Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Carrots and Corporations

Life, Inc. is a book that might have been great. It deals with an important topic, the role of the corporation in society, and there are moments when it hits the mark, such as:

"The current situation resembles the managed capitalism of Mussolini's Italy, in particular. It shares a common intellectual heritage (in disappointed progressives who wanted to order society on a scientific understanding of human nature), the same political alliance (the collaboration of the state and the corporate sector), and some of the same techniques for securing consent (through public relations and propaganda). Above all, it shares with fascism the same deep suspicion of free humans."

But the author cannot free himself from his self-described "hip, overgentrified, Brooklynite" world view. He drops complaints about "the toxically wealthy." He doesn't like mini malls or superstores. He complains about "hermetically sealed food courts." He wants to dismantle society and replace it with something more livable and sustainable.

In the end, his argument boils down to this:

I don't like corporations.
People behave badly.
People use a lot of corporate stuff.
Therefore, corporations are the reason people behave badly.

Of course, this makes as much sense as saying

I don't like carrots.
People behave badly.
People eat a lot of carrots.
Therefore, carrots are the reason people behave badly.

Corporations, like individuals, deserve criticism and punishment when they lie, cheat, steal, or resort to violence. But it is a metaphysical stretch -- dare I call it a lie? -- to say that the very nature of the corporation is immoral.

No doubt, it is easier to denounce corporations as inherently corrupt rather than to directly confront the common thesis in all such arguments: People behave badly. But we might as well blame that unpleasant fact on carrots.

People behaved badly long before corporations existed. Carrots have been around a lot longer. Therefore it must be true that carrots are more likely to cause bad behavior than corporations.

Note: Here is an earlier post on Life, Inc.

No comments: