New Internationalist

The Corporation

Issue 376

The pathological pursuit of profit and power
by Joel Bakan

You need to read this book. This was the work on corporate power that was waiting to be written

Bakan has produced a crystal clear, systemic analysis of the corporation, illuminated by examples, from a 1930s big business coup plot against Roosevelt, to the contemporary morality tale of how the Body Shop lost its soul after it was floated on the stock market.

Brilliantly, Bakan avoids the mainstream media’s mistake of concentrating on employees’ personal morality, limited notions of consumer power, or on the view of Enron et al as ‘bad apples’ rather than part of a deeply destructive underlying system. Instead he goes right to the heart of the problem: the structure of the corporate charter means the company is legally obliged to maximize shareholder profits above all other considerations. Taking into account worker rights, the environment or the public good to the detriment of those profits is actually illegal. Bakan points out that in an individual, this behaviour would be psychopathic.

The Corporation argues that therefore corporate social responsibility can only ever be a limited solution; and concludes that it is better to re-regulate corporations, change their fundamental legal charters, and gain democratic control over them, than to petition them for a more benevolent tyranny. Joel Bakan’s writing has not just humanity and keen intelligence, but the full weight of the legal profession behind it. The case for the prosecution has been made.

Katharine Ainger

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