That other documentary
June 4, 2004 10:11 AM   Subscribe

The Corporation (U.S. premiere tonight) is "a surprisingly rational and coherent attack on capitalism's most important institution," or so says The Economist. An important but flawed documentary? Or something bigger? (imdb page | rotten tomato review collection) (wee more inside)
posted by mrgrimm (71 comments total)
 
i couldn't imagine it hadn't been posted b4, but i also couldn't find it anywhere ...

anyway, my 30-second review: it's definitely too long, and the directors are lying when they say "we couldn't cut a scene more" (heard it on the radio), but it's a powerful, powerful movie, and some of the case studies are truly astonishing. most memorable for me were the Fox News censorship story and the battle over Bolivian water privatization. the CEO of Interface comes off a little nutty, but when he addresses his shareholders after his "sustainable epiphany," it's priceless.

Michael Moore shows up very briefly, and has a great (if showingly egotistical) line at the end, something to the tune: "i'm trying to drive a huge truck through the middle of a major flaw in corporate power. they say a capitalist will sell anything, even the rope that hangs him. i'm the [then he checks himself} ... i'm one of the people who are the rope." (it's obviously better than my transcription.)

Wired has a good, levelheaded review this week.

posted by mrgrimm at 10:30 AM on June 4, 2004


And if this "psychopathic" entity is somehow removed from the world, it's to be replaced with what?

We go back to living in huts and banging our laundry on rocks? We build a "workers paradise a la Soviet Russia and China? Whatever it's replaced with would undoubtedly be just as bad or worse. That's the way it is and always has been.

The sad fact is that the great majority of humanity has always lived under the iron rule of something and at least the corporations have clear motives: greed. Governments' motives are murkier and less savory (and please don't tell me their motives are the greater good of mankind). And as much as you or I may hate things that corporations do, I doubt that many of you would divest yourselves of all the things provided by them. So this amounts to a lot of feel good bullshit, IMHO.
posted by jonmc at 10:32 AM on June 4, 2004


And don't forget the big difference between corporations and governments: with the former, you have the choice of whether to deal with them; with the latter, not so much.
posted by mw at 10:38 AM on June 4, 2004


It wasn't bad. A little lengthy, and their focus seemed a little too tight for the overall message at times, but they pulled it off neatly. Worth seeing, I'd say—if only for the scene of the white-collar criminal taking his shirt off and running away from the cops.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 10:40 AM on June 4, 2004


LOTR is all about this. When JRR wrote it was more about the social Bureaucracies of Germany, USSR but I think the fact LOTR is still appealing in a post-Cold War era says a lot about peoples perception of the Corporation as an evil force in modern life.
posted by stbalbach at 10:42 AM on June 4, 2004


And as much as you or I may hate things that corporations do, I doubt that many of you would divest yourselves of all the things provided by them. So this amounts to a lot of feel good bullshit, IMHO.

So what, we don't put them under a microscope? We don't go beyond just acknowledging that corporations have psychopathic tendencies?

I have also listened to an interview with the film makers and from what I gather there desire isn't to replace corporations as much as it is to make them more accountable and less harmful to society. Can that be done? I don't know but isn't it worth trying?
posted by btwillig at 10:43 AM on June 4, 2004


What jonmc said.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:45 AM on June 4, 2004


mw, the converse (inverse?) of that concept (as an Arcatan in the film notes) is that everyone (supposedly) has an equal say in how the government works. however, most of us have no say whatsoever regarding the actions of corporations that affect our lives equally as much as the government (health care, transportation, etc.) you can say that people vote with their dollars, but some people have *way* more dollars, skewing the "election" so far in one direction that the results can no longer be considered representative of the people.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:48 AM on June 4, 2004


Look, corporations are a wonderful tool which allows many people to come together and create things [capital] and get stuff done. But when an undying, easily transferrable entity which has just about every right as you and I have exists, you have to sit back and think, "Man, that is fucked up." Don't you think that when out of the top 100 economic engines, 51 are corporations who are accountable to none, this could be a problem? And accountability to shareholders is not the same as basic accountability of governments. Who will be big enough to reign in corporate malfeasance? I agree that it is too bad that activists focus on the whole, "corporations are evil", but rather as a tool of those who do evil. But the dike is bursting, and there are too many holes to plug. Last night Frontline dealt with the fact that corporations are coming up with all sorts of illegal tax-shelters, but the IRS is being inundated from all sides and can't possibly cope with it. What I fear, is that this huge, unaccountable, mass of capital will unbalance the tenuous balance between the government, the people, and capital. Very much like it did in Paris during the 1600's. between the Church, the state and corporations [slightly off-topic].
posted by plemeljr at 10:50 AM on June 4, 2004


I've seen the film, and while it seemed to lose its focus a bit after they wrapped up the "corporation-as-psychopath" theme, it's still a pretty good review of a lot of disparate issues that pop up on Metafilter all the time.

jomc: I don't think the film is calling for the absolute abolishment of corporations or the jettison of the capitalist system. More like, as corporations effectively form an unelected government which doesn't even have to pay lip service to the concept of the common good of a nation's citizens, they need to be more accountable. You can read this as INCREASED REGULATIONS and BIGGER GOVERNMENT if you choose, and that's not a good thing either, but, even at this late date, I trust my government (I'm Canadian) more than I do, say, General Electric. Which isn't saying much, but still.

Anyway, one of the most interesting parts of the film was a CEO of a carpet factory who had "seen the light" and who was working to make his business more sustainable...without cutting workers or losing profits. Hopefully, as stories like his become more common, companies will see that you can be a good corporate citizen *and* make money and follow suit. Nothing succeeds like success and all that. I can always dream...
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2004


We go back to living in huts and banging our laundry on rocks?

"The Corporation", as a legal entity, is a relatively modern thing. Taken out of context, the idea that an abstract concept can have legal rights and powers is actually quite strange.

I do not think it is on the lunatic fringe to suggest that we, as a society, examine the rules and laws of our society that created this darwinian forge that selects the most ruthless and cut-throat corporations and rewards them.
posted by Capn at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2004


Or, on preview, what btwillig said.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:54 AM on June 4, 2004


For my money, the film's most powerful scenes are the ones involving the head of the carpet conglomerate whose own conscience has led him to dedicate his company (Interface) to the goal of 100-percent sustainable business. The message is that forcing corporations to mimic Interface's actions - by the simple feat, for example, of legislating that they take direct financial responsibility for the costs of the damage they do to the environment - would bring about dramatic positive change. The message is also that they must be forced, because corporations are designed to be indifferent to all factors other than profitability.

And to suggest, as jonmc does, that the choice is between increasingly unchecked corporate power and a return to hut-dwelling is the very definition of a false dichotomy.
posted by gompa at 11:05 AM on June 4, 2004


I don't delude myself that corporations (and I've worked at the bottom rung of a few very large corporations for most of my life) give a frogs fat ass about me, but that also has the the good side in that say, Starbucks, doesen't give a rats ass what I do as long as I don't get in the way of them selling coffee. The government I can't say that about.

who was working to make his business more sustainable...without cutting workers or losing profits.

The costs of those changes roll downstream, my man, in either costs to consumers or workers, cos that ceo sure ain't gonna shoulder it himself no matter what his PR says.

And to suggest, as jonmc does, that the choice is between increasingly unchecked corporate power and a return to hut-dwelling is the very definition of a false dichotomy.

It's obvious that I wasn't saying that gompa, merely positing it as a pseudo-ecotopian alternative. My first comment is a response to the idea of the corporation as "psychopathic." Well, what do we do with psychopaths? We get rid of them. Leaving us with what?
posted by jonmc at 11:09 AM on June 4, 2004


No psychopaths?
posted by oh posey at 11:13 AM on June 4, 2004


No psychopaths?

Hardy har har.
posted by jonmc at 11:16 AM on June 4, 2004


No, the false dichotomy is that posited by the anti-corporate, anti-globalization left: "Your only choices are corporate evil and nationalized everything." (I feel to see the difference between the government micromanaging individual corporations and government ownership of those corporations.) Of course some corporations are evil. Some of everybody is evil. But the equation "corporate = bad" is simplistic at best and vicious hate-mongering at worst. Of course you can claim, as plemeljr seems to, that it's implicit that the criticism isn't of the idea of the corporation itself, but as Capn proves that's hardly the case. Sure, perhaps nobody is attacking the mom-and-pop store incorporated as an LLC, but there is a definite reluctance to distinguish between mostly-ethical megacorps and lizard-slime-from-the-pits-of-hell megacorps (Costco vs. Sam's Club comes to mind) on the part of the left, which seems to prefer to grab the torches and pitchforks first and ask questions later.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:31 AM on June 4, 2004


jonmc: Well, what do we do with psychopaths? We get rid of them.

...and you wonder why people hate/are afraid of Americans and corporations?

so much for the noble sentiments on that great monument and rallying-point, The Statue of Liberty:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she,
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, temest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
     from The New Colossus
     November 2, 1883
     Emma Lazarus

Fuck you, jonmc.
posted by Badmichelle at 11:44 AM on June 4, 2004


BTW: the movie is entertaining and enlightening, I recommend it to everyone.
Yes, it does seem biased "against" the corporation, but that bias is obvious, and easily countered by reflection (unlike most media biases).
[anyone know if the soundtrack is going to be available?]
posted by Badmichelle at 11:46 AM on June 4, 2004


Well, what do we do with psychopaths? We get rid of them. Leaving us with what?

Who here said lets get rid of corporations? Not even the film makers sees that as a viable alternative (at least from what I heard in their interview). Corporations aren't "psychopaths" they have "psychopathic" tendencies. Bears exhibit psychopathic tendencies but no one advocates eliminating bears.
posted by btwillig at 11:51 AM on June 4, 2004


Fuck you, jonmc.

Not on your best day, bitch.

NTM, if you can't figure out that I was referring to the filmmakers definition of corporations as "psychopathic" then you might be the dumbest cunt I've ever met.

You drag the conversation into the gutter don't be surprised at what comes back at you, sister.
posted by jonmc at 11:51 AM on June 4, 2004


Fuck you, jonmc

I'm sure that he doesn't need me (of all people) to rush to his defense, but that was completely uncalled for.
posted by trharlan at 11:55 AM on June 4, 2004


ditto
posted by btwillig at 11:57 AM on June 4, 2004


No, the false dichotomy is that posited by the anti-corporate, anti-globalization left: "Your only choices are corporate evil and nationalized everything."

It seems to me that the false dichotomy is posited far more frequently by the right, who tend to argue that any regulation is bad. I hear from many more hard-core libertarians then complete socialists.

There has to be something between governmental micro-managing and total de-regulation, right?
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:05 PM on June 4, 2004


on review: the "c-word" part of that response was over the line. The rest of it, I stand by.
posted by jonmc at 12:14 PM on June 4, 2004


the false dichotomy is that posited by the anti-corporate, anti-globalization left: "Your only choices are corporate evil and nationalized everything."

I must've missed the footage from the World Social Forum where everyone rose to sing the Internationale, because this advocacy of across-the-board nationalization of the global economy is news to me . . .

there is a definite reluctance to distinguish between mostly-ethical megacorps and lizard-slime-from-the-pits-of-hell megacorps

I'd say on the contrary there's an interest (at least as regards this film) in informing people of the intrinsic similarities between all corporations, not because they are inherently evil but because they are required by their articles of incorporation to be amoral. They are thus sort of structurally psychopathic, and cannot be understood as the agents of the people who they employ, whether those people are good, evil, or otherwise.

The doc also takes some pains to point out the weird legal machinations by which these entities - which are not permitted to put any other values ahead of profitability - were given the same rights as living, breathing, passport-holding human beings, who are both rational (more or less) and responsible for their actions in ways that corporations cannot possibly be.

Consider, for example, the impossibility of bringing charges of murder against a corporation, and/or the impossibility of bringing charges of murder against the officers of a corporation for the actions of that corporation. So why, then, should such an entity, incapable of fulfilling the responsibilities of citizenship/personhood, be given the rights of citizenship/personhood? This is a central question posited by the documentary, which is what made it (to my mind) a very interesting film.
posted by gompa at 12:17 PM on June 4, 2004


not because they are inherently evil but because they are required by their articles of incorporation to be amoral. They are thus sort of structurally psychopathic,

Isn't that attempting to have it both ways? They're not evil, but they're evil.

All I was trying to say is that the use of "psychopathic" does reveal some of the films biases.
posted by jonmc at 12:20 PM on June 4, 2004


You don't have to be a sociopath to work here but it helps? Here's a quick trick: "enter suitopath" into Google and you get "Did you mean: sociopaths".

It seems an simple notion to me that within organizations where the drive to succeed without remorse and without any moral sentiments, those human cogs who are similarly devoid of remorse and moral sentiments will tend to succeed more frequently than other cogs encumbered with burdens such as empathy and conscience.

Of course, the idea of the corporation-as-psychopath goes back a few years, and has gained in popularity as the media fad for serial killers and other moral panic ghouls swelled during the 90s.

Robert "Mr Psychopath" Hare's classic Without Conscience had this to say on the subject of sociopaths/psychpaths:
There are at least 2 million psychopaths in North America ... the prevalence of psychopathy in our society is about the same as that of schizophrenia ... many psychopaths are criminals, but many others remain out of prison, using their charm and chameleonlike abilities to cut a wide swath through society.
They exhibit a cluster of distinctive personality traits, the most significant of which is an utter lack of conscience. They also have huge egos, short tempers, and an appetite for excitement -- a dangerous mix.
If that doesn't describe some extremely charming-yet-ruthless CEOs and marketing types that I've run across then I don't know what else could do a better job.

Hare even got some PR a couple years back by urging mandatory screening of CEOs for psychopathic tendencies, using his copyrighted diagnostic utilities, of course.

Finally, in his first book The Theory of Moral Sentiments (that preceded Wealth of Nations), Adam Smith refused to believe that there could be amoral psycopathic individuals operating within capitalism who were devoid of such moral sensibility as he felt was an essential part of human nature. Thus, it is implicit in his ideology of unfettered capitalism that corporations are governed by non-psychopathic personalities. And therein lies the flaw in the idea of enlightened self interest and markets unregulated by the people for the common good.
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.

posted by meehawl at 12:24 PM on June 4, 2004


well, let''s see. Dictionary.com gives me "A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse." for psychopath. So psycopathic would of course, be manifesting those same traits...

And since there is no remorse or empathy driving the activities of a corporation, by definition, as they are driven soley by profit...

and since they are legal persons...
the only thing left to prove the premise would be to prove that corporations routinely commit acts of a perverted, agressive, criminal, or amoral nature...
can we do that?
posted by das_2099 at 12:35 PM on June 4, 2004


For what it's worth, I second MrMoonPie, and triple trharlan and btwillig. jonmc was presenting his argument in a civilized manner. Badmichelle, please adhere to good manners when posting, or you undermine any argument you make.
posted by Loudmax at 12:35 PM on June 4, 2004


The costs of those changes roll downstream, my man, in either costs to consumers or workers, cos that ceo sure ain't gonna shoulder it himself no matter what his PR says.

From a purely capitalistic point of view, doesn't this make sense? If a production process has external costs (e.g. pollution), won't rolling those externalities into the price of the product make for a more efficient market?

There has to be something between governmental micro-managing and total de-regulation, right?

Thank you. Can we please abandon this crap socialism/capitalism discussion? No one is advocating absolute government control of the market. That's what pissed me off about the Economist review as well: it grants out that corporations are psychopaths, but then argues that the only other option is total state control, concluding that even the worst amoral corporate criminal can't possibly be as bad as the North Korean government, so we'll just have to live with the corporations. I'm sorry, but that's just bullshit. I would think that even a dedicated capitalist would like to see corporations that commit crimes receive the appropriate punishment. And not even the most extreme libertarian would argue that it's inappropriate for a government to punish criminals.

Let me sketch out a path to a solution that I think would be worth discussion: 1. Corporations that commit crimes should be made to face meaningful penalties. 2. Governments should work to make markets better reflect the externalities associated with them. Hey, look, I just argued for more corporate responsibility without advocating socialism! Amazing!

They're not evil, but they're evil.

The argument isn't that corporations are evil; it's that by their very structure, they are amoral. They have no responsibility to any moral code: they seek only profits. This behavior resembles that of a psychopath, who cannot comprehend society's rules. Remember: the legal definition of "insane" is something like "unable to distinguish between right and wrong".
posted by mr_roboto at 12:37 PM on June 4, 2004


There has to be something between governmental micro-managing and total de-regulation, right?

I don't think anybody sane would disagree, including me. But be aware that coming up with those regulations is going to bve incredibly contentious, fraught with opportunities for corruption and may cause corporations to seek more "hospitable" places to do business. Should this stop people from trying to make sense of this all? No, but remember that there are all kinds of unintended consequences.

Plus, I'm still dubious on the carpet company guy. It's been my experience that the more warm and fuzzy a front a company puts up, the bigger shitheels they actually are.
posted by jonmc at 12:44 PM on June 4, 2004


not because they are inherently evil but because they are required by their articles of incorporation to be amoral. They are thus sort of structurally psychopathic,

Isn't that attempting to have it both ways? They're not evil, but they're evil.

Jonmc, "psychopathic" does not mean "evil". Please consult your local dictionary.
posted by reklaw at 12:48 PM on June 4, 2004


Jonmc, "psychopathic" does not mean "evil". Please consult your local dictionary.

No, but it does of have connotations of evil or at the very least, inherent danger: "psychopathic killer on the loose," etc.

But all that's beside the point since it's become obvious that the use of the word is mainly a badly chosen (IMO) peice of hyperbole used to actually shed light on some serious issues.
posted by jonmc at 12:51 PM on June 4, 2004


Folks who feel they need the fruits of that relatively recent wallet-padding tool called the "corporation" for their own personal happiness in life have all my sympathy. Not all are so hollow. And an analysis such as "if we didn't have corporations in their present form, we'd all be living in the stone age" is about as stupid and shallow as the delicate epithelial thinness on display above, by the usual gossamer-girdled.

~chuckle~
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:52 PM on June 4, 2004


...it is implicit in his ideology of unfettered capitalism that corporations are governed by non-psychopathic personalities. And therein lies the flaw in the idea of enlightened self interest and markets unregulated by the people for the common good.

If it's true that any organization containing people is open to corruption by psychopathic personalities, I'll register my vote for minimizing statism (under which the results of the corruption are foisted upon me at the point of a gun) and maximizing laissez-faire (where I -- and the rest of the market -- have the best opportunity for choosing to avoid it). It amazes me that the same people with with such a dim view of human nature also want to expand the realms in which we are all forced to follow other humans' dictates.
posted by mw at 12:54 PM on June 4, 2004


Folks who feel they need the fruits of that relatively recent wallet-padding tool called the "corporation" for their own personal happiness in life have all my sympathy

Of course you're typing all this on a computer made from scarp powered by electricty from solar panels while eating food grown only in your back yard and sending this all down a phone line magically delivered from heaven, right?


as stupid and shallow as the delicate epithelial thinness on display above, by the usual gossamer-girdled.

wow, that's right up there with nya-nya-nya. Personal attacks, you're resorting to, foldy? You're slippin'.
posted by jonmc at 12:58 PM on June 4, 2004


uh, reklaw?

psy·cho·path A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.

That's not evil?
posted by nicwolff at 1:08 PM on June 4, 2004


American Psycho.
posted by aramaic at 1:19 PM on June 4, 2004


Jonmc,

I’d like to clean the slate. On reflection, I, too went too far: Using the “f-word” was un-called-for. I apologize for that.

I’d like to try to unravel what lead me to that outburst, though, if I may:

jonmc: “And if this "psychopathic" entity is somehow removed from the world, it's to be replaced with what?

We go back to living in huts and banging our laundry on rocks? We build a "workers paradise a la Soviet Russia and China? Whatever it's replaced with would undoubtedly be just as bad or worse. That's the way it is and always has been.”


This isn't exactly an unequivocal statement. You can imagine how people might interpret that you're saying there are two possible states for us now: living under the corporate boot-heel; or returning to a pre-technological (or medieval) way of living. I don't think it makes me a dumb c**t to interpret your words this way.
In the film, during the “historical perspective” segment, they explain that historically, the corporation was a group of people legally entitled to conduct business for a specific, defined purpose, for a defined period of time. The “Fellowship of Interests” in the german word for corporations. The current state of corporations is a long was from that narrow definition, and it seems possible that we could, if not return completely to that definition, to at least roll back on the rights and increase the responsibilities of these abstract, but powerful units.


jonmc: “My first comment is a response to the idea of the corporation as "psychopathic." Well, what do we do with psychopaths? We get rid of them. Leaving us with what?”

This, to me, is much more bluntly stated: you're advocating “getting rid of” (eliminating) psychopaths. That sounds like the response a lot of scary people/groups have had to other people or groups that were “in their way”: Nazis, Khmer Rouge, CIA, Saddam Hussein, the madmen behind the Inquisitions, etc.

My initial response to you was lost when metafilter hung up on me during a “preview.” In re-typing it, this paragraph was lost:

“...and you wonder why people hate/are afraid of Americans and corporations?

When possible, shouldn't we try to help or “cure” (and I know that’s a perilous word) the psychopath? shouldn't we seek to ease the confusion of the schizophrenic?

so much for the noble sentiments…”

From your statement, it was easy to conclude that you think nothing of compassionately trying to help the mentally ill, and simply wish they'd “go away,” preferably forever.

That’s what raised my ire, and lead to the regrettably-poor word choice.

I’d like to recommend Voltaire’s Bastards to anyone who hasn't read it before. It’s an extremely interesting look at where Cold Rationality (and that would seem to be one of the rails upon which rides the Gravy Train) can lead you to when it is applied dogmatically in the pursuit of some goal (corner a market, eliminate an ethnic group, rule the world, etc.), and it fits in well with seeing The Corporation.

Finally, I do want jonmc, and anyone else in the community of posters who was offended, to know that I regret the “f**k you,” and will certainly be more careful not to post in anger in the future.

BadMichelle.
posted by Badmichelle at 1:29 PM on June 4, 2004


I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the idea of a corporate death penalty yet. I support the idea that if a company does something very egregious, they should have their charter revoked, their assets auctioned off to anyone but shareholders, and the c-level executives prevented from working together again.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:29 PM on June 4, 2004


The corporation has proved a highly useful tool for the concentration of capital - yes.

But - originally - corporations were granted, by commonwealths, tightly restricted legal charters for set, limited periods of time. The notion that they were answerable to society - and on pain of the revocation of those charters - for their behavior was quite explicit.

Over time, these boundaries fell away until corporations were granted the legal rights of "personhood".

Why shouldn't those corporations which exhibit flagrant and ongoing lawlessness have their charters revoked or be subject to temporary takeover, for restructuring, by the state ?

Capitalism itself is not at stake here : that is a silly argument :

Capitalism is based on ground rules, which can be tinkered with and altered as necessary.

The Free-Market system is very robust - it will not come crashing down on our heads from the setting of limits on corporate criminality, and if it is the case that
corporations are "psychopathic" then I'd say that we - as a society - are psychotic, in pathological denial, to the extent that we are unable to make even such fairly minor modifications in our economic system as placing some firm boundaries on corporate behavior.

____________________________

Observe the ant colony : very structured, that sort of society and , quite functional, yes. But the overall structure is quite inflexible.

Humans, on the other hand, have these wonderful tools we call BRAINS. These tools called "BRAINS" enable us to assess, and modify our behavior if it does not serve our needs.

I can't presume to speak for anyone else here, but I, for one, would rather live among those who are willing to use their brains - to modify the underlying rules of our human society if that seems in our benefit - than among those who would rather behave as ants in an ant colony.

____________________________________

If corporations are deemed to have the rights of personhood, why can't they - so to speak - be prosecuted and thrown in jail ?

If their freedom to operate is not contingent upon their good behavior, well.....

Then they obviously do NOT merely enjoy the rights of personhood but - like the aristocrats of old - they enjoy the rights of personhood - and more, I'd say - while bearing none of the associated responsibilities.
posted by troutfishing at 1:33 PM on June 4, 2004


I’d like to clean the slate. On reflection, I, too went too far: Using the “f-word” was un-called-for. I apologize for that.

Fair enough. It seems like the whole thing wa born out of misunderstanding eachothers sentiments more than anything else. And from the semantics of terms like "psychopath" and "get rid of" (which in this case was shorthand for "remove from society"), so I apologize for my nasty and (I'll cop to it) misogynist outburst. When provoked, I tend to revert to playground/barroom style argument. My bad. No hard feelings.
posted by jonmc at 1:39 PM on June 4, 2004


So, some corporations are both psychopaths and aristocratic tyrants, and this then is a bitter irony :

That the efforts of the Founding Fathers of the United States and all those who fought and died in the Revolutionary War - to free the colonies from the tyranny of kings - were undone, in the end, when tyranny returned in another, more subtle guise....
posted by troutfishing at 1:41 PM on June 4, 2004


bashos_frog said: I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the idea of a corporate death penalty.

That's a brilliant idea!

An alternative to the present system, that doesn't simply "extinct" the corporation, as others were worried about.

Hey, I know that any group of humans can be subject to corruption -- as a species, we're kinda bent that way. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to avoid succumbing to that, or worse, sanctioning and demanding it.

troutfishing said: If corporations are deemed to have the rights of personhood, why can't they - so to speak - be prosecuted and thrown in jail?

I once asked that very same thing of a friend who was at Emory Law School, on the path to business law. He couldn't answer that any better than to suggest that it would deter people from going into business.
I said, "huh?" Seems to me if you're willing to fatten your ass with the profits, then you'd better be prepared to have your carcass languish in prison if your business does something wrong. That sounds fair to me.
[and then maybe Business can follow the theme of this little aphorism: "All men are artists; most of them should know better." - Author unknown]
posted by Badmichelle at 1:57 PM on June 4, 2004


But even a "corporate death penalty" has it's problems.

Obvioulsy, if say (to pick a name at random) Donald Trump was making crooked stock deals or using child labor I'd like to see him pay the price for it. But if we dismantle his corporate charter, that puts people like the doorman at Trump Tower (one of whom is a guy I know), and his typing pool and the guy who mops the floors and deal blackjack at his casinos(like my uncle used to) out of work, although they're probably ignorant of Trump's hypothetical doings and innocent themselves, they would in effect be punished for his deeds.

I'm not saying that removing a dangerous individual from corporate power is a bad idea, just saying that there's consequences to the "corporate death penalty" idea as well.
posted by jonmc at 2:03 PM on June 4, 2004


Yeah, much as it appeals to me on a visceral level, I don't like the corporate death penalty: it'd screw the workers, and the executives responsible for it would have enough of a safety net to escape relatively unscathed. Not clever. I'd rather more accountability be placed on high-level management themselves.
posted by furiousthought at 2:10 PM on June 4, 2004


I don't disagree with your original argument, jonmc, but it smacks of defeatism. Why criticize an institution that's a core part of our society? To make it better. Why complain about something that serves us well in many ways? To make sure it keeps on serving us well. This post is about a movie, remember. The topic obviously has several valid viewpoints, but you seem pretty dismissive about the film right off the bat, as if there's nothing productive to say about corporations that casts them in a bad light. Certainly, there is.
posted by scarabic at 2:12 PM on June 4, 2004


What troutfishing said.
posted by dejah420 at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2004


mw said: I'll register my vote for minimizing statism (under which the results of the corruption are foisted upon me at the point of a gun) and maximizing laissez-faire.

Exactly how do you enforce "laissez-faire" without using force or the implication of force?

It amazes me that the same people with with such a dim view of human nature also want to expand the realms in which we are all forced to follow other humans' dictates.

If you're implying that I have "such a dim view of human nature" then you are mistaken. I happen to think I am quite an optimist about humans, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary I firmly believe people en masse are quite altruistic, social, and communitarian-minded... if given half a chance.

It seems to me that one key distinction between self-identified progressives and regregressive is that progressives believe that people acting in political concert can produce some benefit, while regressives seem to believe that only greed and graft could possibly emerge people acting in political concert.

Personally, I think both kinds of personalities are projecting their own perceptions of the behaviour of themselves and their peer and affinity groups onto their idealized political entities.

I also note that with various forms of government, it's usually possible to vote out miscreants or malefactors after a while. By comparison, shareholder "democracy" is a farce.
posted by meehawl at 2:50 PM on June 4, 2004


corporate death penalty, etc.

The Corporation focuses on the corporate-charter revocation movement briefly, specifically on the unsuccessful effort to kill Unocal.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:59 PM on June 4, 2004


uh, reklaw?

psy·cho·path A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.

That's not evil?


No, it is not evil. You fail to understand the difference between "immoral" and "amoral". When people call corporations psychopathic, they aren't being perjorative -- they're just saying that a corporation has no view either way on morality. Psychopathic reasoning is costs and benefits without regard for morality, and this is the way a corporation works -- it attempts to maximise profit without considering other factors (except, obviously, the way they influence profit).

The way to deal with psychopaths is to make things cost more relative to the benefit -- many will not break the law, for example, not because they believe breaking the law is wrong, but because they don't want to go to prison. Regulation could work, but in theory the market could deal with this -- if enough people refuse to deal with unethical corporations, then that will become a cost that outweighs the benefit of being unethical in the first place. The way to solve the problem, if you ask me, is through customer education.
posted by reklaw at 3:07 PM on June 4, 2004


The way to deal with psychopaths is to make things cost more relative to the benefit -- many will not break the law, for example, not because they believe breaking the law is wrong, but because they don't want to go to prison.

If we consider that corporate personhood mirrors personal psychology, then one issue is that psychopaths are remarkably immune to punishment or therapy:
A psychopath can never be made to feel the horror of murder. Weeks of intense therapy, which are producing real breakthroughs in the other youths, will probably make a psychopath more likely to reoffend ... For his first paper, now a classic, Hare had his subjects watch a countdown timer. When it reached zero, they got a "harmless but painful" electric shock while an electrode taped to their fingers measured perspiration. Normal people would start sweating as the countdown proceeded, nervously anticipating the shock. Psychopaths didn't sweat. They didn't fear punishment.
posted by meehawl at 3:42 PM on June 4, 2004


jonmc: the idea of corporate death penality shouldn't be summarily accepted, neither discarded. If the final outcome of the action(s) of a company is negative , in the sense that it damages individuals that have no stake in the company (even if damaging them was not the purpose) then the company must be responsible and repay the damages.

As you probably know, it is simply not possible to appraise objectively the monetary value of anything (in other words, market prices are not objective as they're in theory the result of offer/demand balancing, which is ridden with human irrationality) ; so let's for instance imagine your lungs were damaged by asbestos or other pollutants, byproducts of some company transformation process.

The company should repair the damage by giving you new lungs and by restorting your initial health condition and should be allowed to repair by paying money ONLY if the damaged persons wishes to do so, regardless of the amount of money asked.

Now instead of corporate death penalty , which would just kill one company to see a dozen other take its place, I'd rather ban the persons involved from being responsible of any business or having stakes in businesses, even if they are not technically personally guilty but of carelessness : in other words, punish greedy careless people not virtual entities scapegoats.
posted by elpapacito at 3:55 PM on June 4, 2004


The company should repair the damage by giving you new lungs and by restorting your initial health condition

That's a capital idea! I propose taking the lungs, by force if necessary, from one of the executives of the offending company.
posted by meehawl at 4:32 PM on June 4, 2004


That's a mighty interesting hole in Adam Smith's theories you point out there, meehawl. Good one, 10 points for you! I was wondering what the gnawing doubt I had about "Wealth of Nations" was, and you just cleared it right up for me.

I think it's safe to define "psychopathic" as "evil," since evil seems to be based in, essentially, absolute narcissism. Truly conscienceless, psychopathic people believe inside themselves that what they think, feel, and want at any moment is exactly correct, and that any action they take at any time is also correct - even if it's lethal, depraved, immoral, whatever. As mentioned above, they also have zero fear of consequences. I'd call that evil. Total disregard for the opinions, welfare or even existence of other people is evil.

A corporation which exhibits similar characteristics is also evil. Especially when it's the structure and motivations inherent to the corporation which turn a group of otherwise "regular" people into a collectively psychopathic group which will do anything, no matter how lethal, depraved or immoral, to "feed itself" by raking in profits.

I think that shareholders's demands for greater profit every year, continuous growth, is a terrible whip driving the corporate monsters. The market's demand of "if you don't make my stock worth more money constantly, I will sell it and take away your capitalization" is, to my mind, unreasonable. Dividend stock seems to be downplayed in favor of growth stock, buy low sell high.

The corporation itself is not the only culprit; we can't leave out shareholder greed as a part of the problem to attack directly. How, I don't know.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:33 PM on June 4, 2004


I was wondering what the gnawing doubt I had about "Wealth of Nations" was

Thanks. Moral Sentiments is often considered as one of the founding books of structuralist sociology, while Wealth of Nations is usually considered one of the foundations of classical economics.

It's always seemed odd to me that these two academic camps often pin so much of their ideologies on one book while trying their best to ignore the other. They should, as as Adam Smith intended, be taken together as a theory of human social psychology and consequent market behaviour. Moral Sentiments has some amazingly prescient ideas about the psychology of a globalized, mediated economy.
posted by meehawl at 6:48 PM on June 4, 2004


the idea of corporate death penality shouldn't be summarily accepted, neither discarded.

I did neither. I merely pointed out some consequences of such an idea.
posted by jonmc at 7:21 PM on June 4, 2004


The beauty of this whole thread is how utterly academic it is. Arguing about whether we should have corporations is about as useful as arguing whether women should have the right to vote.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:56 PM on June 4, 2004


who was working to make his business more sustainable...without cutting workers or losing profits.
The costs of those changes roll downstream, my man


The cost of not making changes also rolls downstream.

The difference is, when we let a business externalize costs onto society, the costs are more certainly born by the taxpayer.

Which sometimes includes large corporations, but often doesn't.
posted by weston at 9:59 PM on June 4, 2004


meehawl: there's no need to remove CEO lungs (even if the idea may tickle somebody and it sounds kind of funny in a weird way) but there is need for restoration of previous condition.

How do you do that ? Money means nothing to people who's going to die, (expecially if they're going to die sooner because somebody else screwed up or omitted caution in the name of "stakeholder" profit). The argument that some amount of money is going to make the rest of their life a lot better is lame because maybe the person just wanted to live.
posted by elpapacito at 2:10 AM on June 5, 2004


Arguing about whether we should have corporations is about as useful as arguing whether women should have the right to vote.

You know for a couple of thousand years most of the economy of ancient Egypt was exquisitely organised into enormous pseudo-productive enterprises dedicated during the life of the monarch to creating a fitting tomb for his body. Given the extraordinarily low productivity and tiny excess of production over consumption of that economy, some estimates indicate that around 70% of the discretionary economy was absorbed within these vast engines of economic organisation and construction.

There's evidence that the on-site workers had healthcare plans, schools, vacation periods, and entertainment. Some people spent their entire adult lives working within these - sometimes changing jobs as they gained education or experience. If you'd asked a typical Egyptian working in one of these "Do you think there'll ever come a time when there are no pyramids?" they'd have probably laughed at you. For them the pyramids were their social structure. Imagining life without pyramids would have been almost impossible.

Similarly, corporations are located within a particular historical and social nexus, and are contingent on so many things that we take for granted, but could pass away. In their modern form they are, after all, scarcely a hundred years old. I think slavery persisted longer within the AMericas, and yet where is it now?
posted by meehawl at 10:13 AM on June 5, 2004


I have said many times that the SCOTUS decision in the 1880s creating the ficticious person legal framework is the single worst decision they've ever handed down. If it takes an amendment to the Constitution to reverse, then we need to get one in place.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:45 AM on June 5, 2004


billsaysthis - I'll second that motion.

meehawl - That was an observation I've never heard before. Yours? If it is, you should write it up as an article for publication. It's worthy of much wider notice.

Adam Smith's refusal to acknowledge the existence of a psychopathic human personality type is a major flaw in his theoretical framework - so it would seem.

But I'd also add this - Smith's theory has not even been put to the test ; his conception of the ideal Free Market demanded, I've heard, equal mobility of labor and capital.

Someone please correct me on this if my understanding is incorrect or severely distorted. If not, though, we are living in an economic system which diverges quite sharply from Adam Smith's vision.
posted by troutfishing at 1:14 PM on June 5, 2004


Although the moviemakers claim ownership of the company-as-psychopath idea, it predates them by a century, and rightfully belongs, in its full form, to Max Weber, the German sociologist. For Weber, the key form of social organisation defining the modern age was bureaucracy. Bureaucracies have flourished because their efficient and rational division and application of labour is powerful. But a cost attends this power. As cogs in a larger, purposeful machine, people become alienated from the traditional morals that guide human relationships as they pursue the goal of the collective organisation. There is, in Weber's famous phrase, a “parcelling-out of the soul”.

For Weber, the greater potential tyranny lay not with the economic bureaucracies of capitalism, but the state bureaucracies of socialism. The psychopathic national socialism of Nazi Germany, communism of Stalinist Soviet rule and fascism of imperial Japan (whose oppressive bureaucratic machinery has survived well into the modern era) surely bear Weber out. Infinitely more powerful than firms and far less accountable for its actions, the modern state has the capacity to behave even in evolved western democracies as a more dangerous psychopath than any corporation can ever hope to become: witness the environmental destruction wreaked by Japan's construction ministry.

posted by darukaru at 1:49 PM on June 5, 2004


Do the filmmakers offer a third way between either of these unpleasant solutions to the problem of managing trade and industry?
posted by darukaru at 1:51 PM on June 5, 2004


:: clutches head in pain ::

Yes, there is a way between a total lassiez-faire corporate society and ironclad five-year-plan-making state control, no matter how rapidly the writer of the Economist article may be trying to backpedal away from the impression that he thinks the commie may have a point. It's called "mixed economies," and miraculously, these are being practiced all over the world even as we speak! I'd even go so far as to say the majority of countries in the world practice this revolutionary third way of thinking, and really, that only dithering ideologues or mercenary politicians stage it as a binary issue.
posted by furiousthought at 3:03 PM on June 5, 2004


That was an observation I've never heard before. Yours?

Yes, thanks. Frankly because it's virtually the first paragraph of Moral Sentiments it kinds of jumps out at you. I think Smith's refusal to conceive of psychopaths stems from the whole Enlightenment argument over whether human nature was ultimately perfectable or permanently flawed.

It actually occured to me a few years ago when I was thinking about the developmental differences differences between the European medieval idea of the Expressive Christian, the Renaissance idea of the Internalized Christian, and the modern flux of idea clusters around the homo economicus of economics and homo socialicus of sociology, and how both of these differ quite dramatically from the idea of homo sapiens of evolutionary psychology and the homo psychodymanicus of psychoanalytic theory. It seems to me that many of these academic disciplines gravitate towards totalising representations of human beings that by design exclude or preclude axioms from other disciplines. Like the competing discursive formations within Foucaldian analysis. I like reading about the medieval conceptions of humanity because they are so exquisitely detailed, so finely tuned, and persisted for so long. Of course, to us now they appear more foreign an idea about humans and society as anything that science fiction writers traditionally dream up about people.

I think the most important thing to remember with all human theories is that the map is definitely not the territory. All we are dealing with are approximations of human beings, and great ideological edifices can be built on crumbly foundations. It may take a generation or several hundred generations but eventually all these great constructions pass away to be replaced by other notions of what it means to be.

his conception of the ideal Free Market demanded, I've heard, equal mobility of labor and capital

Indeed, it posits a world with porous borders. Today's increasingly scrutinized, identity-tracking society is very different from the 18th/19th century world where millions of people could up stakes and depart for new lands. Currently, corporations utilise national immigration borders as opportunities to arbitrage human labour. Ironic, really, when you consider how much more easy and quick travel has become. But our current system enables corporations to buy laboure cheap and sell goods/services dearly. Huge pockets of people are effectively trapped in large national gulags to serve as cheap labour. We have recreated the late Roman slave territories on a grander scale. And like that period, we see that enabling huge production cartels to entrap native, reproducing labour squeezes the formerly necessary working and middle classes of the production heartlands, rendering them increasingly superfluous.

For more details, see Freedom of Labour vs Freedom of Capital.
posted by meehawl at 3:10 PM on June 5, 2004


meehawl : the slavery one is a fine point, as it rehiterates that what we may take (at a certain moment) for granted (slavery = unexpensive source of labor) isn't necessairily going to last forever ; therefore we shouldn't blindly follow the dogma of free market (whatever that is supposed to really mean) on the grounds that it is the "best" system we currently know, but we should also consider and actively seek alternatives.

Connecting to troutfishing : here on Kuro5hin I write a little comment on one of Adam Smith works and on one of the "dogmas" often rehiterated by pro-free-market supportes. You'll fiind the details in the link, but the core is (the following italics are quotes from Smith) :

Wholesale Merchant Joe provided that he can always obtain the ordinary, or not a great deal less than the ordinary profits prefers home-trade (which means producing and selling locally or in its own country) to foreing trade. That's because, according to Smith, he prefers to have a more direct control of his capital and ventures , and also because he has got a better understanding of local laws and because of the additional risks and costs of selling abroad.

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases,led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.

That's the famous "invisible hand" quote. Yet many people quoting Smith appear to forget that Smith puts a pre-condition : provided that he(the merchant) can always obtain the ordinary, or not a great deal less than the ordinary profits

That is, for the "invisible hand" to work, the merchant needs to have a consistent interest (under the guise of consistent profit) into local market and forget about foreign markets. Otherwise, all his investing isn't guaranteed to improve (a nation) society by the means of an "invisible hand".

Also some of the people I often hear quoting Smith are quick to forget that at times a nation best interest may be that of obtaining a certain technological improvement (for instance, getting rid of petroil dependence) even if a number of merchants (that are in theory supposed to finance the developement by their accumulation of capital) don't get a profit at all.
posted by elpapacito at 3:30 PM on June 5, 2004


meehawl, that psychopath thing should have been an fpp.
posted by namespan at 9:47 AM on June 6, 2004


If you're like me then "fpp" meant little until I read this.

It's a bit long for an "fpp".
posted by meehawl at 11:17 AM on June 6, 2004


« Older Ryan   |   "Autochthonous. A. U. T. O. C. H. ..." Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments