In an effort to maintain full disclosure, the genesis for this post was my recent viewing of Michael Moore’s documentary film Capitalism: A Love Story. I had been wanting to see this film for quite some time, but finally got around to it. To those who are unfamiliar with his style of filmmaking, judge for yourself here. His style is meant to tug at your heartstrings, but it should also get you thinking. In the past few years, I’ve also viewed Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Food, Inc., Gasland, and The Corporation If you can’t tell by now, I’m becoming somewhat skeptical of the motives of those who pursue higher profit margins at the expense of… well… anything else.
The thing that gives me the greatest desire to reflect on the influence in the corporation of the free market enterprise capitalist society in which we live was pointed out in the film The Corporation. According to statistics provided by the filmmaker, the greatest number of cases presented to uphold the 14th Amendment were to establish the “personhood” of corporations. The fact that the greatest application of the 14th Amendment was for the creation of corporations gives me chills as a black person. The filmmaker goes on to make the case (quite convincingly) that this “person” is then in fact a sociopath. The greatest problem I have with unfettered capitalism is that, in the absence of controls and/or regulation
all many some corporations act only to increase profit margins for its board of directors and shareholders and with little or no concern for the PEOPLE who consume their products, live in the communities where their products are produced and/or sold, or are adversely affected by the decisions they make. It’s the classic case of representing the interests of the FEW to the detriment of the MANY. Even human beings have been commodified. We have we seen this before in the brutality of the slave trade in this country. The sad fact is that this country was built in large part due to the economic gains of the slave trade. We even find it in the human trafficking that is so rampant and prevalent in sexual exploitation and forced labor even today. But, not in corporations, right?
The problem is that when the bottom line is making the most money possible for the least amount of resources (human, capital, natural), that the drive is to continue to maximize profits and reduce the price of inputs at ALL costs. Human capital (labor) gets lumped in with all the other inputs and isn’t looked at any differently than the other materials needed to continue to drive profits higher. When profit margins are the ONLY thing valued, how the resources are gathered, used, and discarded is of no consequence. It’s all about the pursuit of the “almighty dollar.”
Herein lies the problem. If profits are pursued without regard for the natural, human or other resources used to produce goods or services, or the communities affected by these goods or services, the “person” known as the corporation has lost or sold its soul (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25). Let’s be honest, here any reasonable person knows that a corporation is not a person, no matter what the Supreme Court would have you to believe. So what does that leave us with, then?
What we have is groups of people (boards of directors) of major corporations who are acting in a sociopathic manner. What does it matter if people are dying in a war if we can sell our services to the military that is engaged in fighting this war? So what if drinking water is damaged if we are able to glean and sell natural gas at a cheaper rate? Who really cares that hogs, poultry, and cattle are grown in confined spaces where disease and death run rampant if we can get our brats, eggs, and burgers at insanely cheap prices?
So what are we left with? The unfortunate truth is that we are all complicit in the excesses of our free market capitalist society. We are voting with our choices. The politicians we send to congress who arrive to Washington, DC and find themselves in a cloud of lobbyists and political action committees set up to represent the interests of the few, when they only want to represent their constituents. The stores we shop at who view their employees as nothing more than inputs in their grand scheme to lower the bottom line and increase profits (see here). Is this economic system even salvageable? Is it even worth saving? Have its tentacles become so entrenched in every aspect of American society that to abandon it would have disastrous effects?
The answer lies with the people and their response to what has happened and is happening before our eyes. I can’t do it alone. You can’t do it alone. Your senator, representative, mayor, city councilperson, etc can’t do it alone. It’s going to take US standing together and making our voices heard so that those who represent us truly do stand for US. That “We the People” found in the preamble to the Constitution is truly powerful. It only works, however, when WE the people come together. Not Democrats or Republicans, not liberals or conservatives, but WE the people.
The “Occupy” movements that started in pockets across the country are a frustrated consumer base looking for something more than the lies we’ve been sold for so long. Corporations can seek to increase profits AND look out for the best interest of its consumers. Heads of corporations can do what’s in the best interest of shareholders AND the consumers at large. Consumers can choose to shop at stores which have low prices AND produce goods which are not detrimental to the communities in which we live. It’s not an either/or proposition. It only truly works when we recognize it as a both/and situation.
It won’t be easy. It may not be cheap. It probably will be uncomfortable for some, impossible for others, but if we use our dollars and SENSE to make choices which are in OUR collective best interest(s), the corporations will have no choice but to listen. We must NOT allow ourselves to stay oppressed, divided and conquered. We must, however….