We’ve got to redefine the role of corporations in America …

June 2, 2011
By admin

“The business of America is business,” said President Calvin Coolidge in 1925, and for nearly 100 years we’ve been pledging allegiance to that pithy mantra without ever questioning its continued primacy and legitimacy.

The “business” represented in his aphorism is the corporation, which has now been elevated to an exalted place in our national landscape that with the passing of each year serves the corporation in ever more opulent arrangements at the expense of the U.S. citizens. You remember those average citizens, don’t you? The ones so frequently mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution?

You probably don’t need to have me point out that the former – the corporation – has been faring quite well over the past 60 years or so, while the latter – the citizenry – has been largely taking it in the shorts for roughly the last three decades. Do you imagine that it will take another three decades of “The business of America” prevailing so handily over the people it ostensibly serves before people wake up and find a new definition for what it means to be a corporation?

I suppose it may at that, because if a movement ever begins to address such an immediate and primal concern, the vast armada of corporate America will begin throwing so much money at preserving its status quo that it will make its current dominance of our political process and social arena look positively pedestrian.

I’m not even sure that we’ve got any reasonable hope of ever upsetting the current imbalance, but I am fairly certain that if we don’t, it’s only going to get worse, hard as that may be to imagine. The average American citizen has had a rough time of it, say, since 1980 or so, judging by just about any measurement yardstick you might want to roll out. Corporations, on the other hand, are doing famously, thank you very much, and the enduring recession of the last four years has done nothing but put on exclamation point on the disparity.

And yet we continue to genuflect at the altar of capitalism, meekly bending over for every indignity that the corporate behemoth might want to send our way, all out of a fear that someone will use the “S” word in describing our allegedly misguided view of an egalitarian role for both our political system and the economic programs that underpin it. You probably think the “S” word is socialist, but it really ought to be “schmucks,” because that’s exactly what we all are for sitting idly by and letting all this happen.

It may already be too late, but rather than simply rolling over, the American citizenry ought to take a stab at significantly redefining what it means when we grant a corporate charter. Like including wording that says corporations ought to serve the interests of the public beyond simply the considerable enrichment of the stockholders and – even more prominently – the management elite. While it seems likely that the global economy is here to stay (it would likely be devastating if we ever were to find out what true isolationism would mean to our system), we ought to insist that language be inserted into corporate charters precisely delineating a responsibility that extends beyond simply nurturing the bottom line.

More importantly, we ought to demand that our laws be reconfigured to encourage a level of corporate responsibility to the citizenry that extends far beyond even the most benevolent efforts taken by the rare company that already undertakes to be something more than just a corporate giant.

Jaded fellow Americans might read this and cynically shake their heads, confident that such a neo-utopian state of affairs is nothing short of impossible. Corporate America, were they to deign to read something like this, would likely chuckle collectively because they know that to be the case. Me? I suppose I fall somewhere in between, but I do so with the unabashed certainty that if we simply plant ourselves on the couch and alternate between jabbing at the remote control and wallowing around the Internet forlornly foraging for quasi-stimulation we are only going to accelerate on our pathetic path.

We’re becoming a nation of deposed and depressed former middle classers, but thank God, our corporations are doing quite well, thank you. Maybe our only real hope is that the corporations might someday want to have a middle class to sell their (foreign made) stuff to, but with the growth of global markets, I’m not exactly clinging too much to that solution, either.
- T.S. O’Connell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *