JR'S Free Thought Pages
Corporate Chemists From Hell
Farben was Hitler and Hitler was Farben. (Senator Homer T. Bone to Senate Committee on Military Affairs, June 4, 1943.)
One of the great business success stories of the twentieth century was that of the German chemical industry. It was also the story of how a mighty industrial behemoth called I G Farben came close to dominating the world.
IG Farben (short for Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AG) (and also called I.G. Farbenfabriken) was a German conglomerate of companies formed in 1925, with some having their origins in the First World War. Farben is German for "paints", "dyes", or "colors", and initially many of these companies produced dyes, but soon began to branch out in to more complex fields of chemistry. The founding of the IG Farben Company was primarily a reaction to Germany's defeat in the First World War. IG Farben eventually came to hold a near total monopoly on the chemical production during the era of the Third Reich. It was the German chemical firm that was the financial focal point of the Hitler regime and the principal supplier of poison gas to the Nazi racial extermination program. Before the war the dyestuff companies had a near monopoly in the world market which they ultimately lost as a result of the ultimate defeat of Germany.
Originally ‘IG’ just made dyes. Until the middle of the nineteenth century dyes all came from crushed up berries, insects, flowers, tree bark. Then someone discovered how to make dyes out of coal. Soon, Germany had six huge companies all based on this new chemical technology: BASF, Bayer, Hoescht, Agfa, Casella, Huels and Kalle. A certain kind of corporate single-mindedness and determination led to innovative research, and the discovery of the elusive ‘synthetic blue’ dye, so characteristic of oriental ‘China’. It also led to marketing devices such as ruthless price cutting, ‘loss leaders’, aggressive litigation over patents, industrial spying and even bribery.
All such methods helped build the companies up. Bayer even had enough money to develop an important new process to make nitrates which had previously only been available from Chile after a long and expensive sea journey. Initially the nitrates were mainly for fertilizer. A few years later, these were the nitrates that became the ‘nitroglycerine’ in all the high explosives of the Second World War.
Under Bayer’s lead, the six companies dispensed with wasteful competition among them and combined to form one large ‘friendly group’, what they called an Interessen Gemeinschaft - what we would call a monopoly, or perhaps a cartel (Similar zaibatsu cartels operated in Japan at this time). Consequently, the six were then free to pursue new markets that were safe from attack by rivals on their home turf. Moreover, IG was so large it was even able to persuade the rest of the world’s giant companies, such as Imperial Chemicals and Standard Oil, to join in their ‘community’, and play by their rules.
But it was the huge profits from the war that made IG a truly lucrative enterprise. The Nazis needed fuel and synthetic rubber to create their Blitzkrieg war machine and only a massive corporation like IG could possibly have provided it. A giant complex to produce these patriotic essentials was constructed at Auschwitz, located so as to draw on the supply of prison labor from the nearby concentration camp. So huge was the plant that it has been claimed that it used more electricity than the entire city of Berlin. Construction of the factory complex cost the lives of 25,000 prisoners.
At the end of the war some twenty-four of IG’s directors were charged at the Nuremberg war tribunal. The indictment accused them of ‘major responsibility for visiting upon mankind the most searing and catastrophic war in human history’, of ‘wholesale enslavement, plunder and murder’. The executives were asked to justify their policies during the war. They were asked to explain memoranda which read:
In contemplation of experiments with a new soporific drug, we would appreciate your procuring for us a number of women…
We received your answer
but consider the price of 200 marks a woman excessive.
RECEIVED: the order of 150 women. Despite their emaciated condition, they were found satisfactory. We shall keep you posted on developments concerning this experiment. ..
The tests were made. All subjects died.
We shall contact you shortly on the subject of a new load.
Of the 24 directors of IG Farben indicted in the so-called IG Farben Trial (c 1947-1948) before the U.S. military tribunal at the subsequent Nuremberg Trials, 13 were sentenced to prison terms between 1˝ and eight years.
Due to the ruthless acrimony and sordid nature of the crimes committed by IG Farben during World War II and the involvement of management in the Nazi atrocities, it was deemed imperative to dismantle the company. The allies recommended confiscating all its assets and putting it out of business altogether. Nothing happened however until 1951 when the company was split up into its original constituent corporate entities. The four largest promptly bought the smaller ones, and today only Agfa, BASF, and Bayer remain, while Hoechst merged with the French Rhône-Poulenc Rorer to form Aventis, now based in Strasbourg, France.
Moreover, shortly after the War I.G. Farben joined with Americans to develop chemical warfare agents. Together they founded the "Chemagrow Corporation" in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chemagrow Corporation employed German and American specialists for the U.S. Army Chemical Corps. Dr. Otto Bayer was I.G. Farben's research director. He developed and tested chemical warfare agents with Dr. Gerhard Schrader.
Subsequently in 1967, Monsanto entered also into a joint venture with IG Farben.
The twenty-four directors were the ones dubbed ‘the devil’s chemists’. Yet the accused were not Nazis, nor even extremists. They were sober businessmen, engineers and scientists of great intellect and distinction. When their government called upon them to help the war effort, they responded - just as they had to calls for help from operas and art galleries, even charities in happier times.
They had not broken any laws - they had just tried to do what they were designed to do – make as much money as possible. But, in the process, did they break any moral law?
For a more extensive history of I G Farben and relevant related events before and subsequent to the Second World War be sure to read Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler which can be read online at:
Post Mortem Note: During the Nuremberg trials American affiliates of I. G. Farben and the American directors of I. G. itself were quietly forgotten and the truth was buried in the archives. It is these U.S. connections in Wall Street that are discussed in the above book
Along with the Rockefellers (Standard Oil, Chase Manhattan Bank), Mellons (Gulf Oil, Alcoa Aluminum), DuPonts (DuPont Chemicals), General Motors and Henry Ford. [Edsel Ford, son of Anti-Semite Henry Ford, sat on the board of I.G. Farben America], banks and shipping companies operated by the Bush family were crucial players in setting up the industrial power behind the Third Reich. These companies poured hundreds of millions of dollars into IG Farben and provided it with technology for tactically essential synthetic materials - while withholding the same materials and patents from the US government.
The Rockefeller family, long aligned with the Bushes, owned Standard Oil. Through a stock transfer they became half owners of Germany's IG Farben with Farben likewise owning almost half of Standard Oil. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, IG Farben built and operated more than 40 concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Europe, including Auschwitz.
Without the capital supplied by Wall Street, there would have been no I. G. Farben in the first place and almost certainly no Adolf Hitler and World War II.
War provides the necessary medium in which this witches brew of oil, eugenics, pharmaceuticals, munitions and Wall Street investing can reach maximum growth. Likewise, war is also the essential frame of reference for the George W Bush administration.
The high-profile minorities who are working as Bush advisors have been hand-picked, funded and carefully cultivated by right wing think tanks and conservative foundations with a fascist white supremacist philosophy. Their agenda is theocratic, militaristic, libertarian, anti-poverty, anti-intellectual and racist.
For those who scoff at the validity of comparing the Bush administration to the Nazis and IG Farben please note the following. I'm not suggesting that GW Bush is literally a Hitler clone nor am I implying that everyone who is an oil or pharmaceutical company executive automatically deserves to be linked to IG Farben. However, that the Bush wealth and prominence in American politics is derived from Prescott Bush and George Herbert Walker's support of Hitler is based in historical fact. If the connection ended in 1945 with the destruction of Nazi Germany that might have been the end of it – but it didn't end there.
Following the War not only was the eugenics agenda continued but many of the top Nazis who were advancing it during WWII were brought to the US after the war and installed in academia, the media, government research institutions and the CIA-by the same American officials who worked with the Bush family to build up Nazi Germany in the first place. Their ideas formed the basis for much of the agenda promoted by this nation's most influential right-wing think tanks-the same think tanks that are the sponsors of GW Bush and virtually every one of his appointees.
What follows are some of the men and women who do the “thinking” for GW Bush:
- Vice President, Dick Cheney, arguably the real President-elect, was one of Papa Bush's top advisors. His company, Haliburton, is one of the nation's largest recipients of government contracts, supplying military equipment, oil services and infrastructure. Cheney epitomizes corporate-welfare and like most of Bush's appointees is a multi-millionaire who will receive huge financial benefits from the administrations' policies and any wars in which it manages to get the US involved.
- Secretary of Labor Linda Chavez -who is outspokenly anti-union-was a research fellow at the CIA's Manhattan Institute during 1993 and 1994 and has received almost $200,000 in grants from the John M. Olin Foundation, a notorious right-wing fund derived from a family business in munitions and chemicals with roots in white supremacy. Despite her Hispanic surname she is an outspoken advocate for the English First Movement. Chavez is president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, based in Washington, D.C. an organization dedicated to eliminating affirmative action. On their website Chavez quotes Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, a classic of modern racial eugenics which has become the "bible" for the anti-welfare anti-affirmative action movement.
- Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, the latest African American Bush Uncle Tom appointee, is a conservative public schools administrator in Texas and decades-long crony of the Bush family who supports vouchers, tying teacher pay directly to test scores and school privatization-all of which will negatively impact African American students by destroying public education.
- Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense under President Ford. Rumsfeld like Powell, Cheney, Rice and numerous other Bush administration officials is a salesman for the Star Wars Missile Defense Shield. He served four terms in the US Congress where he voted against Medicare, anti-poverty programs like Headstart, food stamps and various healthcare proposals. Rumsfeld, who formerly headed Searle Pharmaceuticals, is part of the drug company axis within the Bush administration. Former President Bush was director of Eli Lilly, OMB head Mitchell E. Daniels was also senior executive of Eli Lilly and AG John Ashcroft is known as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Gail R. Wilensky-one of numerous John M. Olin grant recipients attached to Bush-is the principal author of GW's Medicare plan. Wilensky serves on the boards of eight health care companies in which she owns more than $12 million in stock.
- Secretary of State, Colin Powell is a lifelong operative of the CIA/military-industrial complex. While working for the Pentagon he earned his present stature by helping cover up the Mai Lai massacre, the contra/arms-cocaine deal and Gulf War Syndrome. Uncle Tom Powell's reputation as a hero derives from presiding over a war in which US troops were used as guinea pigs for drug companies' experimental vaccines so that they could "safely" fight George Bush's friend Sadamn Hussein-who had been supplied with chemical and biological weapons by the Bush administration. Unlike most of GW's appointees of color, Powell proudly admits he owes his career to affirmative action yet willingly joins an administration that considers ending affirmative action a top priority.
- Secretary of the Treasury, Paul H. O'Neill is the chairman of Alcoa Aluminum, one of the world's worst polluters and a leading corporate supporter of Nazi Germany and eugenics. O'Neill owns 1.6 million shares of Alcoa, worth more than $50 million. During WWII Alcoa negotiated a deal with the Nazis and IG Farben to supply Germany's war machine rather than the US military with aluminum. "If America loses this war," said then Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes on June 26, 1941, "it can thank the Aluminum Corporation of America [ALCOA]." Alcoa produces hundreds of millions of tons of fluoride. This highly toxic waste byproduct of aluminum has been linked in thousands of medical studies to cancer and other degenerative diseases. In the 1950's Alcoa arranged to have it added to our nation's drinking water rather than disposed of as toxic waste. During WWII in IG Farben's slave labor camps Nazis scientists discovered that by adding fluoride to the drinking water they could make prisoners more submissive to authority. O'Neill is a fellow at the RAND Corporation and American Enterprise Institute, two more extreme right-wing think tanks.
- Attorney General John Ashcroft (NOTE: His nomination was strongly opposed - see the Confirmation Hearings process at www.dailynews.yahoo.com/fc/US/Bush_Administration/) is a rabid Christian fundamentalist and self-styled moral crusader as strongly anti-abortion as he is enthusiastic about the death penalty. Last year, Ashcroft received an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. He is closely aligned with the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson and Southern heritage groups which admire the Confederacy and defend the institution of slavery as practiced in the South. He is known among lobbyists as an advocate for drug companies and the automotive industry and for preventing consumers from suing HMO's. The furor over Ashcroft's anti-abortion views is being played out exactly as planned by Team Bush. Not only will the Bush administration never make abortions illegal, if anything the eugenics agenda that underlies the Bush family history guarantees that abortion, sterilization and other technologies intended to limit population-including war, chemical exposure, pesticide use in urban areas, genetically-altered foods and vaccines-will proceed at an unprecedented level. The Bush gang is delighted to see Democrats, women's rights advocates and the left focusing on Ashcroft while virtually ignoring the other Bush appointees.
- Alberto Gonzalez is George W. Bush's second term pick for Attorney General. He advised the President and the Pentagon that Bush was above the law concerning torture. This fascist actually said that the President is not just above international law (the Geneva Convention), but that Bush is even above Federal law. Gonzalez's memo told Bush that the nature of the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions. Geneva Conventions on torture did not apply to "unlawful combatants" captured during the war on terror." His (Gonzalez’s) office also played a role in an August 2002 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel advising that torturing alleged Al-Qaida terrorists in captivity abroad "may be justified" and that international laws against torture "may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations" conducted in the U.S. war on terrorism. At least five and up to 28 confirmed deaths of detainees are believed by the Pentagon to have been caused by aggressive policies Gonzales did not define as torture. Remember this when you hear Gonzales', and Bush's, ringing denunciations of torture
- Secretary of Commerce Donald L. Evans is an insider in the Texas "oil mafia" and is GW's closest friend and confidant. He's also friend, confidant and contributor to one of America's biggest recipients of government contacts, Halliburton's Dick Cheney.
- Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., was senior executive of the Eli Lilly drug company and was previously the president of the arch-conservative Hudson Institute. Daniels, who advocates strict enforcement of laws against casual drug users, was busted for drugs in 1970.
- John Negroponte: Intelligence czar John Negroponte earned his bones (no pun intended) back in the days of the CIA's Phoenix program, which assassinated some 40,000 Vietnamese "subversives." Negroponte was the officer-in-charge for Vietnam at the National Security Council (NSC) under Henry Kissinger, having worked as a "political affairs officer" (read: CIA) at the US Embassy in Saigon starting as early as 19641. In 1981 Reagan appointed Negroponte as Ambassador to Honduras. That appointment gave Reagan a base from which to assist the Contras in Nicaragua. Negroponte became good friends with General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, infamous for his participation in Battalion 3-16 death squad human rights abuses and who was conducting a reign of terror in Honduras at that time. “According to Bush, the ultra-rightist Negroponte has a real grip on today's ‘global intelligence needs.’ Indeed he does. Negroponte's long career in the ‘foreign service’ has equipped him well to fulfill the requirements of global and domestic (my emphasis added) counterinsurgency.”
In the Nuremberg trials at the end of the Second World War, civilians and soldiers alike were held to be under a higher obligation to the 'eternal' moral law than the prevailing civil one. In the extreme circumstances of experimenting on concentration camp prisoners that does not seem too controversial, some people will even say there is 'no dilemma' at all! Yet the chemists, and many others from camp guards to railway workers, illustrate how so-called reputable citizens can do things that we consider to be horrific and patently evil. Yet on their own terms they were all regarded as upstanding members of 'the community', observing current practice.
In general all businesses share one purpose: they exist to make as much money as possible. If they do not make money they violate their basis for existence and fall victim to the wrath of shareholders. Business already obeys two laws: the secular one of the local administration, and the global law of the market. What need do they have of a third law - the moral law? After all, the law of the market is: the weak go to the wall, and the strong survive. Might is right! Then why not:
• pay as little as possible to those who supply the raw materials?
• pay as little as possible under the minimum necessary arrangements to those who convert the materials into the 'products' - that is, their employees?
• spend as little as possible on cleaning up the environmental damage afterwards?.
Then, of course, there are the preliminary stages of any business enterprise. There are the development, research and testing of products - this can be very expensive unless you are prepared to either cut corners or use dubious methods. (The IG Managers must have been very pleased with the savings reflected in the memos.) Above all, there is the vexatious possibility of competition undermining both the eventual price and the volume of sales. At least in the short term, the most profitable company has no competition - it has the most valued commodity in business - a monopoly. This leads to a fourth important business fundamental:
• if at all possible, manipulate the market in your favour.
Fortunately, 'the market' seems to be quite a shrewd judge of most issues. 'As little as possible' may still be enough. And it may also pay to take into account the negative effects on the 'bottom line' of bad publicity (witness the recent 'green campaigns' against oil companies or the former boycotts of apartheid South Africa's products). But the pressure is always there to set up a sweatshop, to use child slavery, to dump waste, to buy on the cheap from unsustainable sources.
The economist J. K. Galbraith has described how big business controls the market through control of people's minds - creating unnecessary fashions and desires with the skill and detail of master puppeteers. All business decisions have ethical dimensions: a director of a company may take decisions that directly affect tens or even hundreds of thousands of people - as employees, suppliers and sub-contractors, and millions of people as consumers. Yet this power is often exercised in an entirely amoral way - profit is the sole criterion. As the prosecutor at Nuremberg went on to say: 'These are terrible charges, no man should underwrite them frivolously or vengefully, or without deep and humble awareness of the responsibility which he thereby shoulders. There is no laughter in this case, neither is there any hate.' Often for businessmen and women who today launch the campaigns for baby milk in the African sub-continent, or order the logging of the forests that are 'unfortunately' the only home of some voiceless communities (let alone species), 'there is no hate'. But the consequences are just as bad.
The public perceptions of the verdicts on the 'Devil's chemists' were mixed. On the one hand twelve of the executives served prison sentences for slavery and systematic abuses of prisoners. On the other hand, by the end of the 1950s, two of the convicted war criminals were back serving as directors of large corporations. Nonetheless, the trial serves as a reminder to business people who have power over lives today to never underestimate the ethical dimensions of their decisions.
Postscript: The Corporation as Psychopath
More recently, in the United States, there is a lesson to be drawn from the demise of Enron and Worldcom beyond the importance of being skeptical about corporate social responsibility. Though the aforementioned companies are now notorious for their arrogance and ethically challenged executives, the underlying reasons for their collapse can be traced to characteristics common to all corporations: obsession with profits and share prices, greed, lack of concern for others, and a penchant for breaking the law. These traits are, in turn, rooted in an institutional culture of corporations that champion self-interest and invalidate moral concern. No doubt Enron and Worldcom took such characteristics to their limits – in fact, to the point of self-destruction - and the companies are now notorious for that. It was not, however, unusual for the fact they had those characteristics in the first place. Rather, their collapse is best understood as showing what can happen when the characteristics we normally accept and take for granted in a corporation are pushed to the extreme. It was not, in other words, a “very isolated incident,” as Pfizer’s Hank McKinnell described it and as many commentators seem to believe, but rather a symptom of the corporation’s flawed institutional character.
The twentieth century was unique in modern history for the widely held belief that democracy required governments to protect citizens’ social rights and meet their fundamental needs. Essential public interests and social domains believed to be too precious, vulnerable, or morally sacred to subject to corporate exploitation, were inscribed by law and public policy within protective boundaries. Human beings could not be owned and children could not be exploited, either as workers or as consumers. Institutions essential to human health and survival (such as water utilities and health and welfare services), human progress and development (such as schools, universities, and cultural institutions), and public safety (such as police, courts, prisons, and firefighters), were deliberately placed beyond the corporation’s exploitative grasp, as were precious natural domains, which were turned into parks and nature reserves.
The resulting public sphere, which exists to greater and lesser degrees in all modern nations, is now under attack. Historically, corporations have been hostile to it, as, from their perspective, it is little more than a collection of unwarranted exclusions from vast profit-making opportunities. Particularly over the last thirty years they have waged a determined campaign to push back its exclusionary boundaries. Through a process known as privatization, governments have capitulated and handed over to corporations’ control of institutions once thought to be inherently “public” in nature. No part of the public sphere has been immune to the infiltration of for-profit corporations. Water and power utilities, police, prisons, fire and emergency services, day care centers, welfare services, Social Security, colleges and universities, research, prisons, airports, health care, genes, broadcasting, the electromagnetic spectrum, public parks, and highways have all, depending on the jurisdiction, undergone, or are being considered for, full or partial privatization. Perhaps God, Heaven and Hell are next on the list.
In the recent Canadian documentary by Joel Bakan called The Corporation, a compelling argument is presented to the effect that “if a corporation were a person, it would have to be diagnosed as a psychopath.” Using the World Health Organization’s checklist for personality types and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Bakan concludes the corporation is a psychopathic personality. A corporation has a callous unconcern for the feelings of others, incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, a reckless disregard for the safety of others, a pattern of deceitfulness, incapacity to experience guilt and a failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior. This is the institution that we allow to govern all aspects of our lives.
In the movie, Milton Friedman looks grim and grumpy as he asserts with as straight a face as he can muster that “the only moral imperative for a corporate executive is to make as much money for the corporate owners as he or she can.” Friedman recoils at the idea that corporations should be concerned with social justice or try to benefit society in any way. “A corporation is the property of its stockholders,” he tells Bakan. “Its interests are the interests of its stockholders. Now, beyond that should it spend the stockholders’ money for purposes which it regards as socially responsible but which it cannot connect to its bottom line? The answer I would say is no.”
The Fraser Institute’s neoconservative propagandist, the amoral Michael Walker, glibly informs Bakan that hungry people in the developing world are better off when a sweatshop pays them 10 cents an hour to make brand name goods that sell for hundreds of dollars.
Others agree with Friedman. Management guru Peter Drucker tells Bakan: “If you find an executive who wants to take on social responsibilities, fire him. Fast.” And William Niskanen, chair of the libertarian Cato Institute, says that he would not invest in a company that pioneered in corporate responsibility.
Of course, state corporation laws actually impose a legal duty on corporate executives to make money for shareholders. If you engage in acts of social responsibility such as paying decent livable wages to your workers, stop polluting the natural environment or lowering the price of products to customers because of excessive profits, then you will likely be sued by your shareholders. Robert Monks, the investment manager, puts it this way: “The corporation is an externalizing machine, in the same way that a shark is a killing machine (shark seeking young woman swimming on the screen). There isn’t any question of malevolence or of will. The enterprise has within it, and the shark has within it, those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed.”
Business insiders like Monks and Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface Corporation, the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer, lend needed balance to a movie that otherwise would have been dominated by outside critics like Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Jeremy Rifkin. Anderson calls the corporation a “present day instrument of destruction” because of its compulsion to “externalize any cost that an unwary or uncaring public will allow it externalize.”
Anderson had a late-career epiphany and since 1994 has been striving to make Interface the world’s first sustainable corporation that actually gives back to the planet instead of taking from it. Anderson tells Bakan that he believes “the notion that we can take and take and take and take, waste and waste, and waste and waste, without consequences is driving the biosphere to destruction,” Anderson says, as pictures of biological and chemical wastes pouring into the atmosphere roll across the screen
Film director and producer Mark Achbar says: “If a product cannot be made sustainable, it simply should not be made. We will, as a species, simply have to survive without these things.”
For the sake of the survival of the planet, the corporate world should be filled with Ray Andersons. Recently we have watched corporate heads roll at firms like Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia Communication, Global Crossing, Arthur Anderson, Tyco International, and Martha Stewart. Many more have yet to be caught and the ones who are should be severely punished. Unfortunately this is generally not the case since most of these corporate predators who have stolen millions and destroyed the live of literally thousands, when on rare occasions they are prosecuted and convicted, often get off with a slap of the wrist.
Bakan is heartened by anti-globalization protests and the efforts of people to organize to take control of their lives. He advocates a variety of electoral reforms and reforms to the regulatory system to regain democratic control of corporations. These reforms are needed now, not next year or in the next decade. “It’s overly optimistic to say globalization is dead,” says Bakan. “There’s a backlash, certainly, but we shouldn’t think we’re there yet — or even close.” But, Bakan points out, globalization did not sweep in and defeat national governments; it was actually fostered by those institutions, which threw their weight behind capital and corporations, and willingly pulled back from measures that protect the public interest.
As safeguards vanished with the advent of international free trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT as well as the breakdown of regulatory rules on the movement of capital, ordinary citizens felt betrayed and vulnerable. Neither jobs, nor social programs, nor the environment are now secure. Many, including anti-globalization activists, stopped lobbying governments for change because they believed politicians were impotent against monolithic multinational forces. Widespread cynicism surfaced in low voter turnouts. “A lot of work needs to be done before we can re-engage citizens in democratic society to protect the public interest,” warns Bakan.
John McMurtry, a University of Guelph philosophy professor, and specialist in global issues, also believes that corporations have run roughshod over the public interest. And, he says, the damage done by “corporate globalization” is profound and unlikely to be reversed overnight.
“We have blanket overriding corporate rights,” he says. “There are no protections for citizens. Zero for labour, for social programs and for the environment. Trade agreements are like fiats. It’s one endless litany of so-called investor rights.”
But McMurtry, author of Value Wars: The Global Market vs The Life Economy, says that the dominance of fascist-like transnational corporations over quality of life has finally turned the tide against the supporters of globalization. “Globalization isn’t dead but its credibility is,” he says. “There’s been a huge awakening to the fact that people don’t have democratic control over their lives. The spell has been broken.”
Our economic system will eventually change. As currently structured, the system is unsustainable for both people and the planet. Our economic system will change quicker if a lot of people go to see The Corporation and/or read the book. You will look at the power dynamic in the world in a different way and you may discover your role in helping change it.
“We are basically organisms of feeling, of empathy,” says scientist and activist Dr. Mae-Wan Ho. “When other people suffer, we suffer. We want a safe, equitable, just, and compassionate world because it is a matter of life and death.”
If corporations are to continue to exist, it is time the corporation’s tenets reflect human values. Jennifer Abbott, The Corporation’s co-director and editor, says simply “The corporation is a legal construct, a social construct. We created it so we can recreate it.” Bakan adds, “Corporations have no lives, no powers, and no capacities beyond what we, through our governments, give them.”
“We created the corporation, and the only legitimate and justifiable reason for government or the state to create an institution is to serve the public good,” Bakan told The Tyee interviewer David Beers. “So this idea that somehow we need to bow down to corporations is ridiculous.”
Addendum: Enron – One Corporation under God
An article in The Economist a few years ago asserted that Enron was indeed more like a religion than a business. Its worshippers in the press spoke of “mission,” “vision,” “destiny,” and “faith.” Kenneth Lay, the son of a Baptist minister, was himself an active member of First United Methodist Church in Houston who summarized his credo thus: “I believe in God and I believe in free markets.” Jeffrey Skilling, Enron’s chief executive, wowed Wall Street analysts and investors at gatherings that one participant likened to “revival meetings.” Both Skilling and Lay were invariably described as “charismatic,” a concept derived from the New Testament, where St. Paul lists various carisma (gifts) of the Holy Spirit, “Today’s extraordinary trust in the power of the charismatic CEO resembles less a mature faith than a belief in magic,” wrote Professor Rakesh Khurana of the Harvard Business School, author of Searching for a Corporate Saviour: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs. A chief executive was now expected to offer “a vision of a radically different future and to attract and motivate followers for a journey to the new promised land. In keeping with the religious conception of the CEO’s role, the charismatic leader was also supposed to have the ‘gift of tongues,’ with which he could inspire employees to work harder and gain the confidence of investors, analysts and the ever-skeptical business press. Finally, in all too many cases, the charismatic leader was supposed to have the power to perform miracles.”
Kenneth Lay was once asked by the religious affairs correspondent of the San Diego Union-Tribune what Jesus Christ would do if he were chief executive of a company that bought and sold an essential energy resource. “Jesus attempted to take care of the people around him, attempted to make their lives better,” he replied. “He also was a freedom lover. He wanted people to have the freedom to make choices.” Deregulation, according to this reading of the Gospel, was nothing less than a spiritual imperative.
At the time of Enron’s creation in the mid-1980s, from the merger of two medium-sized firms operating natural-gas pipelines, its business was closely supervised by government. By lobbying aggressively for liberalization and exploiting every tiny loophole in the law, Lay swiftly achieved an overwhelming dominance in the gas and electricity markets: Enron’s sales raced from $4.6 billion in 1989 to $40.1 billion a decade later. (Having expanded the company’s market capitalization ninefold, Lay was asked how he could possibly top that. “We’ll do it again this coming decade,” he bragged.) Yet for all its apparent hatred of Washington, and its celebration of unconventional methods, in practice Enron had the same relations with officialdom as most big corporations down the ages: It bribed politicians of any and every party who might get into power. And, as its adverts might have asked, why not?
On December 5, 2000, even before Al Gore had conceded defeat in the interminable presidential vote-count, a press release from the Bush-Cheney team included this delightfully candid announcement: ‘Applicants interested in serving in the administration will be able to apply online by way of a secure server. Contributions are limited to $5,000 and can be donated online or via mail to the Bush-Cheney transition effort.” Quite a bargain, you might think; but the “limit” of $5,000 was little more than a gratuity, since the actual bill had already been paid. Kenneth Lay, known to George W. Bush as “Kenny-boy,” donated $310,500 to the Republican Party between 1998 and 2000, and raised approximately another $1 million from his firm—more than any other corporation. Lo and behold, Kenny-boy was promptly appointed to the Bush transition team as “an adviser to the energy department.” He was also one of the lucky thirty-two business leaders invited to “give their ideas” to the new president, and since Enron’s income depended on further deregulation of gas and electricity it requires little imagination to guess what Lay recommended.
Excerpt from “Voodoo Revisited” (Chapter 10 of Francis When’s excellent book “Idiot Proof”, 2004)