A good many socially minded Americans have invested some energy working in opposition to one corporation or another. Perhaps it is to curb a potential abuse or bring about some remedy for past harms: to clean up a toxic waste site, to stop a harmful mining operation, or to prevent road building or logging in an old growth forest. If the campaign succeeds there’s good cause for happy, hopeful celebration. Yet, after the immediate elation passes, so many other issues seem to say nothing has really changed. The essential powers granted to corporations that allow them to ravage public lands, to pollute the air, land and water, to privatize and plunder publicly held resources, remain solidly entrenched beyond the control of the people. We spin our wheels, dissipating our common pool of energy battling a host of staggering abuses one by one.
With each new generation, we seem to move further away from the memory that human society created corporations to serve human needs. They were granted specific rights and privileges, for a limited time, corresponding to the purposes for which they were created. In other words, the people defined the existence of corporations, not the other way around. Members of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) have authored a collection of essays, manifestos and letters entitled Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy, to revive the lost awareness of the fundamental constitutional authority of “natural persons” over corporate economic enterprises.
In the introduction, the authors explain that they have no intention of starting another large membership organization, but instead hope to inspire the members of the myriad organizations that already exist: “We are looking for people to invest time, energy and resources challenging judicial doctrines dealing with the commerce clause, (corporate) personhood, the business judgment rule, the prudent man rule, managerial prerogative, and corporate property rights. People who fancy extending the Bill of Rights to employees on company grounds; amending state corporation codes to end limited liability and to ban corporations from owning other corporations; excluding business corporations and their trade associations from elections, law-making, education and public debate over community values, legal philosophy and policy.”
If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, it need not be. I won’t suggest that I understand everything in this book, far from it. My comprehension of these issues is probably not much different from the average American. The first step is in trying to understand how even one of these categories affects our lives and our perceptions of how things are. The next step is to share our insights among friends. Next, well, I guess we breathe and concentrate on making it a more functional world for everyone.
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,
by Greg Palast
Los Angeles-born Greg Palast is the investigative journalist who broke the story on how the 2000 U.S. presidential election was stolen. His story made front-page news in England. In his new book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Palast reveals the details he uncovered in his investigation of Florida governor Jeb Bush’s illegal purging of tens of thousands of American citizens (mostly Democrats and African Americans) from the Florida voter rolls. Often guided in his investigations by anonymously sent, “smoking gun” documents, Palast sheds light on the inner workings of the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and other institutions of the global economy. The book also includes an in-depth discussion with Nobel laureate and former chief economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz. Additionally, among a wide array of other articles, there are investigations into the power blackouts during California’s experiment with energy deregulation and into Wal-Mart’s labor policies in the United States and abroad.
Palast, one of the world’s foremost investigative reporters, has been uncovering the inner workings of the global economy for decades. In the mid 1970s, he studied economics “as a scholarship kid at the University of Chicago.” There, he writes, “I witnessed the birth of the New World Globalization Order.” He’d worked his way into a postgraduate seminar of Milton Friedman’s (an influential Reagan–era economist) “and into a strange clique, which later became known as the ‘Chicago Boys.’” At the time, he worked for the head of the United Electrical Workers Union, in the basement of the union hall, “grinding through account books of U.S. corporations.” Over the years, Palast has negotiated contracts for the United Steel Workers Union, helped found a consumer rights organization in Peru, and helped create an alliance linking Enron workers in Brazil and India. In 1988, Palast directed a government investigation of an American nuclear power plant builder in which the jury awarded the largest racketeering penalty in U.S. history.
Palast has become known as one of America’s foremost experts on government regulation. Yet it was not until five years ago that he decided to turn his understanding of economics and his investigative skills to journalism. When that decision came about, he was working for the Chugach natives of Alaska investigating the breakup of the Exxon Valdez. He writes, “Our team quickly discovered the oil spill was no accident: Before the tanker’s grounding, Exxon shut off the ship’s radar to save money and a British Petroleum affiliate had faked the safety equipment reports.” (His investigation is covered in detail in the book.) Out in a kayak on the Prince William Sound, Palast realized that no matter how loud he screamed nobody would hear him. Palast is now an investigative journalist at the London-based Guardian and Observer, and is regularly featured on the BBC’s Newsnight radio program.