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tyranny of corporations

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Date: Sun, 06 Dec 1998 16:11:08 -0700
From: Robert Weissman <[email protected]>
To: Multiple recipients of list CORP-FOCUS <[email protected]>
Subject: corporation nation

Exxon merges with Mobil. Citicorp marries Travelers. Daimler Benz gobbles
up Chrysler. BankAmerica takes over NationsBank. WorldCom eats MCI.

Corporations are getting bigger and bigger, and their influence over our
lives continues to grow. America is in an era of corporate ascendancy, the
likes of which we haven't seen since the Gilded Age.

Charles Derber, a professor of sociology at Boston College, believes that,
contrary to the lessons our civics teacher taught us, it is undemocratic
corporations, not governments, that are dominating and controlling

In his most recent book, Corporation Nation (St. Martin's Press, 1998),
Derber argues that the consequence of the growing power of giant corporate
multinationals is increased disparity in wealth, rampant downsizing and
million dollar CEOs making billion dollar decisions with little regard for
average American.

A couple of years ago, Derber wrote The Wilding of America (St. Martin's
Press, 1996) in which he argued that the American Dream had transmuted
into a semi-criminal, semi-violent virus that is afflicting large parts of
the elites of the country.

That book tried to call attention to the extent to which violent behavior
could be understood as a product of oversocialization.

"The problem was not that they had been underexposed to American values,
but that they could not buffer themselves from those values," Derber told
us. "They had lost the ability to constrain any kind of anti-social
behavior -- because of obsessions with success -- the American Dream."

By anti-social behavior, Derber means the epitome of Reaganism -- "a kind
of warping of the more healthy forms of individualism in our culture into
a hyperindividualism in which people asserted their own interests without
regard to its impact on others."

At the time, Derber was interviewed on a Geraldo show about paid assassins
- - -- people who killed for money.

"It was scary to be around young people who confessed to killing for
relatively small amounts of money -- a few thousand dollars," Derber said.
"They said things like -- 'you have to understand, this is just a
business, everybody has to make money.' I pointed out on the show that
this was the language that business usually uses."

At the same time, Newsweek ran a cover story titled "Corporate Killers."
On the cover, Newsweek ran the mug shots of four CEOs who had downsized in
profitable periods and upped their own salaries.

"These corporate executives tended to use the same language as the paid
assassins on the Geraldo show, 'I feel fine about this because I'm just
doing what the market requires,'" Derber explains. "I develop an analogy
between paid assassins on the street and those in the suites. In the most
general sense, these corporate executives are paid hitmen who use very
much the same language and rationalization. I argue that corporations are
exemplifying a form of anti-social behavior which is undermining a great
deal of the social fabric and civilized values that we would hope to

With the hitmen parallel fresh in his mind, Derber began writing
Corporation Nation. In it, Derber points to the parallels between today
and the age of the robber barons 100 years ago -- the wave of corporate
mergers, the widening gulf between rich and poor (Bill Gates' net worth
(well over $50 billion) is more than that of the bottom 100 million
Americans), the enormous influence of corporations over democratic
institutions, both major parties bought off by big business, and a
Democratic President closely aligned with big business (Grover Cleveland
then, Bill Clinton today).

One big difference between then and now: back then, a real grassroots
populist movement rose up to challenge corporate power, though it did not
succeed in attaining its core goals.

Today, while there are many isolated movements challenging individual
corporate crimes, there is no mass movement attacking the corporation as
the cause of the wealth disparity, destruction of the environment, and all
the many other corporate driven ills afflicting society.

Derber, a professor of sociology at Boston College, says that when he asks
his students, "Have you ever thought about the question of whether
corporations in general have too much power," they uniformly say they have
never had that question raised.

Derber says that one good way to again build a populist movement to attack
corporate power is to study the language and tactics of the populists of
100 years ago. He has, and he makes clear in his book that the original
conception of the corporation was one of a public -- not private --

We the people created the corporation to build roads, and bridges, and
deliver the goods. If the corporation didn't do as we said, we yanked
their charter.

The corporate lawyers quickly got their hands around that idea, smashed
it, and replaced it with the current conception of the corporation, a
private person under the law, with the rights and privileges of any other
living and breathing citizen.

Thus, a quick transformation from "we decide" to "they decide."

Derber is a bit too modest to say it, so we will: perhaps the best way to
rebuild a strong, vibrant and populist movement is to get this book into
the hands of people who care about democracy. The corporations have us on
the run, but we should pause for a moment or two, find a quiet place, and
read this book.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor.

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Focus on the Corporation is a weekly column written by Russell Mokhiber
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