A few years ago I saw the Canadian doumentary “The Corporation” based on the book of the same title by Joel Bakan, a internationally recognized Canadian law professor and legal scholar. Film & book take one of the premises of modern corporate law — the legal fiction that a corporation is a person (derived from a passing reference in a headnote to the U.S. Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886), which applied the Fourteenth Amendment to corporations [Ref #1]) — & examines what kind of person a corporation is.
The answer? A psychopath. Booklist’s review of Bakan’s book sums it up:
As a legal entity, a corporation has as its edict one and only one goal, to create profits for its shareholders, without legal or moral obligation to the welfare of workers, the environment, or the well-being of society as a whole. Corporations have successfully hijacked governments, promoting free-market solutions to virtually all of the concerns of human endeavor. Competition and self-interest dominate, and other aspects of human nature, such as creativity, empathy, and the ability to live in harmony with the earth, are suppressed and even ridiculed. [Ref #2]
This “person” is not only a psychopath, but a “person” who is in fact required by law to be a psychopath:
- Corporations are required by law to elevate their own interests above those of others, making them prone to prey upon and exploit others without regard for legal rules or moral limits.
- Corporate social responsibility, though sometimes yielding positive results, most often serves to mask the corporation’s true character, not to change it.
- The corporation’s unbridled self interest victimizes individuals, the environment, and even shareholders, and can cause corporations to self-destruct, as recent Wall Street scandals reveal.
- Despite its flawed character, governments have freed the corporation from legal constraints through deregulation, and granted it ever greater power over society through privatization. [Ref #3]
Furthermore, the corporation is a psychopath that’s trying to turn us real living flesh & blood true persons into psychopaths, too. As Bakan writes in his book,
As the corporation comes to dominate society — through, among other things, privatization and commercialization — its ideal conception of human nature inevitably becomes dominant too. And that is a frightening prospect. The corporation, after all, is deliberately designed to be a psychopath: purely self-interested, incapable of concern for others, amoral, and without conscience — in a word, inhuman…. [Ref #4, p. 134]
A century and a half after its birth, the modern business corporation, an artificial person made in the image of a human psychopath, now is seeking to remake real people in its image. [Ref #4, p. 135; emphasis in original]
Book & movie both provide plenty of examples of the psychopathology of corporations, nicely summarized on the Wikipedia article about the film. [Ref #5] I can think of lots of other examples all by myself. For example,
- The Exxon Valdez oil spill & its aftermath, culminating in one of 2008’s psychopath-enabling U.S. Supreme decisions [Ref #6-7].
- Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly’s long record of lies to downplay the health effects of its antipsychotic Zyprexa, which led to tens of thousands of patients developing Type 2 diabetes; not to mention Eli Lilly’s illegal marketing of the drug for off-label uses (a charge it ultimately pled guilty to in 2009). [Ref #8] (A big cheer here for Anchorage attorney Jim Gottstein, a long-time advocate for the rights of persons labeled with mental health diagnoses, who exposed Lilly with the help of the New York Times. [Ref #9])
- Just about anything having to do with Monsanto, including its promotion of genetically modified “Roundup Ready” crops; its strongarm tactics & bullying of small farmers; its irresponsibility with regard to contamination of conventional crops with its unnatural GMO pesticide-plants [Ref #10]; the revolving-door relationship between Monsanto and federal regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration; its unhealthy engineered hormone Prosilac (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rBGH) used to increase cow’s milk production at the expense of both bovine & human health [Ref #11].
- Didn’t I write just last week about the dangers of disaster profiteering in Haiti, which has a long history of being victimized by just such profiteering? Encouraged in no small part by the free trade agreements forced upon it by Pres. Bill Clinton, backed as he was by the forces of American corporatism — which has long had the support of both Democratic and Republican elected officials. Because politicans will, after all, support the corporate financing & revolving door relationships that support them. [Ref #12]
To name but a few. How many instances of corporate psychopathology can you name off the top of your head?
I’m sure there are some corporations that truly try to act like “good corporate citizens” (indeed, “The Corporation” even names a few) — but they seem more the exception than the rule. Remember again: legally, corporations are obligated to serve their bottom lines, at the expense of just about everyone & everything else. Especially real persons.
And yesterday, five members of the U.S. Supreme Court chose to grant these psychopathic “persons” even more control over the political process in the United States.
As I tweeted yesterday,
U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 sells out democracy to the highest corporate bidders. Democracy on its deathbed.
If unhappy Alaskans thought the Supreme’s 2008 decision in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker sucked, just get a load of yesterday’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [Ref #13], which granted the deep-pocketed special interests known as corporations vast new powers of “free speech” by which to influence American elections —
Should the American people, through Congress, be able to decide that the vast economic inequality that comes with our wonderful capitalist system should not translate into vast political inequality? Justice Kennedy seems to believe that this would lead to the imminent decline of our democracy. Money is speech; speech may not be suppressed. [Ref #14; emphasis added]
— & further corrupt our overwhelmingly corruption-friendly politicians.
Remember those Corrupt Bastards Club baseball caps certain Alaska legislators were sporting a few short years ago? Hey, that club’s gonna be bigger than McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Walmart combined. Seems the corporations have succeeded in recruiting the majority of the Supreme Court of the United States to their psychopathic ways, & the infection will only spread.
As for you, my friend — you have just witnessed American democracy suffering its further death throes. By this time next year, I reckon American democracy will look more like a zombie character from “Shaun of the Dead”.
Except not nearly as funny.
- “Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company“, 118 U.S. 394 (1886). Wikipedia article. Full opinion can be read at Justia.
- Booklist review of The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power by Joel Bakan. Through Amazon.com.
- “About the Book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power by Joel Bakan.” (TheCorporation.com).
- The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power by Joel Bakan. (Free Press, 2005).
- “The Corporation“. Wikipedia article about the documentary article “The Corporation.”
- “Exxon Valdez oil spill”. Wikipedia article.
- “Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker“, 554 U.S. ___ (2008). Wikipedia article. Full opinion can be read at Findlaw.
- “Olanzapine” (Zyprexa). Wikipedia article. See the section on controversies for details about Zyprexa litigation. A number of other examples of Eli Lilly’s rampant psychopathology are documented in the Wikipedia article “Eli Lilly controversies”. I note in particular the strange little relationships Eli Lilly has had over the years to the American Diabetes Association, the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and both former presidents Bush — to name but a few. In 2008, Eli Lilly settled a $200 million lawsuit by the State of Alaska over Zyprexa’s “side” effects (i.e., its undesired & unwarned-of effects) for $15 million three days before the jury would have otherwise gotten the case; the money would go towards treating Alaska psychiatric patients who developed diabetes as a result of using the drug. “State settles Zyprexa lawsuit for $15 million” by Angela Blanchard (KTUU Channel 2 News, 3 Mar 2008). Eli Lilly’s Alaska trial was widely covered by the national press.
- “James Gottstein.” Wikipedia article. In 2006, Jim Gottstein represented Faith Myers in a case before the Alaska Supreme Court in which the court ruled Alaska Psychiatric Institute’s forced drugging procedure to be unconstitutional. Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute, 138 P. 3d 238. One of the drugs API proposed to force on Myers was Zyprexa See also Gottstein’s law review article on forced drugging, “Involuntary Commitment and Forced Psychiatric Drugging in the Trial Courts: Rights Violations as a Matter of Course,” 25 Alaska Law Review 51, which has further information on the badness that is atypical neuroleptics (antipsychotics) like Zyprexa.
- “Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear” by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele (Vanity Fair, May 2008).
- “Labeling Issues, Revolving Doors, rBGH, Bribery and Monsanto” (Sourcewatch; revision as of 9 Aug 2009).
- 15 Jan 2010. “Haiti: Disaster profiteering v. helping Haiti rebuild for Haitians” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa.com).
- “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission”, 558 U.S. ___ (2010). Wikipedia article. Full opinion can be read at the Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
- 21 Jan 2010. “Money Grubbers: The Supreme Court kills campaign finance reform” by Richard L. Hasen (Slate).