We The People Vs The Business Corporations -- Who Is The Sovereign?

by James F. Berry

 
It could never be clearer than it is today that our society, our government, our nation are greatly injured by the corruption of corporation money. That money is expended in a successful effort to control elections, write legislation, win undeserved subsidies, gain practically free access to water, air, forests, grazing lands, and minerals, subvert officialdom, escape regulation and avoid punishment for harms done. In 1993 a group of Washington DC lawyers, The Alliance for Justice, published a manual entitled JUSTICE FOR SALE, Shortchanging the Public Interest For Private Gain. The Executive Summary concludes that "a powerful coalition of business groups and ideologically -compatible foundations (are) engaged in a multi-faceted, comprehensive, and integrated campaign to elevate corporate profits and private wealth over social justice and individual rights as the cornerstones of our legal process." Clearer than it has ever been before is the fact that the principal results of the work we do, is not to forward the interests of the human community and the Earth process but to augment the wealth and power of the already powerful wealthy. A few amass for themselves what properly is needed for and should be used to sustain many.
Several books and other types of publication listed at the end of this essay reveal the extent to which citizens have lost control over the government to forces threatening its foundations. Our government and the constitution which establishes it assign sovereignty, exercised through democratic processes, to the people. But sovereignty, in fact, is, today, heavily weighted to favor corporations. The fact that corporation money pays election costs and that corporate lobbying succeeds in getting favorable legislation passed is a nationally recognized scandal. In truth, wealth and privilege have always prevailed in this nation. (See Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States). But we have now come to the stage where corporation lawyers sit with congressional committees and lead the writing of proposed legislation. Their drive to render ineffective all efforts to preserve the purity of water and air make it plain that corporate interests are directly pitted against community interests, human and non-human. We are presented with a mystery. Corporate executives are human beings with human concerns about the well-being of their children and the community. But corporations demand the end to clean air and clean water protections anyway. They fight regulations that increase production costs no matter what their purpose. This strategy supports a conclusion that these managers are not really managers at all but simply attendants whose decisions are pre-ordained by the requirement that short term money profit be maximized at all costs. When the bottom line rules from day to day and investors must realize profits immediately, long term good sense must be ignored. Indeed, those activist citizens who ask that society behave in such a way as to protect life and assure the long term prosperity of Earth and its systems are called eco-terrorists and demonized by highly paid sycophants in service to the powerful.
Corporations are the enemy of life. As I have been saying for many years, they are committed to death . What else can be said about forces which propose that we are better off without pure water and air, without rich and fertile soil; without wildness and without trees; without diversity of life, without flourishing oceans; without a healthy Earth. One asks how this situation can be. The explanation lies in the fact that the news media and the entertainment industry, image-makers and opinion-molders, are the property of the same corporations which profit from sales produced by advertising foisted on a curiously innocent and gullible public. Misleading salesmanship pollutes and poisons every channel of communication and tragically reaches even into the classroom. The beautiful people, athletes and movie stars, are nothing more than billboards, money-hungry puppets.
But not only have the corporations bought the media and the entertainment world they have abandoned the presentation of virtue as a guide for living in favor of a materialistic, hedonistic, consuming, constantly shopping life style. It has been truly said that good people are known by the fewness and bad people by the multiplicity of their needs,. Salesmanship, promoting acquisition of unneeded things augments growth in the numbers of bad people. Maybe not so much "bad" people, but people fallen away from the virtues of austerity and simplicity. The outcry against the current does not indict sponsors of and profiteers from those programs but blames them. In line with corporate practice: convict the victim of the crime.
Ecological activists (Earth First! is the best example) who lie down in front of the bulldozers to raise public awareness of the enormous harm being done by the giveaway of the national forests to the timber industry do not meet with appreciation. They are portrayed as terrorists; they are spied upon, harassed and arrested by the FBI. These activists, the finest examples of our youth are the subject of lies; they are called saboteurs, bums, pot-heads, drug pushers. The truth is: no parent could wish for more admirable sons and daughters. ( I am proud to have such a granddaughter.) The timber industry ought to be the objects of our contempt, not these brave young people seeking to preserve the nation's richest heritage. 
The corporation PR effort is directed toward establishing an image of itself as a sort of fairy Godfather, a virtual Santa Claus straining every effort to bring good things into our lives. "We are the good guys" they tell us; "we want you to be happy; we make big sacrifices toward that end." At the same time they tell us that government is corrupt, forcing unneeded regulation on them, that it is run by incompetent and dishonest bureaucracies, contemptuous of ordinary people. Thus corporations plant in the public mind a picture of benign and efficient business battling incompetent government bent on cheating the public. Private enterprise, they lecture, is efficient and trustworthy while public institutions are badly run, wasteful, and uncaring. The truth of the matter is just the opposite. Government bureaucracy, since the long-ago reform of the civil service, is generally pretty well run by honest public servants while private industry has a generous complement of criminals, cheaters, liars and incompetents. Scandal is common, fraud is notorious. Criminal behavior is not uncommon. Consider the ongoing story of Union Carbide; consider catastrophic oil spills; consider tobacco and beer marketing. Who should get off who's back? It's business that rides the backs of our children whose minds we are so foolish as to turn over to them forty hours a week. 
While comparing government performance to that of private industry let us not neglect the question of human rights. An employee of government, local, state and federal, has access to the Bill of Rights; his/her appeals against the boss are listened to; job security is real. One who works for private industry (except for those in strong unions rapidly decreasing in number!) has no rights. If you work for a business enterprise, kiss good-bye to free speech, freedom from search and seizure, freedom of assembly, protection from self-incrimination, freedom from double jeopardy, the right to due process. Industry can discharge any worker, any time for any reason or for no reason. If workers insist on the right to free speech, for instance, in seeking to unionize the work force, they will almost certainly be fired the instant management finds out. And it is not at all unlikely that the courts will support management. 
A corporation is free to move with little thought for its disruption of the local community and the suffering of its employees. Short term money profit is the only consideration management feels obliged to recognize. There is nothing compelling about the ethics of business behavior. After all, business operations are conducted in a "value free" climate, i.e., beyond the reach of morality or ethics. But, if one were to lay out a code to prescribe the proper obligations of the business world, it would have to include something along these lines: The fruits of Earth are owed to the inhabitants of Earth. These fruits are to be taken from Earth by a collaboration of capital, management and labor for which capital, management, labor and Earth earn remuneration in proportions that satisfy the needs of each. But management has control. Too often they refuse labor its fair share and nearly always dismiss as irrelevant the obligation to return anything to Earth. Earth is an "externality" (i.e., free for the taking) in business economics. The principle of reciprocity governs, or ought to govern, all human activity. Give back to Earth what is needed to restore it. 
Long ago this nation decided that private enterprise was the best way through which to actualize the production and distribution of the fruits of the land. And that may well have been the right way to do it when business was local and small. But modern financial business practices of giant international conglomerates are destroying community, robbing pension funds, randomly moving jobs, wiping out the small in favor of the giants; sending thousands into the ranks of the unemployed often without insurance and pensions. Altogether it must be concluded that the business world dominated by major corporations is destroying the economic security of a huge section of our population. Read America: What Went Wrong. 
The core message of this short essay is this: The way business is practiced in the United States by modern industrial, and financial corporations works directly against the long range interests of the people, the animals, and the land. The intention of the chartering and the licensing of corporations is to secure, over the long term, public well-being and the common good. The aim must be wise use of labor and resources for the benefit of the entire community of life. The facts are that labor and resources are used foolishly, even criminally, for the benefit of an elite few. If the corporations are permitted to write our laws, strongly influence our courts, organize and direct our work, dispose of our resources, and if they own and operate our communications media and our entertainment industry, all in pursuit of greater power and riches for themselves, we are lost. 
We, the people, must see to it that government works for the well-being of the life system including all its components; must see to it that our land, our labor and our resources are used wisely in pursuit of the common good. Wisdom is the essential ingredient, wisdom combined with a generous portion of neighborly love, and a sense of community that includes the entire life system. We must disempower the corporations, control our affairs in the interests of the community we belong to on the principle that a thing is right when it supports the integrity, stability and beauty of the life system and its wrong otherwise.   ###

 
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