On the CORPO front, we float a flurry of wild ideas to trip up corporate America, catch it flat-footed . . . and strike a beautiful new people-first power balance!
One of the first things to do is pick out the most heinous corporate criminal in the world. Vote below for which of the “dirty dozen” you think we should wipe out first!
A corporation has no heart, no soul, no morals. It cannot feel pain. You cannot argue with it. That’s because a corporation is not a living thing but a process — an efficient way of generating revenue. It takes energy from the outside (capital, labor, raw materials) and transforms it in various ways. In order to continue “living” it need meet only one condition: its income must equal its expenditures over the long term. As long as that happens it can exist indefinitely.
When a corporation hurts people or damages the environment, it will feel no sorrow or remorse because it is intrinsically unable to do so. (It may sometimes apologize, but that’s not remorse — that’s public relations.) Buddhist scholar David Loy put it this way: “A corporation cannot laugh or cry; it cannot enjoy the world or suffer with it. Most of all a corporation cannot love.” That’s because corporations are legal fictions. Their “bodies” are just judicial constructs, and that is why they are so dangerous.
We demonize corporations for their unwavering pursuit of growth, power and wealth. Yet let’s face it: they’re simply carrying out genetic orders. It’s exactly what they were designed — by us — to do! That’s why trying to rehabilitate a corporation, to urge it to behave more responsibly, is pointless. The only way to change the behavior of a corporation is to recode it, rewrite its charter, change its DNA.
I’m old enough to remember when the first supermarket came to my neighborhood in Adelaide, Australia, and ran the local butcher out of business. Weeks later I saw him walking into that store. He was working there now, in the meat department. On one level he was probably glad to have a job. But the new terms were written on his face. He looked so sad. The before-and-after moment in this man’s life mirrored the before-and-after moment in my neighborhood, and in the wider world.
It’s obvious now that we made a grave system error. We sold the farm in the name of efficiency and “progress.” We siphoned off the social glue of our neighborhoods.
We sold off all our little stores, our lifeblood, our sense of community, in exchange for cheap prices.
What a trade-off.
To this day, economists have yet to calculate the
social and psychological costs of a Walmart coming to
town, of Alphabet owning Internet searches, of Meta commanding people-to-people communication and Amazon monopolizing online commerce.
So let’s undo this catastrophic blunder. In addition to The 25% Rule, let’s also impose A Size Tax on corporations — a progressive levy they must pay once they grow beyond a valuation that We the People decide is the max.
With this one, simple stroke capitalism will be upended. Small will be beautiful again. Neighborhood bakers, grocers, and hardware stores will spring back to life. Cities will churn with new energy. The internet will be a more diverse and
fun place to go to.
But classical economists and business leaders will be horrified.
They will denounce the Size Tax as a crazy, bass- ackwards idea not even worth considering. So is turning in the direction of a skid — but it works.
Today Google controls 90% of Internet searches. Amazon commands more than half of online purchases. Five corporations handle a quarter of the world’s oil. Seven grain traders supply half the world’s food. Most industries are more clotted today than in the time of the robber barons. Airlines, telecom, banking, pharma, hospitals, agribusiness, waste management: a handful of big players dominate them all.
How can we live dignified, independent lives knowing that the food we eat, the coffee we drink, the medicines we take, the news we consume and the internet we spend so much time on, are each controlled by a handful of mega-corporations?
We’re caught in a maddening, demeaning, insufferable situation, unworthy of freedom-loving people.
Bust them up!
Except you can’t. If you threaten their supremacy in any way, swarms of lawyers, lobbyists and million dollar PR campaigns are immediately deployed to restore order. They spin irresistible “consumer welfare” stories that are almost impossible for civil society to counter.
And mergers are hardly ever turned down. Antitrust laws are useless. We’ve tried this experiment for decades and no one thinks it’s working.
Let’s face it: governments will never dissolve mega-corporations.
It’s up to us!
We, the citizens of the world must make a blanket commitment: We don’t want corporations to dominate us. In every corner of our lives, we will support the “creative destruction” of every mega- company that has too much power.
One tantalizingly simple way to wrest back some of our sovereignty is to pass a law that prohibits any corporation from having more than 25% of the market share in any industry.
One quarter. That’s all you get!
The deal for investors used to be: Enjoy your company’s profits, but if the firm makes mistakes and causes harm, the cleanup is on you. As part-owner, you are responsible. That’s the way it worked — risk it for the biscuit — until the mid-19th century.
Then came a landmark legal decision that shielded shareholders from personal liability for corporate missteps. This was rocket fuel for stock markets. Suddenly investors could shoot for the moon without worrying about future fallout. If a tanker runs aground or a chlorine plant blows up, or an ecosystem crashes, or rising seas start washing away cities, it’s not your problem.
For everyone else and the planet, shareholder immunity has been a disaster.
Why don’t we break this racket up?
Let’s rewrite the laws so that shareholders are liable again. Oil spill? Poison in the food chain? Opioid epidemic? Lying about carbon emissions? Get your check book out, it’s time to settle the accounts.
Financial markets, and indeed our whole business culture, will heave. Investors will immediately drop toxic stocks. They’ll put their money into companies with healthier, more ethical cultures. Ones with strong environmental track records, no human-rights abuses, or rumors of executive misconduct.
Shareholders will be grounded.
Of all the memes we’re proposing, this one might be the hardest sell. I can hear the pushback already: You freakin’ idiots — Investors will vanish. Stocks tumble. Commerce grind to a halt!
Shareholder immunity is so baked into our current business model people can’t even imagine it disappearing.
Well, imagine it.
These days, when a group of directors decides to bring a corporation into being, they lawyer up, draft a Certificate of Incorporation, file it at the Attorney General’s office in the state of their choice and wait for the approval that automatically follows. Some states offer special incentives. Delaware offers freedom from liability, protection from unwanted takeovers, and complete anonymity of ownership (especially for offshore companies). It also funnels corporate disputes into a “Court of Chancery” where no juries are allowed. Today, nearly half of all US corporations are registered in Delaware, and 70% of the Fortune 500.
The process by which We the People grant the privilege of existence to corporations has become a formality, a rubber-stamp job, a farce.
Now let’s turn it back to what it used to be: a negotiation.
We the People hold all the power. We can refuse to grant a charter, amend or remove clauses, and add any provisions, requirements, demands and restrictions we deem necessary.
We can include a legally binding Corporate Code of Conduct that spells out the basic norms and values that the corporation must adhere to.
We can add a Transparency Clause that requires the corporation to be open to the public in everything it does; an Ecological Clause that instructs the corporation to be ecologically responsible in everything it does; a Penalty Clause that obliges the corporation to take full responsibility and financial redress for any social, environmental, or financial harms it causes. And we can include a Review Clause that tells the corporation it will be subject to a compliance audit of its charter obligations every five years.
We the People can make it clear to corporations that their right to exist is a privilege that We the People grant.
You exist on our terms.