Corporations are created—and mandated—to make money, regardless of results that affect the world, its own industry, its labor force, or even its managers, writes Canadian law professor Joel Bakan, and that distillation is agreeable to such disparate voices at Nobel Prize- winning economist Milton Friedman and iconoclastic activist Noam Chomsky of MIT. What that means, Bakan argues, is that this legal fiction—which through court rulings has acquired rights formerly reserved for human beings—is psychopathic. In other words, corporations can knowingly take action that is destructive with no regard to victims. If readers saw another person act in such ways, they’d identify the culprit as a dangerous nut.
Bakan’s distinctive determination is that this economic institution and legal construct is essentially unbalanced, existing almost exclusively for its self-interest no matter the consequences. Since corporations have come to have a profound influence on society and people, it’s compelling to read a thoughtful, plausible analysis of why some corporations essentially slash and burn their ways through markets, communities, pensions, unions, suppliers, competitors and even countries.
A century ago, the corporation was not nearly so influential, important, or pervasive. Partnerships and proprietorships were business’s rules of thumb, and owners or partners were liable for consequences of their companies, whether financial losses or harm to others. Now—through increasing corporate power—corporations have manipulated government’s moderating controls so there are fewer regulations constraining their actions, and have relentlessly promoted so-called free-market answers to almost all problems. Therefore, governments’ surrender to lobbyists and public-relations juggernauts has unleashed corporations’ further “psychopathic” behaviors—which ultimately can hurt themselves.
Though Bakan has a serious, even shocking, perspective, he is sober, witty and thorough. His bibliography and footnotes are extensive and interesting as tips to further study. Also interesting is Bakan’s spinning off his work into a documentary film also titled The Corporation, further presenting the case that this modern business model that people have accepted is relatively recent, not inevitable, and inherently—intentionally—without a conscience.