I am pro-corporate. I’ll go a step further with that and proclaim that I believe that there are no bad corporations, and that I haven’t seen any corporations do anything wrong.
I see the way you are looking at me. I’d better explain.
The reason I say there are no “bad” corporations is because corporations are not sentient beings that can “do” things or that can be good or bad. They can’t make decisions. Corporations are just a bundle of contracts that allow groups of people to more easily raise capital and amass resources. Corporations are things, like chairs, and things do not make decisions, any more than a chair does. Corporations are tools and tools are neither good nor bad.
When I say I am pro-corporate, this is what I mean: The things that the corporate legal structure enables people to do are good for society. This is why We, the People decided to enact the laws that created corporations. If we want to be able to accomplish things on a large scale, like build a railroad or airports and airplanes or skyscrapers – or solar power plants to replace coal power plants – we want to enable people to more easily raise the necessary capital and amass the resources needed to get the job done. The legal structure of the corporate form of a business accomplishes this.
Corporations, a bundle of contracts, don’t “do” anything, people do. And that is why this discussion is important right now. We are looking here at how to restructure our economy, but before we can do that, we have to correctly identify what went wrong. We have to understand who the good and bad actors were.
So what are some of the things that companies have been doing that we as progressives think should change? Let’s use the highly-publicized example of Wal-Mart and their low wages and benefits and Chinese imports. Wal-Mart always complained about being cast as the bad-actor. They said that if Wal-Mart raised wages and benefits and their competitor Target didn’t, then they would be at a competitive disadvantage and Target would take over the business. And, by extension, any company that tries to “do the right thing” is immediately at a disadvantage to a company that does not.
Looked at this way, if we make Wal-Mart raise wages and Target doesn’t, then not only is Wal-Mart in trouble as a company but now we’re starting all over again trying to get Target to raise wages. And if THEY do so, then along comes K-Mart or Costco or a new company X-Co to pay the low wages, charge lower prices and take away the business. This feels like it is going around in a circle, trying to fix a problem in one place and the pressures of the system immediately make the problem appear somewhere else.
I think blaming companies for the things they “do” also places a lot of stress on people inside of them who might agree with us, and even can alienate them from otherwise supporting progressives. People in the corporate world often feel trapped because the rules of the game require them to engage in what we think of as bad behavior. These are good people who would be very helpful to us in making the correct changes but they feel forced by the system to do the things they do. They are pulled two ways. Executives at Wal-Mart on the one hand can be want to raise wages, and on the other hand have a responsibility to compete with Target.
So what am I getting at here? The companies are not the problem, the rules we set up for them are. Companies operate on a playing field on which the rules of the game are supposed to be decided by US. We, the People are supposed to set up the ground rules and then the companies are supposed to follow those rules. Wal-Mart followed those rules. If we didn’t like the wages and benefits that companies pay, why don’t we change the rules and tell them they all have to pay higher wages and provide better benefits?
Now we’re getting somewhere. Many progressives have been trying to get companies to “behave” in better ways, and haven’t been getting much done — I think due to not correctly identifying the problem. The real problem is that we haven’t set up the rules of the playing field to require these companies – all of them – to provide good wages and benefits, etc. It is our job to regulate what these corporations do. So why didn’t we, through our government, change the rules for all the companies, so they all had a level playing field and clear rules? Identifying why we have not fixed the rules is the path to fixing the larger problem.
What has been happening is that a few people in the bigger companies have been using the resources of those big corporations to influence our system and set the rules of that playing field to give an edge to their companies. They do this so they can personally gain.
This is where we need to focus to fix the corporate system. There should be no way for people in companies to have any say whatsoever in how the playing field on which they operate is set up. How to accomplish this is a subject for future posts.
As I said above, corporations are just a tool, like a hammer. But a hammer can do a lot of damage if a person hits you upside the head with it. That is what we have to stop: a few people using corporate resources and hitting us upside the head.
Oh, and for the record, I am pro-chair, too, though my wife will probably insist I am a pro-couch partisan.
Dave Johnson:Dave is at Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and a Fellow at the Commonwealth Institute.
This article originally appeared at Blog for Our Future and is reprinted here with permission from the author.