Unregulated Enterprises Turn Evil
By the definition of law, corporations have always possessed a level of personhood that has varied throughout the years. Governments sway back and forth with their understandings of the complex issues that define what a corporation is and does. If the answer was simple, we would have it by now.
Incorporation is granted to a group of humans who are engaged in some enterprise for the purposes of limiting individual liabilities, raising capital through the issuing of stock and entering into contracts. The corporation is granted the right to ‘own itself’ in a manner of speaking. In its own name it can hold title to land, possess capital, and be subject to liabilities. It is allowed to engage in the business that was cited in its Articles of Incorporation, although that ‘limitation’ may be extremely vague and inclusive. It may engage in all legal commerce activities. Although a corporation may indeed have only one single owner, it must have a governing body of humans in order to obtain consensus and shield the individual directors from liability of merely poor decisions that subject the corporation to a financial liability. A corporation cannot be incarcerated for violations of criminal law so humans within the corporation are still subject to criminal prosecution and incarceration for actions committed in the name of the corporation.
Initially a corporation is tabula rasa ready to be filled with whatever personalities and characteristic attributes that humans imbue it with. Once the process of filling the corporate mind begins, the corporation takes on that collective personality of the people who inhabit the small rooms in the labyrinth of corridors. Each human contributes a part of himself or herself to the characteristics of the corporation. Each human brings along with himself a baggage that at times makes the corporation better and sometimes worse as a part of the economic amalgam that exists in the real world.
Corporations may be used by the employees, manager and officers who have control over some part of the whole organism. At some point in the life of the corporation, it matures into the entity that it will forever be until it is dissolved, acquired or otherwise morphed into something else. Most for-profit corporations are indeed most interested in making profits to satisfy its own needs and the demands of investors who put up the capital to get in going. A corporation has no greater vision or ability to see than the people who are part of its structure.
This limitation on the ability to see is why we get such places as the Love Canal, the thousands of toxic Superfund cleanup sites, and massive Agri-business chemical runoff into the world’s waterways. Dealing properly with these wastes is a cost liability that detracts from the bottom line of profits. When they pollute and the government lets them, the human neighbors are powerless to stop them due to the size differences between the parties.
The behaviors of corporations are very much the same as individual humans when it comes to the handling of wastes. Both corporations and humans are completely willing to merely dump and ignore their wastes. Civil Engineering Professor, Donald Regan at Penn State University, taught many classes of students that the human natural guiding principle of waste management was ruled by Habit and Convenience. This of course is why we need government intervention and regulation. Left to their natural inclinations, a corporation will act just like a human and defecate in the water supply that others will want to drink. Sigmund Freud would probably have identified the corporate analogue of the Ego, Libido and Id had he been hired to analyze and report on such an endeavor. A corporation is very much an ego-centered entity. It defends itself against attack and attacks when cornered. It acts in its self interest and dismisses everything that is not beneficial to it.
Milton Friedman tried to quantify the economy as a self-regulating mathematical machine that responds to market forces placed on it by humans. He assumes that if the price is too high or the quality too low, humans will use their freedoms of choice and buy what they need somewhere else. In his economic model there never is a need to impose upon the market any regulations that would impede the natural prosperity that the market creates. It is too bad that the individual entities that constitute the supply-side of the market are corporations which will do anything it wants to generate its profits.
The corporate manufacturing model (mining, fishing and farming, too) are all predicated on the principle of obtaining its production goals with a minimum of labor costs. Corporations are not designed to maximize the gainful employment of lots of people. Every employee is a current liability (wages) and a future liability (pensioner) for the corporation. As each year goes by the future liabilities get larger and consume a greater portion of the earnings of the business. The mathematics of labor cost versus a reduction in the numbers of humans needed only functions within a narrow band of the economic function.
On one extreme of the employment-earnings graph there is near zero employment to create nearly all of the business’s income. On the other extreme, there is a huge requirement of labor to do the same production, but the profits are minimal. Somewhere in the middle is the proper ground for a balanced sustainable economic condition. While at the first extreme, there are maximum possible profits, the lack of employment make it difficulty for the corporation to actually sell their goods and services. With the low employment there is a need to subsidize the unemployed because although they are not being productive they still need to eat, sleep somewhere, etc. On the other extreme, nearly everyone is working but the cost of the goods and services is too high and sales go down. The relationship between the employment and the profits is a Bell Curve where the center point is the most desirable point to be.
Part of the problem is once there is a way to get the job done with only 2 humans laboring, there is no way to go back to needing 10 humans or 100 humans to get the job done. Stopping the innovation that makes less human labor necessary also makes little sense. Nobody would ever throw away the cotton gin and try to separate boles of cotton from the stems by hand. Similarly nobody would advocate fielding 1000s of low-wage workers to pick that cotton when one harvester operator can clear dozens of acres a day all by himself. The only problem to contend with is what do the 1000s of former cotton pickers do for employment?
The Socialist says feed them, clothe them, give them dwellings and medical care. The Capitalist says, they must adapt or die. When there is another job of similar skill requirements nearby, adaptation is a viable option. When that other job is 600 miles away, we are back to dying or social support to productive a solution. We cannot rely on the corporation because requiring them to provide support is regulation and interference with free-market principles. Collecting taxes to support them is Socialist and a dirty word. Therefore the Capitalist, free-market approach is for them to die. Corporations are completely comfortable with that sort of solution.
The corporations have been doing the exact same thing to humans all over the world for hundreds of years.
Where there are billions to be made in resource extraction enterprises such as oil from Canadian tar-sands and natural gas from hydraulic fracturing, evil will arise. In order for the tar-sand oil to reach US refineries it must be piped across many US States. With entry in North Dakota it must progress southward to the Gulf of Mexico. This type of oil resource is transported heated and is the most corrosive substance we move. The pipes must cross indigenous lands and major fresh waterways. Needless to say the population whose land is in the path of the pipes object to having their land and water compromised.
During their protests many “water defenders” were attacked by police and private security personnel to keep the construction going. The pipeline corporation asked for and received state government supports in the form of oppressing and aggressive policing. The impacts of oil leaks went from hypothetical to actual as part of the pipeline were placed into operation. Still the protestors are arrested, on their own land, and subjected to disproportionately harsh incarceration. The oil profits trump safety, and the risk to potable water down the entire Missouri-Mississippi River system.
Many states have been acquiescing to corporate demands to make protesting of their actions illegal.
Every hydraulic fracturing well head needs to have a pipeline come to it to move the gas to collection and aggregation sites. A land owner who opposes the fracking in the neighborhood is becoming inundated with new rules which grant private corporations the power of Eminent Domain to take private property and run their pipes across the adjoining land.
Eminent Domain is supposed to be the power of a government to take private land for the public good. It was never designed as a corporate tool to do what they want to their neighbors. The City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania pioneered the use of Eminent Domain to clear land for a private corporation. The city took about 40 properties in the Market Square area of the downtown so that PPG Industries could build a collection of glass office towers. The argument was the taking of the property and giving it to PPG was in the public interest since the results would allegedly bring a higher land use and higher tax revenues and employment to the city.
In this Internet Age we see the results of not having adequate control of such corporations as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Twitter. While each of these monopolistic enterprises do provide some positive services to the public, they also engage in practices which are hugely damaging to society in general and their customers, specifically. Sales of user data increases the intrusion of other enterprises into their lives. Unchecked content leads to tacit approval of lucrative misinformation campaigns. “Good” players abide by long established rules and decorum. “Bad” players seek to profit from and exercise control over people’s lives.
At the same time Twitter announces a total ban on political advertising on its global social media platform, Facebook makes new policies which not only allow it but encourage political candidates to buy some of the most egregious and false advertising content.
It is interesting that Google’s early motto was “Don’t Be Evil”. What ever happened to the sentiment?