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Public suffers when corporations become too powerful

Editor: Re: Protesters miss mark when targeting 'evil' corporations, Community Comment, Nov. 30 I would like to suggest that it is Dan Southard that is missing the mark, or perhaps more specifically, the point.


Re: Protesters miss mark when targeting 'evil' corporations, Community Comment, Nov. 30

I would like to suggest that it is Dan Southard that is missing the mark, or perhaps more specifically, the point.

Southard infers that corporations are thought of as 'evil' by the Occupy movement, and apparently need to be defended. This inspired me, first of all then, to check with Miriam Webster to see how this term is actually defined in order to determine if corporations are really capable of being evil.

I found three definitions. 1) 'morally reprehensible' - think Exxon in Alaska, BP in the Gulf of Mexico, Monsanto attacking Percy Schmeiser, Union Carbide in Bhopal; 2) 'causing discomfort or revulsion' - pharmaceutical companies knowingly selling products which harm their customers; 3) 'causing harm' - how about the bank bailouts which were not used to help those who were most harmed - homeowners - but to reward the guilty; and tobacco companies lying for years to protect their bottom-line. I'm just sayin'.

The real point, however, is not whether corporations are bad or not. The point is that when any entity - corporation, king, dictator, whatever - becomes too powerful to the detriment of society, that there needs to be a counterbalancing force of some kind to protect the people, otherwise they will inevitably suffer in one way or another.

I would highly recommend that anyone who is inclined to agree with Southard, and is actually interested in understanding the Occupy movement rather than simply dismissing it so the recliner feels a little more comfortable, should start by watching the acclaimed 2004 documentary 'The Corporation' - it's available on-line.

Among many other points that are made there about corporations, as we see them today, is that they are inherently psychopathic. That is, they meet all of the characteristics that would be used to designate a person thus. One example is, 'reckless disregard for the safety of others.' A corporation has no choice. It is legally bound to place the enrichment of its shareholders above every other concern.

Surely no one can deny that, for better or worse, corporations, primarily by way of their massive financial influence, dominate and control our lives, our institutions and our governments - even our judicial systems (the Citizens United ruling). But if they were, in fact, benign entities which simply made all of our lives better all of the time we wouldn't see people on the streets all around the world protesting as is now the case.

Primarily, corporations, like individuals, must be held accountable when they cause harm, but when they become too powerful, that doesn't happen. Currently when they cause harm their primary response is often to deny and obscure their responsibility (apply dispersants to the oil so it sinks to the bottom so no one can see it).

Southard claims that corporations employ people and generate wealth. Of course they do. The question really, however, is does that wealth have to be pocketed by an increasingly smaller number of people? Wouldn't it be better for everyone, other than the '1%', if there were a broader base of companies generating wealth and employing people. There used to be laws prohibiting the type of monopolies we now see all around us. And, in terms of spreading it around, not many of us would refuse if we were offered an opportunity to pay higher taxes in exchange for a bigger share of corporate wealth.

Neither is capitalism, in itself, the problem. Buying corn from the local farmer on Arthur Drive is a capitalist enterprise, and it works well for everyone, and benefits the community. The problem arises when mega-corporations acquire control of the systems of our society, at the expense of their customers, their employees, and citizens in general. Support your local business - like the ones who advertise in the Optimist.

Southard sees unions as a bigger problem. To say that unions are more of a threat to our economic system is laughable. Does anyone seriously think that unions have more influence over anything in our society than corporations?

I believe that in the U.S. unions currently represent about seven per cent of private sector employees. And public sector unions are being subjected to the type of attacks such as the ones in Wisconsin. When was the last time you saw a union have a major impact on a large social issue? If you can think of one, you're ahead of me. How about a corporation? Once again it is a question of balance.

Southard also credits corporations for having done more to close the gap between rich and poor than any government? Really? Is that why as corporations become more consolidated, the gap is growing progressively wider by the year?

Finally the columnist dismisses the Occupy movement basically because its proponents are sponging hippies who have piercings, etc. This is simplistic in the extreme. It is a fairly typical response, however. But, then again, every other social justice movement has been dismissed because those who espoused it were seen as inferior in some way, whether it was the Indian independence movement under Ghandi, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the suffragette movement, etc.

The truth is that without these movements, the world would not have many of the benefits that we also take for granted. They have all been a catalyst for positive social change. I would suggest that a careful observer would, after serious investigation, conclude the percentage of protesters in the 1,400 or so Occupy protests around the world who have piercings would be negligible. Maybe, if it even matters, it just looks that way.......for some reason. Could it have something to do with the fact that ownership of the media (virtually all newspapers, television, & radio in the U.S. particularly) is now in the hands of approximately six corporations which are represented by the moral rectitude of the likes of Rupert Murdoch, and Conrad Black. And, of course, it's not just this segment of society who thinks like this. There are now 300 economists who are agreeing - see 'YouTube' - 300 economists.

I am not one of those young and pierced. I am, in fact, one of those baby boomers dependent on mutual funds for my retirement to which Southard refers. However, I also have children and grandchildren whose future is of even greater concern to me. The most dangerous aspect of corporate control is that some of them are currently actively subverting attempts to resolve many of the biggest problems which our offspring will face - climate change most notably.

The column also mentions that protesters sometimes have cell phones, and sees this as contradictory. Yes, of course, our current lifestyle has accumulated significant advantages in the last few centuries, and yes 'corporations' have had a hand in that, however, they have also developed a control of our institutions that is untenable, and unsustainable for the long-term survival of our culture, and possibly our species. Corporations and their products pervade our lives so to suggest that anyone who complains about them and still accepts some benefits is a hypocrite is inherently hypocritical.

The bottom line is that there needs to be checks and balances in our system - corporations, government, press, educational systems, the judiciary, etc. But now most of these have at least in part been co-opted by an ever-shrinking group of elite who have only their own interests at heart.

Whether the Occupy movement, as we currently see it, can have sufficient influence to lead to the resolution any serious issues in our society, remains to be seen. But, if not, the issues will not go away, and thankfully these few are making an effort, and have at least inspired this conversation. Let's just try to keep the conversation concentrated on the real issues.

Bruce Page

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