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Jonty Langley

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Picking Sides: Corporations v Democracy

Posted: 07/12/11 17:44

Christians and the rest of us need to realise that there is a choice to be made between corporate power and real democracy.

The Corporation has much to answer for. Not one corporation in particular (and not the excellent documentary of the same name), but the institution - some would say the dominant institution of our society. It has become so natural to think of corporations having more wealth and influence than nation states that it has become the starting point, rather than the punchline, for jokes, books, films and the spotty dystopias of graphic novels.

From horrors like the Bhopal chemical disaster to the mineral-fuelled violence in eastern Congo, global sweatshops, child labour and more oil-spills than any of us can remember, the damage the corporation inflicts is often attributed to individual incompetency or evil. But it is the structure of the corporation itself, and the way our society has become oriented around serving this one type of organisation, that is to blame.

The reasons are simple: corporations, unlike public institutions and charities, exist to make profit for shareholders. That's fine. Just as sex and food are fine, but as twisted or excessive focus on them is not, so an exclusive focus on profit will make any organisation ignore things that are more important like worker welfare, the interests of communities and moral or environmental concerns.

Corporations are legally 'persons', famously described as having no soul to save and no body to incarcerate. The real humans working for them are just cogs, relatively free from blame for anything a corporation might do. Even CEOs are bound by their legal responsibility to shareholders. The moral vacuum in which corporations must theoretically operate is reflected in their attitude to the world. Infinite growth (obviously impossible to an actual human being) is pursued as if it is attainable without doing damage to society - even a society seen only in economic terms. Wages are forced down, costs to the environment or society are 'externalised', competitors are destroyed, people are laid off, taxes that pay for social goods are avoided and evaded and citizens are turned by advertising into consumers, their anxieties played upon to make a profit. Those with money are infected with a consuming madness that sees them buy and throw away products at an alarming rate, while those without are expected to be grateful that they have a slave-wage job in an outsourced factory, all in the service of the corporate bottom line.

Through advertising, PR, economists educated within corporate capitalism and a political and media class with vested interests, the public are told it is the best model. And it is, for a limited number of shareholders. But that number must necessarily be limited. In the harsh game of global corporate capitalism, only a few can be winners. What trickles down to the rest is propaganda, bread and circuses.

The corporation is hard to kill (as hard as it is to revoke an individual corporate charter) and as hard to control as a hungry lion. Even within a system that was designed to make rich and poor equal like democracy. Because it is a threat to democracy too.

Parties of both the left and right are addicted to campaign contributions from big business and to the support of newspapers and media outlets also owned by multinational corporations. The hand that feeds politicians also holds their leash. How can those we elect challenge the corporation's power (not to destroy it, but to control it for the good of all) if this continues?

How can they challenge corporations who, as last week's Times revealed, avoid tax through legal loopholes, when those corporations hold a gun to the head of our economy and own newspapers who will deride and demonize any challenge to the status quo? What meaningful changes will such democratic representatives even moot?

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and principalities of this dark world. Democracy is just one tool to do that, but it is a powerful one, for the moment. Let's pray, defend, vote and work against the darkness. And when people with the best intentions suggest a shrinking of democratic government in favour of the corporate sector, let's reject that and choose people over profits.


First printed in the fine newspaper that was The Baptist Times.

 

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