Mark Osborn reviews The Corporation by Joel Bakan
“The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power” is the subtitle of The Corporation, a new film and book, released in the UK at the end of October.
The book’s author points out that corporations have similar legal rights to human beings and asks: if corporations are like people, what sort of people are they? He concludes that, as they are legally obliged to put the interests of shareholders first, and place profits above all else — a pathological compulsion — the corporation is a psychopath!
For example, General Motors knowingly put a fuel tank in a dangerous, potentially lethal position in their Malibu car. GM had done a calculation that the design fault would cause 500 deaths and cost millions in compensation — but it was a relatively small cost as against the money it would take to fix the problem.
The film of the book weighs in at a whopping 2.5 hours — a little long for this reviewer’s backside, and a little long for the material too.
The first third of the film discusses the corporation-as-psychopath theory with historical footage and a few examples. The rest of the film is really a long list of corporations’ bad behaviour: environmental damage, sweatshop production and various types of illegal activity. The best bit is a section where two Fox TV journalists tell the story of their detailed investigation into how cattle in the US are being injected with drugs that produce harmful side-effects for both cows and humans. The story was pulled because Fox stood to lose millions and millions of dollars in advertising revenue.
There are problems with this film, however. The US radicals who made the film are anti-corporate but really clueless about what should be done. The film is probably telling a layer of people who are not well-disposed towards corporations that they are right; and not much else. And it ends with Michael Moore urging us to, “just do something”. Something? Anything? Couldn’t we get more specific?
The makers dislike the profit-drive but the film does not discuss where profits come from.
And, while there are some nice exchanges between left and right, between bosses and their apologists, and campaigners, there are no workers speaking on film. This is radicalism without any notion of working-class agency or class struggle. And that’s a serious omission.
There is a short DVD version (18 mins) of The Corporation for campaigners. For a copy email Tom: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To order a copy of the book at the special price of £7.99 incl p&p (rrp £9.99) call 01206 255 800 and quote “No Sweat”. The offer is open to the UK only and ends 29 November.