Large transnational corporations are clearly the dominant institution of our time. They're preeminent throughout the world but especially in the Global North and its epicenter in the US. They control or greatly influence what we eat and drink, where we live, what we wear, how we get most of our essential services like health care and even what we're taught in schools up to the highest levels. They create and control our sources of information and greatly influence how we think and our view of the world and them. They even now own patents on our genetic code, the most basic elements of human life, and are likely planning to manipulate and control them as just another commodity to exploit for profit in their brave new world that should concern everyone. They also carefully craft their image and use catchy slogans to convince us of their benefit to society and the world, like: "better things for better living through chemistry" (if you don't mind toxic air, water and soil), "we bring good things to life" (for them, not us), and "all the news that's fit to print" (only if you love state and corporate friendly disinformation and propaganda). The slogans are clever, but the truth is ugly.
The Power of Transnational Corporations and the Harm They Cause
As corporations have grown in size they've gained in power and influence. And so has the harm they cause - to communities, nations, the great majority of the public and the planet. Today corporate giants decide who governs and how, who serves on our courts, what laws are enacted and even whether and when wars are fought, against whom and for what purpose or gain. It's for their gain, who else's, certainly not ours. Once we start one, they can even make profit projections from it like on any other business venture. For them, that's all it is - another way to make a buck, lots of them.
The central thesis of this essay is that giant transnational corporations today have become so dominant they now control our lives and the world, and they exploit both fully and ruthlessly. While they claim to be serving us and bringing us the fruits of the so-called "free market," in fact, they just use us for their gain. They've deceived us and highjacked the government to serve them as subservient proxies in their unending pursuit to dominate the world's markets, resources, cheap labor abroad and our own right here. And they've done it much like what happens in the marketplace when a predator company attempts to take control of another one that prefers to remain independent. They launch a hostile takeover, going around or over the heads of the target's management, their employees and the communities they operate in. They go right to the target's shareholders and promise them a better deal, meaning a premium price on the stock they hold.
Think of it this way. Large corporations today everywhere, but especially the largest ones in the Global North, are a destructive force, hostile to people, societies and the environment. They're nothing less than legal private tyrannies operating freely with virtually no restraint. Everything for them, animal, vegetable or mineral, is viewed as a production input to be commodified and consumed for profit and then discarded when no longer of use. And to achieve maximum profits, costs must be rigidly controlled. That means the lowest prices paid for goods and services, the lowest wages paid to workers (below privileged higher management who reward themselves richly), as little as possible spent on essential benefits like health care and pensions, and increasingly little or no concern about the long-term cost of exploiting, plundering or even destroying the natural environment and the future ability of the planet to sustain life. These issues, however recognized and grave, are for someone else to deal with later.
For now all that matters is today, the next quarter's earnings and keeping the stockholders and Wall Street happy. They only understand numbers on financial statements and are blind, unconcerned and even hostile to human and societal welfare or a safe environment that will protect and sustain all life forms. They call it "free market capitalism." It's really the law of the jungle. They're the predators, we're the prey, and every day they eat us alive.
Does all this make sense? And do corporate chieftains who live in a community, love their wives and children, contribute to charities, attend church and believe in its teachings really go to work every day and think - "who and what can I exploit today?" They sure do because they have no other choice. No more so than breathing in and breathing out.
How the Law Affects Corporate Behavior
Publicly owned corporations are mandated by law to serve only the interests of their shareholders and do it by working to maximize the value of their equity holdings by increasing profits. That's it. Case closed. Think of these businesses as gated communities of owners (large and small), the welfare of whom is all that matters and the world outside the gates is to be used and exploited for that one purpose only. Forget about any social responsibility or safeguarding the environment. The idea is to grow sales, keep costs low, increase profits, and if you do it well, shareholder value will rise, the owners and Wall Street will be happy, and you as a CEO or senior executive will probably get a raise, good bonus and keep your job. Try being worker-friendly, a nice guy, a good citizen or a friend of the earth and fail to achieve the above objectives and you'll likely face dismissal and even possible shareholder lawsuit for not pursuing your fiduciary responsibility. Anyone choosing this line of work has no other choice. To do the job well, you have to think only of the care and feeding of your shareholders and the investment community, ignore the law if that's what it takes to do it, and obey the only law that counts - the one that helps you grow the "bottom line."
There's nothing in the Constitution, which is public law, that gives corporations the rights they've gotten. It never mattered to them. They just crafted their own private law, piece by piece, over many years with the help of corporate-friendly lawyers, legislators and the courts. And today it's easier than ever with both major parties strongly pro-business and the courts stacked with business-friendly judges ready to do their bidding. The result is big business is now the paymaster, or puppetmaster, with government and the halls of justice their faithful servants. There's no government of, for and by the people, no public sovereignty, no democratic rights or any choices but to accept their authority and bow to their will. It's a democracy for the few alone - the privileged elite. Our only choice is to go along to get along or get out of their way.
In December, 2000 The Institute for Policy Studies released a report called "The Rise of Corporate Global Power." It was a profile of the 200 largest transnationals that showed just how dominant they are. A summary of their findings is listed below.
1. Of the world's 100 largest economies, 51 are corporations.