Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Corporation


This documentary gets off to a good start, and ends well, but the middle is a muddle. This is partly because it’s too long. 2 1/2 hours is too much for a documentary. The other part is that it strays from its thesis and wanders around talking about corporate atrocities that are not new to me or to anybody who is informed.

The main thrust, and what they should have stuck to, is the explanation of how a corporation came to be defined as a legal “person” (it was not always that way; that novel idea was created by a Supreme Court ruling — Plessy vs. Ferguson? — based on the 14th amendment, which was meant to deal with slavery … and talk about your judicial activism!), and the proposition that, as a person, any corporation would be diagnosed by a psychiatrist as psychopathic. Not just the obvious bad apples like Enron; all corporations, no matter how well managed, no matter how many public works they do. They make a compelling case. All corporations, by law, must aim at one thing and one thing only: profit.

The film is not simplistic about this. It recognizes that corporations are often the best way to get things done, that they are mighty engines of commerce, and they don’t try to say that other systems — Soviet or Chinese collectivism, for instance — work better. But by their nature they cannot think ahead, cannot control their impulses, cannot make a decision according to the most basic principles of right and wrong that any non-psychopathic human being knows deep in his gut.

What it is saying is that there must be more accountability, not exclusively on either a personal or a corporate level, but in both cases. And, when a corporation has become totally toxic, it should be dismantled, before it wrecks lives or the environment. This is possible, legally, by the way, but I don’t think it has ever happened. The corporations pay too much money into the campaign funds of the Attorneys General who would bring such an action under laws governing state corporate charters.

I don’t know how to do any of this without stifling the economy, but after seeing how corporations are currently patenting every sequence in the human genome, and how Bechtel bought all the water in a Bolivian town, including what fell from the sky, such that it was illegal to put out a bucket and gather rainwater … well, anybody with an IQ above the freezing point has to see that some controls and reforms are needed.

I did have an intriguing thought. Human institutions evolve, just like animals, whether they be artistic, governmental, or corporate. People forget that evolution is not always the same as progress. It’s not an unbroken line from primitive unicellular organisms to that most evolved creature on the planet: i.e., me. Mistakes are made (George W Bush), blind alleys are entered (neo-conservatism). Creatures evolve into dead ends and die out. The difference is that human institutions can be guided in their evolution. I think current corporate law provides for the evolution of mammoths, and we know what happened to them. But an elephant is a great and glorious creature. Useful, docile. We like elephants. But nobody advocates letting them run wild and free in schoolyards. Think of corporations as elephants. Maybe we can make a smarter, more efficient, more controllable, environmentally-friendly elephant. Worth a shot.