The Corporation, directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, is a documentary about American corporation’s influence throughout the world. Although it was made in 2003, its argument has only gotten stronger. The benefits and consequences of corporations (a legal entity that is created to provide privileges and liabilities distinctly different from those of its members) are shown to viewers. Ok… so the consequences outnumber the benefits about a thousand to one. That’s due to a merciless quest by corporations for profits and for control over many aspects of culture. It takes a critical look at the global economic supremacy of American corporations and the psychopathy of corporations.
It is hard not to start with “psychopathy of corporations;” it is just such a crazy thing to
think. To begin, corporations are viewed as a person, a singular person who can buy property, take out loans, etc. Because of this “person” classification of corporations, the filmmakers took an interesting approach by seeing how this person would be viewed by a psychologist. Turns out the doctor might recommend locking him up.
I was incredibly impressed with the film maker’s analysis of corporations. It was a unique way to look at things, and it really made you think, if a corporation is a person, why do we allow them to operate in the way that they do? They can operate, seemingly unchecked, around the world. As Nobel Prize winner, Milton Friedman said, “How can a corporation decide what’s socially responsible? It’s not exactly their expertise.” Many of Fox News’ personalities would have you believe that government oversight of corporations is one small step away from communism, but that’s just hyperbole. Citizens are held responsible for their actions, and it’s only right that corporations are as well.
Ray Anderson, an excellent CEO featured throughout the film, described an inspiring eagle logo for a principled corporation, but quickly moved on to saying, “Enough bullshit.” Corporations are actually more akin to a whale, appearing gentle, yet capable of swallowing you in an instant if it decides. Often when a corporation is exposed for routine practices behind the scenes, the culprits are scolded for being bad apples, although the whole tree is rotten. In the quest for profits, exploiting middle-class America has become too expensive, and so now they’ve moved on to exploiting the rest of the world. I hate to bash Nike, because they’ve convinced me I love them, but throughout the world Nike exploits workers to make things for .3% of retail price. It’s sad; they go into poor communities and are heralded as heroes for bringing work, and as soon as the people begin to realize that they are being exploited, boom, they move on to find new exploitees.
Historically speaking, the corporation is a relatively new concept. One hundred and fifty years ago there were very few corporations, and the chartered corporations that existed were receiving a gift from the public for allowing them to operate. It was after the Civil War that corporate lawyers decided that the 13th amendment, passed to protect newly freed slaves rights, was better used to protect the rights of corporations, since they are people too. Instead of lawyers using the amendment to protect newly freed slaves’ rights, 288 of 307 cases brought before the courts concerned corporations, not newly freed slaves (Plessy vs. Ferguson!?). This is a disgusting application of an amendment meant to protect citizens, but corporations do not care about committing disgusting acts. In the film, the most disgusting example was IBM during WWII (thank god New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt beat Watson). IBM maintained the system that was used to keep track of the extermination of millions of people in Nazi Germany, servicing the machines monthly on-site at concentration camps and railroad stations. IBM sadly is not the only corporation who benefited from the Nazi movement in Germany, and they all knew that it was wrong (Coke even covered its tracks, Hello Fanta!). An acquaintance of Watson said he didn’t want to do business with Hitler, not because it was wrong, but because he thought IBM’s
public image could be stained. Corporations are unconcerned with being upstanding members of society, and concerned only with the bottom line and making as much money as possible for stock holders. In fact, they are legally bound to put the bottom line ahead of anything else. The corporation ignores stake holders, which are people in workforce or community. For corporations, despotism and tyrannical regimes are great; the leaders have the workforce under control, and anyone with the balls to stand up is just “taken care of.” The last example from the movie I’ll mention is the one that made me decide that spending $7.00 on organic milk was worth the cost. From Food Inc, I knew that Monsanto was not a saint of a company, but after seeing the story on rGBH and rBST, I would say Monsanto is straight evil. rBST or Posilac is about the most disgusting drug I have ever heard of, and I recommend everyone does a little research into the drug that is banned in Canada and the European Union, but is still widely used in America. Many people who have tried to expose this story to the public have been silenced, but this film allowed the silenced to speak.
Externality is a term used by economists, describing how a third party is affected by a transaction between two other parties. Corporations are, by design, created to internalize profits and externalize everything else. Unfortunately, the American public is the third party who gets to carry the load for decisions made by big business. Whether it is harms to public health like pollution, synthetic chemicals, chemical spills, and dangerous products or harms to the workforce like layoffs, union busting, sweatshops, or dangerous workplaces, it is the American public who suffers. When corporation’s reckless financial activity lead to the recent recession, the average American is the one who really suffers, but not one person has been held accountable for their bad decisions crimes. Government needs to hold them accountable, and increase regulation to prevent history from re-re-re-re-repeating itself.
With so many examples of corporation’s effect on our political system around the country, it is hard not to slip into that subject. There are so many things I would like to scream about, and it’s hard to know where to start. I’ll move on to the federal budget discussion (If I start talking about the crap going on in states, I will never finish this). I’ll start with the fact that the American public overwhelmingly (roughly 80% according to recent NBC/WSJ Poll) support raising taxes on millionaires, and recalling the Bush tax cuts for the richest of Americans. Now, if our elected officials are supposed to speak on behalf of the people, where is our voice being lost? It’s being lost when the elected officials answer to someone other than the voters, their campaign contributors. Just look at Wisconsin (couldn’t stay away from the states, damn), the people in the state are against the governor’s plan, yet he refuses to back down, because unions are bad for corporations, even in the public sector. 93% of corporation’s campaign contributions go to Republican candidates, the same people claiming Bush tax cuts must be extended to create jobs. Where the hell are all of these jobs? There is not a shred of evidence to support the hypothesis that cutting taxes on the rich will create jobs, instead they will just enjoy their heavier wallet. Apparently the best
way to cut (a generous term when you look at percentages) the budget is to remove heating subsidies for poor families, not to cut the 40 billion dollars in subsidies to the oil companies, the most profitable companies on the planet (the top five companies reported profits… profits of one trillion dollars for this decade). Every single Republican voted against the bill to cut oil subsidies, in the name of fiscal responsibility I’m sure. Helping the richest of all people make more money takes priority over assisting the people who cannot afford to keep their family warm during winter.
This was a documentary I think everyone should see, and I think Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott did a great job on the film. I think that the film could be structured better to allow for a superior flow throughout the movie; sometimes it seemed like the film jumped around, but all the information in the film served a purpose. It did an excellent job of giving a historical context for corporations. The documentary is available on Netflix Instant Play, and if you don’t have Netflix… GET IT! This turned into a little more of a rant than a review of sorts, but I think that watching this film will make anyone want to rant, and I didn’t even get to everything I’d like to talk about. For example pollution, which isn’t going to hurt our eventual robot overlords, it’s only going to hurt us. A speaker on the film summarized pollution as generational tyranny, taxation without representation of the generations to come. It is hard to know if the future will have to deal with all the problems, or if we’ll hold to corporations responsible.
Achbar, Mark, and Jennifer Abbott, dir. The Corporation. Narr. Ray Anderson. 2003. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .