“Personally I’m in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions in the society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism we can’t have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control.
Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level — there’s a little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward. Just as I’m opposed to political fascism, I’m opposed to economic fascism. I think that until major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it’s pointless to talk about democracy.”
The big corporations of today have unprecedented power.
They have the power to create incredible wealth, concentrated into the hands of a few. They can now, thanks to a handy Supreme Court ruling, directly buy elections, all but eliminating what was left of “democracy” in the United States.
They have the rights of people, and even, Noam Chomsky, suggests, “rights far beyond those of people.”
So for example if General Motors operates in Mexico, they’re supposed to have what’s called ‘national treatment.’ They have to be treated like a Mexican person. On the other hand if a Mexican person of flesh and blood comes to New York and says, ‘I’d like to be treated like everyone else,’ he’d be lucky if he gets out alive.
They own the mainstream media, thereby controlling the information that reaches the public. Thus they can convince the people that what is right for big business is right for them and for the rest of the world.
They control our representatives, taking advantage of lobbying privileges which allow them to coax their way into the policy-making process. And, of course, they face no accountability: They are under increasingly less governmental regulation, and they are certainly not accountable to the people.
Furthermore, they must do all of these things, provided that they bring about an increase in profit. If they don’t do all of the above, and they decide to adopt a stance that is empathic and that cares about people and the environment, well, they’ll simply be smashed by their less virtuous competitors.
Gain wealth, forgetting all but self.
When profit is prioritized over all else, it is reasonable to anticipate total disaster.
Not only are big multinational corporations not helping to mitigate the impending environmental catastrophe, they are knowingly accelerating it; but they won’t, and can’t, do anything about it, because the essential function of a corporation is to increase profit by any means necessary.
If that means exporting jobs to countries that permit horrendous working conditions and virtually zero pay, then that’s what must be done. If that means burning fossil fuels, that’s what must be done. If that means destroying the environment, leaving future generations to deal with the mess they have created, that’s what must be done.
In a question and answer session with the international press corps at the United Nations in 2006, Chomsky lays out his general thoughts on corporations, potential for regulating them, how enmeshed they are with the state, and what this means for the public.
States and corporations are very tightly linked. To a very large extent, concentrated private power just dominates the state; in fact, even staffs it. So they’re very unlikely to regulate it. And its sets the constraints in which state policy is made. Well that shouldn’t be true…democratization of society would reduce that…
In my opinion, corporations themselves are illegitimate. I take a very conservative position on this. As you may know, when the modern corporation was invented around a century ago, by state intervention (mostly judicial intervention, there was no legislation about it),…there were people who bitterly opposed it, namely conservatives. There used to be conservatives in those days. Now the term’s around but not the concept. Conservatives bitterly condemned it as a return to feudalism, which in a way it was, and a form of communism. That was the reaction to [granting] corporations…the rights of people of flesh and blood. This was a major attack on classical liberal principles…Since that time, it’s gotten a lot worse…
Major decisions about 80-90 years ago by the courts determined that corporations are not only persons, but they are necessarily pathological persons. That is, they determined that corporate management must dedicate itself to increasing profit and market share, whatever the effect on anyone. For a corporation to do anything benevolent was determined to be illegal…Corporations are allowed to do something benevolent if the TV cameras are on. So if you’re doing it for public relations purposes, yeah then you’re allowed to do something nice.
Chomsky goes on to mention the fact that corporations were advised by the courts to perform benevolent acts for public relations purposes, or else an “aroused public” will find out what’s going on and they will work to remove corporate privileges.
A corporation is a private tyranny. A corporation, if you look at its structure, is about as close to the totalitarian model as anything human beings have created. Control is completely from top-down…At the very bottom, people are allowed to rent themselves to it (it’s called getting a job), and there’s a very weak accountability to the public, extremely weak. And…when the right-wing comes into power, like the Reagan administration or the Bush administration, their primary goal is to weaken the regulatory apparatus.
And, as a result of the weakening of “the regulatory apparatus,” abuses of workers’ rights and illegal union firings shoot through the roof, further strengthening the power of the corporation to exercise control over the population.
Chomsky goes on to discuss the prospects for change.
There’s a very real question about the legitimacy of the institution in the first place. But insofar as [corporations] exist…They should be accountable to the public…For example, it’s not a law of nature that they should work for the benefit of shareholders.
Why shouldn’t, Chomsky asks, corporations work for the benefit of the mass majority of the population rather than a miniscule percentage of the population? There is no “law of nature” forcing corporations to work solely for the benefit of the few.
So, Chomsky’s solution is a simple one, but undoubtedly difficult to implement: Democracy. Corporations should be held accountable by the majority of the population, and they should not be permitted to destroy the environment, the lives of workers, and future generations in order to inflate their bottom line.
If they continue to run rampant without meaningful resistance, the chance of human survival is quite slim.
For more discussion on prospects of reforming corporations in the short-term, and potential long-term solutions to deeply engrained issues, see the video below: