Ping (zestyping) wrote,

The Corporation.

I went to see The Corporation tonight with my friend B. It far exceeded my expectations. When i saw the preview in front of Super-Size Me, i was interested in seeing it, but i expected a typical diatribe against globalization, capitalism, and cooperation. It turned out to be much more well-made than i had expected, and while there were a lot of the usual complaints expressed in the film, it was presented in a snappy, engaging way. In particular, the interviewees were widely varied — several CEOs spoke to us on camera with a variety of viewpoints, some of which were worthy of sympathy. I really liked the fact that the filmmakers didn't cut opportunities to see things from both sides, and made the point that it's not the people in corporations that are evil; it's the institution of how we set up corporations.

Although it's only playing in the Bay Area right now, it will soon be playing across the country, which is great news.

Here are some thoughts i had after watching the movie. I welcome your feedback.
  1. I have generally thought that the free market, competition, and corporations are good tools and see the appeal of libertarian ideals, but consider libertarians a bit naive for brushing off externalities as an exception. Now i understand that externalities are much more than an exception: for corporations, they are the rule. Corporations are specifically incentivized to become engines of externality maximization. It is this externality maximization that yields considerable detriment to the nation and its public.
  2. Brands are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they are a primary source of consumer trust and an organization's reputation, which is essential to promoting good behaviour. On the other hand, they are probably the most powerful anti-competition tool in the hands of corporations outside of the software industry.
  3. If corporations have so many of the rights of people, they should also be prosecutable like people. That is to say, the state should be able to incarcerate corporations. If we put people in jail for 5 or 10 years for extortion or fraud, we should be able to suspend the privileges of corporations for 5 to 10 years for similar crimes. And if we sentence people to life in prison for murder, we should be able to revoke corporate charters in similar situations. The way i'd like to see it work is that if a corporation is convicted of a serious crime, the corporate charter is revoked, all the company's intellectual property reverts to the public domain, and all the company's assets are sold and used to support the employees at 80% of the lowest salary for some period of time or until they can find other jobs. This may sound harsh, but it would give every employee an incentive to make sure the corporation is proceeding ethically and responsibly. It would also motivate the corporation to reduce the gap between the highest and lowest salaries.
Perhaps you may feel that it is unfair to punish the individuals in a company for emergent behaviours of the company that individual employees cannot understand or predict. But that is precisely what must be done, for it is these emergent behaviours that are the true culprit. If a corporate entity as a whole commits a crime, then the corporate entity as a whole must be held accountable and punished. If this means that companies beyond a certain size face nearly inevitable conviction because they are too large to remain well-behaved, then managers and directors will be forced to observe this fact and strategically limit the sizes of their companies. Under the threat of conviction, big companies would start breaking up into ethically manageable sizes rather than profitably manageable sizes. It doesn't make sense to directly legislate a maximum size because it's the effect of the corporation that matters, not its size: if someone figures out how to structure a company or develop a corporate culture that maintains ethics while it grows and creates more jobs, they should be rewarded.

There are two issues in the movie for which my thoughts and opinions differ from the liberal mainstream, and i'm curious to hear your comments.
  1. Everybody complains about sweatshops. But i don't quite get it. Sure, it's bad if companies create unsafe working conditions or deceive their workers. But most of the time (and in this movie) the complaint is specifically that the wages are too low. Suppose there's a company that shows up in Bangladesh and offers to hire people to work at 10 cents an hour in safe, reasonable conditions. What is wrong with that? If the employees freely choose to work for a company because it is the best way for them to support themselves, then that sounds like a net benefit, even if the wages seem low by our local standards.
  2. The audience reaction was clearly negative when one of the interviewees suggested assigning exchangeable pollution credits to polluting companies. I don't understand that either. Assigning monetary value to things isn't inherently bad; trade and markets aren't inherently bad. Giving companies a real reason to pollute less, in the language of money that they understand best, actually seems like a good strategy to me.
Also: this note speaks volumes about corporate ethics.
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