Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Corporation by Joel Bakun

This was an 'on the way through the airport on to a train' book buy. I'd had my fill of fiction (having just finished Pi) and fancied some anti-establishment prose. This book is a little 'lite' for my taste - only 166 pages of actual book and another few in an 'appendix' interview with Noam Chomsky. I did, however, have medium hopes for it as it is written by 'an academic'. Joel, however, let me down on that front as you really couldn't tell there was a Canadian law professor lurking behind the rather light analysis presented.

The book does present a nice handy, hand-bagged size 'why I don't want to work in the private sector' tome. I think I got two main things out of it - which I kinda knew already but were brought to the front of my mind.

Firstly, that private corporations only exist to make profit for their shareholders - this is a fact that we must never, ever forget. Therefore any attempt at genuine 'corporate social responsibility' (i.e. not tokenism intended to get more customers and therefore eventually make more money) is actually an 'immoral' act for a corporation - it goes against their fundamental morality of profit making. It also means that in every calculation - to pollute, not to pollute, to poison workers/not to etc. - is based on cost. Is it cheaper to pollute now and be more profitable and pay the fine later? If it is, the corporation has a 'moral' obligation to follow the most profitable course of action.

Secondly, the up and coming concept of 'public-private partnerships' in the delivery of public services is a truly terrifying development. I've always disliked the idea of PPPs, but never really been able to justify clearly why; now Joel has provided me with a neat explanation. Corporations exist as entities created by the law and so under the 'rule of law' to some extent. But, when a corporation enters into 'partnership' with government, it implies that they then move on to equal footing with the law - to be cheesy, they become a 'law unto themselves'. Very scary.

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