Corporateeering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom And What You Can Do About It By Jamie Court New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2003; $24.95 See http://www.corporateering.org/
The pernicious infiltration of corporations over every aspect of our lives, including the language we use (the oxymoronic term “corporate citizenship,” for instance has been introduced into common parlance without much debate), has caused a number of activists to attempt a comprehensive description of the domination of corporations over our society.
The most serious foray yet into this kind of linguistic invention comes from Jamie Court, the executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, who defines corporateer as both a verb meaning “to prioritize commerce over culture” and a noun describing the person who does so. Court’s book is a useful dissection and deconstruction of the means by which corporations have come to dominate our culture.
It’s obvious that corporations are the dominant institutions in society. What’s not so obvious is how the invisible hand of the corporation is at work picking our pockets and stealing our various freedoms and why we seem to be indifferent or powerless when we wake up to that fact. Court traces this dynamic to the spread of market ideology and the growing influence of corporations over other institutions that, until a few decades ago, were almost entirely independent of corporate influence. He uses examples from his nearly two decades of consumer activism to demonstrate how corporations have reduced our individual freedom of privacy, personal security, legal recourse (e.g. through binding arbitration), freedom of association, of the press, of intellectual property, and of speech.
But rather than give us a tiresome list of many different problems traceable to the dominance of corporations, he analyzes the ways that corporate interests frame these issues in order to obscure them. When we adopt the notion that the market is society, then the corporation can intrude in virtually all aspects of our lives because it is the market’s dominant agent. So much of the corporateering process has occurred without debate or second thought that it is probably best described as a subtle form of colonization. And that process is so pervasive and in our face -- the average person, for example, experiences 16,000 corporate advertisements daily -- that, as one editor told Court when he ran the idea for his book by her, “Corporations are not impacting culture, they are culture.”
Certain sections of the book, particularly those dealing with consumer rip-offs and how to fight back – are most useful because they draw upon Court’s experiences battling on behalf of consumer rights in California – e.g. fighting the HMOs. His description of California’s electricity crisis, which draws upon his organization’s role in fighting deregulation, is the most accessible explanation of that business scandal that we’ve seen.
At one point he traces the acceleration of the influence of corporations over all aspects of society in recent decades back to Justice Louis Powell’s 1971 memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which was important in galvanizing right-wing foundations such as Scaife and Olin to fund the corporate front groups and right-wing think tanks that now dominatepolicy-making in Washington. This history deserves much more in-depth exploration because it will teach progressives about why they are losing on just about every front.
The book falls a little short when it gets to prescriptive solutions. Existing laws and interesting reforms (e.g. the Corporate 3 Strikes Act, which his organization has been spearheading an effort to pass in California) are mixed in with a lot of theoretical “shoulds” that it’s difficult to imagine being enacted into law any time soon. (e.g. “new standards should value the customer’s time so that an individual can recover the cost of their excessive lost time due to a corporation’s gross mistake.) And in addition to listing government agencies that can “help counter corporateering” – he might have included some of the key consumer and other corporate accountability groups that help to overcome the fact that some of the agencies are captive to the industries they are supposed to regulate.
Nevertheless, Corporateering is certain to stimulate more debate and broader understanding of the many ways corporations undermine our freedoms. Let’s hope he gets Webster’s attention.