Russia, Canada and Algeria, and the third largest exporter of gas to Europe after Russia and Algeria. "
posted by nickyskye at 4:24 PM on May 3, 2006


SweetJesus, it's time for you to cool it on the masturbation for hot Morales-on-Chavez action.

Right, I'm gay for Chavez. Love him. I would like to have to have, like, a million of his babies, if only the Lord had provided me a womb to care for them.

And for fucks' sake, my point was all this talk of the 'people' of Bolivia failed to mention that there are people associated with every group and that one would do well to remember that. Looks like you completely flew by that in your self-righteous lefty fury.

Right, and people are always altruistic at heart, especially those who work for oil companies. If you're so in it for the "people", why not let the "people" of Venezuela decide what happens to their oil? What was your point again?

Haha, you like his politics, and therefore are willing to look the other way when it comes to his brutality and corruption.

Nah, I just realize words have definitions, and I can't go misusing them to prove some political point. I don't like all of his politics, and even if i didn't like any of them, it wouldn't make him a dictator. The same people who call Chavez a dictator are the ones that call China communist - people who don't care what the words mean, so long the gist of their agenda comes through. The rhetorical equivalent of "scare" quotes.

Socialism is a broken ideology, an equation that does not work. I don't believe it should be tolerated any more than slavery.

Really? It's working pretty well in France, England, Japan, and most European first-world nations...

I'm getting the feeling that you equate socialism with communism. If that's the case, you wouldn't know a communist from a hole in the ground, even if one came and repossessed all your property for the good of the state.

The communist, not the hole.
posted by SweetJesus at 4:37 PM on May 3, 2006


"Socialist theory is diverse, and there is no single body of thought that is universally shared by all socialists."
posted by nickyskye at 4:58 PM on May 3, 2006


nickyskye: It's Exxon that's been tyrannizing or funding tyranny.

ARRGGH. Exxon is not a major player in the Bolivian energy industry.

I hate Exxon, but they're not involved here.
posted by russilwvong at 5:14 PM on May 3, 2006


The thing is that multinational corporations are the new political powers.

That kind of oversimplifies things a bit right?

If this were completely true, why is it that Enron's CEOs are on trial right now?

Sure, there's corporate influence on gov't. But there's pushback too.

Why is it that the government would allow Wal-Mart to get sued in court for its bad corporate practices if they are "the new political powers"?

Also "multinational corporations" is a nice catch-all phrase that suggests that corporations form a monolithic power bloc with a fixed agenda. But consider that e.g. US Steel corporations want higher steel tariffs while US Automakers do not. Google wants to dominate Internet services while Microsoft wants to stop them.. Exxon wants to sell oil but GE wants to sell wind turbines...
posted by storybored at 8:13 PM on May 3, 2006


I know the grand socialism vs. neoliberalism theoretical debate is so fascinating, but maybe among the practical factors that should get more than a footnote here is the fact that more than 90% of Bolivian voters approved nationalization via a referendum. Were they wrong, were they right, will it be in their interest, will they still get screwed, who knows? let the debate continue - but some people here are talking like Morales pulled the idea out of his own hat and it's not exactly so.
posted by funambulist at 2:07 AM on May 4, 2006


funambulist, the Bolivian people voted (81% of the country did not vote) in 2004 under another corrupt regime but Morales made the nationalization of gas resources a reality in 2006. I do think it will be a fascinating story as it unfolds. I hope things go well for Bolivia.

russilwvong, Exxon is involved here, have a look at the FPP. That's why Exxon is being referenced and if you read my posts it's not the only oil company referrred to.

storybored, there are many thousands of articles on the concept that multinational corporations are the new political powers in the world today. This ranges from globalization, war, political economy, medicine to foreign policy.

"Politics is a process by which decisions are made within groups."

Multinational corporations are the new political powers but there is still room for political change to be made. It's up to us, who can or are interested in making changes, to find out what actions we can take to make those changes.

Competition between multinational corporations is not what obliges them to be less abusive, corrupt or self-serving.

Multinationals, such as GE and Exxon lobby the US government to further their agenda: "General Electric Co., which spent more money to lobby Congress and the Bush administration during the first half of 2004 than any other corporation."

Wal-Mart may be held accountable for some corporate misconduct but they get away with a lot more.

You said: If this were completely true, why is it that Enron's CEOs are on trial right now?

In the Enron case, the American and European public still have some power to prompt government officials to examine multinational corporate fraud. This relates as well to the politics of South American oil in that " Enron's global reputation was undermined, however, by persistent rumours of bribery and political pressure to secure contracts in Central and South America, in Africa, and in the Philippines. Especially controversial was its $3 billion contract with the Maharashtra State Electricity Board in India, where it is alleged that Enron officials used political connections within the Clinton and Bush administrations to exert pressure on the board. On January 9, 2002, the United States Department of Justice announced it was going to pursue a criminal investigation of Enron and Congressional hearings began on January 24."

You said: "multinational corporations" is a nice catch-all phrase that suggests that corporations form a monolithic power bloc with a fixed agenda.

Yes, I think that is true. The structure of the corporation at present is that it serves no other purposes than to make money and to protect its investors from any legal repercussions related to their investments, however harmful those investments may be to the public. The agenda is to make money at any cost.

If savvy politicians are elected by the public there can be changes made as well to the very nature of how a corporation is structured, to ensure it is held better accountable and to oblige multinational corporations to give back to the public in real, not merely tricky or nominal ways.
posted by nickyskye at 2:28 AM on May 4, 2006


Meanwhile Brazil's Petrobras abandons Bolivian Project For a good history of the rape of latin America over the centuries by foreign companies I highly recommend "Open Veins of Latin America" by Eduardo Galeano, very helpfully recommended here by stavx
posted by adamvasco at 4:11 AM on May 4, 2006


funambulist, the Bolivian people voted (81% of the country did not vote) in 2004

nickyskye, that link mentions that figure at the beginning for a referendum in Colombia, not Bolivia: "(in which 81% of the Colombian population abstained from participating)".

Both that article and the wikipedia article I'd linked says voter turnout for the Bolivian referendum was around 60%. (the overall abstention rate was around 40% (10% higher than normal for Bolivian elections), and of those who voted, an average of 12% handed in blank votes, while 11% turned in nullified votes)

Just wanted to clarify this, you probably confused the two figures since that article is indeed about Bolivia!
posted by funambulist at 5:57 AM on May 4, 2006


storeybored asks "If this were completely true, why is it that Enron's CEOs are on trial right now?"

Because they bankrupted the company, which hurt the stockholders, some number of which were, in all likelyhood, insurance and investment companies that could press for a trial. It's just a thought.
posted by boo_radley at 6:23 AM on May 4, 2006


funambulist, you're right about the 81% voting figure, it was for Colombia, not Bolivia, thanks for clarifying! I still stand behind what I said about that referendum being held under a previous, corrupt government but the hope for Bolivians to nationalize their resources came true under Morales. Now comes the test, will it work?

adamvasco, thanks for the link to the interesting and informative AskMetaFilter thread about South America. "Open Veins of Latin America" by Eduardo Galeano was written 25 years ago but it sounds like an excellent read.

No doubt Brazil retracted their offer to Bolivia for a number of reasons. It could well be political pressure from outside to do so. Petrobras has huge investments in America. There is a lot happening in South America. It's interesting to try and sort out what's what.
posted by nickyskye at 7:08 AM on May 4, 2006


Nickyskye, you agreed that multinationals are a monolithic power bloc with a single agenda....but you didn't say anything about how corporate agendas often conflict in real-life. (e.g. those examples I gave in the previous post). But it is this conflict which is a valuable check on corporate misbehaviour. Differing agendas means that multinationals are not monolithic.

Take the Enron case again. Who broke the story on Enron corruption? Was it government? Was it anti-corporate academics? Nope. It was Fortune Magazine. A corporation.

The structure of the corporation...serves no other purposes than to make money...The agenda is to make money at any cost .

If this is true, how does one explain corporations like craigslist, whose goal is emphatically not to make money at any cost?

How does it explain Newman's Own, a corporation that gives 100% of its profits to charity?
posted by storybored at 9:33 AM on May 4, 2006


Take the Enron case again. Who broke the story on Enron corruption? Was it government? Was it anti-corporate academics? Nope. It was Fortune Magazine. A corporation.

If this is true, how does one explain corporations like craigslist, whose goal is emphatically not to make money at any cost?

How does it explain Newman's Own, a corporation that gives 100% of its profits to charity?


All three of those corporations are privately owned, and that affords them the luxury of not having to disclose potentially painful financial data at pre-set intervals (quarterly reports, earnings estimates, etc). Publicly traded corporations have more of an incentive to raise their share-price at almost any cost, because their value is more transparent. That is exactly why Enron fell the way it did. Newman's Own, CraigsList and Fortune are free to run their business they way they see fit, for the most part, while publicly traded corporations rise and fall at the whims of investors.

Fortune, CraigsList and Newman's Own are also not multi-national corporations, who serve multiple, sometimes conflicting agendas at the behest of those they are beholden to. Multi-national corporations have a history of sweeping into smaller, poorer countries, getting in tight with the leadership, and making as much money as they can - screw whoever gets in the way. Just look at Coca-Cola and what they've been doing to thwart attempts at unionization in Colombia. And they just sell sugar water, so imagine what an oil company would do if you got between them and the singularly most profitable and important natural resource on the face of the planet.

Exxon, or any large business, isn't in it for people, it's in it for profits - same as any company that has income larger than a thrid-world nation, and wants to keep it that way.
posted by SweetJesus at 10:39 AM on May 4, 2006


All three of those corporations are privately owned, and that affords them the luxury of not having to disclose potentially painful financial data at pre-set intervals (quarterly reports, earnings estimates, etc).

Bingo! The oversimplistic message in "The Corporation" and also some of the other material linked above takes the position that "all corporations are psychopaths". What I've been trying to get at is that this is propaganda because, it "omits pertinent truths". Now here we're making a distinction between privately-owned and publicly traded corporations which is one nuance that's pertinent and should be discussed.

What about publicly-traded corporations that are tightly-held i.e. in the control of a few charitably-minded shareholders? Would you expect these corporations to also be psychopathic? Why or why not?

Fortune... are also not multi-national corporations

Sorry to disappoint but Fortune is owned by Time-Warner. The world's largest media multinational.
posted by storybored at 11:35 AM on May 4, 2006


SweetJesus, thank you.

storybored: corporations form a monolithic power bloc with a fixed agenda.

Smaller corporations may aggregate, merge, join up and form multinational, monolithic power blocs.

storybored: Differing agendas means that multinationals are not monolithic.

Not all multinational corporations are joined in one monolith!

A corporation, by its definition, has one agenda, to make money with no legal repercussions to its investors. Corporations can conflict in competition for example, not in the basic agenda of how a corporation functions as a legal entity.

"Investors and entrepreneurs often form corporations to facilitate a business; the term "corporation" is often used to refer specifically to such business corporations. Corporations may also be formed for political, religious or charitable purposes (not-for-profit corporations), or as government or quasi-governmental entities (public corporations)."

"Unlike in a partnership or sole proprietorship, members of a corporation hold no liability for the corporation's debts and obligations".

A corporation owned by compassionate or altruistic owners, such as Newman's Own or Craigslist is directed by the owners. There is also a not-for-profit corporation. But the corporation itself, has no legal obligation to the public, only to its investors, to make money for its investors and to protect them from legal liability. More often than not corporations can and do get away with devious behavior and the legal entity aspect of the corporation protects this deceit. The vast majority of corporations are not owned by altruistic owners.

"The nature of the corporation continues to evolve, both through existing corporations pushing new ideas and structures, courts responding, and governments regulating in response to new situations. A question of long standing is that of diffused responsibility: for example, if the corporation is found liable for a death, then how should the blame and punishment for this be allocated across the shareholders, directors, management and staff of the corporation, and the corporation itself?"

"Multinational corporations: Following on the success of the corporate model at a national level, many corporations have become transnational or multinational corporations: growing beyond national boundaries to attain sometimes remarkable positions of power and influence in the process of globalising.

The typical "transnational" or "multinational" may fit into a web of overlapping ownerships and directorships, with multiple branches and lines in different regions, many such sub-groupings comprising corporations in their own right. Growth by expansion may favour national or regional branches; growth by acquisition or merger can result in a plethora of groupings scattered around and/or spanning the globe, with structures and names which do not always make clear the structures of ownership and interaction.

In the spread of corporations across multiple continents, the importance of corporate culture has grown as a unifying factor and a counterweight to local national sensibilities and cultural awareness."

I hope what I've quoted from Wikipedia about corporations is of use to you, you might try reading it at Wikipedia.

I suggest that you take your questions about how corporations function on small and large levels to AskMetaFilter, so other members who are knowledgeable, lawyers and business people can more fully educate you on this matter. It's a very interesting subject, worth a thread of its own.
posted by nickyskye at 11:37 AM on May 4, 2006


storybored: The oversimplistic message in "The Corporation" and also some of the other material linked above takes the position that "all corporations are psychopaths".

If you read any of the links, saw the documentary or read the book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, you would clearly see this is not what is being said.

"The Corporation is a 2003 Canadian documentary film critical of the modern-day corporation, considering it as a class of person (as in US law it is understood to be) and evaluating its behaviour towards society and the world at large as a psychologist might evaluate an ordinary person. This is explored through specific examples."

The nature of a corporation is legally defined as a "legal person/legal entity". "The film charts the development of the corporation as a legal entity from its genesis to unprecedented legal protection stemming from creative interpretation of the 14th amendment, that is from its origins as an institution chartered by governments to carry out specific public functions, to the rise of the vast modern institutions entitled to the legal rights of a "person." One central theme of the documentary is an attempt to assess the "personality" of the corporate "person" by using diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV; Robert Hare, a University of British Columbia Psychology Professor and FBI consultant, compares the modern, profit-driven corporation to that of a clinically diagnosed psychopath."
posted by nickyskye at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2006


I wonder what Jeffrey Sachs thinks about all this, given his experiences in combating "high altitude hyperinflation" in Bolivia, discussed at length in The End of Poverty and his faith in free international markets, given his realism in understanding that much of the problem with free trade is that is not actually free by any stretch of the imagination (now, whether free trade is by definition a purely hypothetical situation, as intelligently pointed out earlier, is another good question).

He wrote this a few days ago:

Populists can be right, by Jeffrey Sachs

Sachs' optimistic view seems to be that this is more about negotiating a more equitable contract, now that there is more of a parity in information and bargaining power between the Bolivian state and petro multinationals. If this is an outright *takeover* of physical capital, rather than a renegotiation maneuver, this could be a real problem, particularly in terms of Bolivia's international credit rating and perceived climate for foreign investment.

On the other hand, I have to give kudos (even though I do think a lot of this is pandering) to not reorienting as much foreign policy as possible around sucking up to foreign direct investment (FDI), unlike, perhaps, India's central government of late. In my (admittedly) novice reading on Bolivia and Sachs' own work, it seems like a larger stake in natural resources is one of the only reliable sources of revenue the state actually has (given its low tax base, for instance) to implement social programs and the like.

My worry is that they'll go the way of Venezuela in terms of burning up all of the nat'l resource revenues on programs without a view toward sustainability over time. Most oil-rich countries heavily dependent upon petrochemicals as a sector could learn a thing or two from Norway, which has been astonishingly restrained in dipping into its corpus funds generated by petro revenues. Norway understands that the money will only go so far, and for that reason it saves an enormous amount of it as a cushion to other shocks in its economy.

Aside from this, if other sectors suffer in levels of investment as a result of increased dependence to gas revenues, Bolivia's economy will be beholden to the vagaries of petro commodity pricing, like so many other petro-rich countries.

It's tough to be so forward-thinking as a policymaker in a setting like Bolivia, admittedly, given such shocking inequalities present, increasing isolation from a variety of sides, and a populist mandate. But let's hope for the best and that reason tempers a well-warranted desire to reassert a broader share of those benefiting from Bolivia's part in economic globalization.
posted by junebug at 1:45 PM on May 4, 2006


It's exciting to learn about Jeffrey Sach's works.

Thanks for the informative and interesting post junebug. Welcome to MetaFilter. :)
posted by nickyskye at 5:00 PM on May 4, 2006


Nickyskye you wrote: "The vast majority of corporations are not owned by altruistic owners." By this statement, I'm assuming you're at least acknowledging the existence of some corporations than are capable of doing good.

Now let's go back to the article that you linked to.

Where in this article does it even hint at the remote possibility of good corporations?

I see a comparison of corporations to Ted Bundy. Also I read that "The manager of capital cannot see people as persons at all." Anyone involved in capitalism is apparently monstrous. And an incubus to boot.

Propaganda as you defined it was material that leaves out pertinent data. The pertinent data is that there are corporations that aren't psychopathic. We may disagree on their number but they exist nevertheless. .... And yet Morgareidge would have us believe that they don't and *that* defines a propagandist.
posted by storybored at 6:11 PM on May 4, 2006


p.s. i do appreciate the civility of the discussion we are having.
posted by storybored at 6:12 PM on May 4, 2006


hello again storybored. :)

*sigh*

You seem to be narrowly focussed on a misunderstanding. The owner of a corporation may or may not be benevolent, altruistic or kind. But, if you read what has been written about the nature of the corporation itself, as a legal entity, you would understand that the corporation itself, as a legal person, is not benevolent.

I do not know how to say it more clearly to you and suggest you try discussing this with somebody else.
posted by nickyskye at 6:36 PM on May 4, 2006


Nickyskye I'd discuss it with somebody else but they would likely fall asleep :-).

Here i think is the fundamental difference in viewpoints, if i'm not mistaken:

The legal entity as you call it is a theoretical construct. This is essentially a straw man that folks can say hey, psychopathic! They can ignore that there are some organizations operating under these legal entities that are benevolent!

This is an approach beloved by many academics because it allows them to avoid the real world. Instead there's a broad brush used that substitutes for hard-nosed thinking. A psychological theory, a narrative, etc.

They don't want to hear about exceptions, they don't want to know about where the fault lines are in the real world.

What is interesting to me about the academics who are against corporations, is why they seem to know so little about their opponent? By "know" I mean on an operational, roll-up your sleeves, hands-on basis. Because if they did, they would have been the ones who would have caught Enron.

Social change requires deep understanding, not propaganda.
posted by storybored at 9:20 PM on May 4, 2006


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