The State of the World: (2) Corporate Life

ROTTERDAM – If there is any capitalist principle, it has to be the profit motive. It defines the outline our global economy and actually most that happens in it as well. Corporations are one of the most routine ways to socially organise in our societies. We call it ‘entrepreneurship’, and we’re in love with it. We have pro-business politicians who defend these brave entrepreneurs and I’ve been repeatedly told they create jobs and generate wealth. Which any form of social organisation does, in its own way, it’s just that some are more efficient at it. However, it seems that in our postmodern world entrepreneurship has become perhaps the expression of human ingenuity and progress, but merely for the people involved in it.

In its initial form we can trace it back to the 16th century, when the first private entities socially organised themselves to finance great journeys across the world by ship (and then murder a whole bunch of people wherever they ended up going). These entities disbanded themselves after the ship in question got back. The first corporations were a one-time-deal, project-based organisations. It was relatively recent that these entities became legal persons, and when consumerism hit the market, they all got a personality, too. Do you remember the Most Interesting Man Alive? He used to be the personality of the beer brand Dos Equis. Albert Heijn, the Dutch supermarket conglomerate, has a loveable middle-aged bald guy who supposedly ‘works’ in one of their shops as their personality. Every celebrity who has ever appeared in any commercial has lent their fame and fortune to this personality of the corporation, albeit for a limited time only.

This idea, that corporations have personalities, is called branding. It’s the association between whatever product or service the corporation offers its customers and a bunch of character traits that you get when you buy the product. It’s like in high school, when hanging with the cool kids made you cool too. Only it doesn’t quite work like that, -and we all know it. You can’t really buy identity, merely its empty container.

The public persona of corporations is however not their real personality. In fact, when you look at the behaviour of many corporations you realise that they’re not particularly nice people. They break the law a lot. They externalise costs to make more profit, thereby screwing over people in countries other than yours, and polluting this earth in places they can get away with it. They lie and cheat and tell you their cars are more sustainable than they actually are. They put their own employees in harm’s way if the pay-out is good enough. Ultimately, the concept of the corporation as a legal person is flawed since the only punishment you can get as a corporation for breaking the law is a fine. It’ll only cost you money.

Imagine that. What kind of risk analysis would you make if you’d be extremely wealthy, and you’d be presented with the opportunity to make a lot of money by skirting the law, if you knew that if you would get caught you would never see the inside of a jail cell? You could kill people and pay for their lives. You could literally exchange life for money.

A lot of corporations behave like psychopaths. They feign concern and manipulative those they interact with whilst in reality they will screw you over any chance they get. The only argument for a corporation not to fuck with you is the chance that they’d get caught. Mind you, the corporation does things, the people in them work there. That’s the main issue, of course. Diffusion of responsibility, and as CEO you’re almost always protected yourself. The worst possible thing that could happen is that you’d get fired. But if you don’t deliver they will fire you anyways, so what do you have to lose?

So the corporation becomes a gold digger, a whore, a toy boy. It will lift its skirts for whomever pays well. Which is exactly why Apple ‘created several thousand jobs’ in Ireland. The only reason they are there is because of the low tax rate. It’s why IKEA moved from Sweden to the Netherlands. And they didn’t actually move, they just became a Dutch company. They are still very much in Sweden. Can you imagine that, waking up one day being registered as a tax-paying citizen in the Cayman Islands while still living in suburban housing looking at the rain and sleet on the window?

19 Billion dollars Apple has to pay back. Serves them right. Our governments sponsor multinationals like Apple way too much with sweet tax deals and exemptions, to the point that due diligence has become ‘anti-business’. The government of Ireland, scared that Apple may leave, is protesting against the multinational paying them this bank load of money. The point is, Ireland knew what was happening. Apple didn’t bamboozle them, it wasn’t a scam, they didn’t lie. They just played one country against all the other ones and picked whomever could offer the lowest tax rate. That’s how multinationals evade taxes. That and actual fraud, of course. Just take a look at the Panama Papers.

Corporate life is extremely beneficial for an exceedingly small minority of the world’s population. The wealth it generates for those people is often not added value but capital streamlined from some other place, and somewhere in the global production chains, somebody is getting screwed in order for these fat cats to earn the money they do.

 

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