Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Now Here's a True "Must Read"!

I am just beginning a very unusual book, When Corporations Rule the World, By David C. Korten. Both the author and his writing style are very unusual. The author is a 70 year old with an MBA and Ph.D. from Stanford's Graduate School of Business, who taught and did research at Harvard's Graduate School of Business and has thirty years of field experience working in Asia, Africa and Latin America for the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). With a background like this one does not expect to read a book like When Corporations Rule the World!!! Moreover, his writing is remarkably honest and extremely clear--one cannot mistake what his values are and what he is saying; this in itself is an unusual blessing. Here's an excerpt that gives the flavor of the book (pp. 9 & 12):
[T]he systemic forces nurturing the growth and dominance of global corporations are at the heart of the current human dilemma.... These forces have transformed once beneficial corporations and financial institutions into instruments of a market tyranny that is extending its reach across the planet like a cancer, colonizing ever more of the planet's living spaces, destroying livelihoods, displacing people, rendering democratic institutions impotent, and feeding on life in an insatiable quest for money.
But let me point out how the author is an authentic conservative as opposed to pseudo-conservatives such as William F. Buckley. Here is Korten's description of his "values" (a much-abused word in contemporary America):
With regard to political values, I remain a traditional conservative in the sense that I retain a deep distrust of large institutions and their concentrations of unaccountable power. I also continue to believe in the importance of the market and private ownership. However, unlike many contemporary conservatives, I have no more love for big business than I have for big government. Nor do I believe that posession of wealth should convey special political privilege. I share the liberal's compassion for the disenfranchised, commitment to equity, and concern for the environment and believe that there are essential roles for government and limits to the rights of private property. I believe, however, that big government can be as unaccountable and destructive of societal values as can big business. Indeed, I have a distrust of any organization that accumulates and concentrates massive power beyond the bounds of accountability.
OK, here's the essential kernel that separates the sheep from the goats: However, unlike many contemporary conservatives, I have no more love for big business than I have for big government. This is what separates many authentic conservatives from pseudo-conservatives. The latter chatter incessantly about the horrors of 'collectivism' inherent in 'big government'; but they are stone silent about the 'collectivism' that is only too obviously involved in the growth of the modern corporation since 1865 in the United States. Korten is a very unusual fellow in that he is consistent on this point.

Actually, I've just been thinking about the meanings of "conservative" and there is a strain within conservatism which says that rule by the rich and well-born is best and that the 'mob' cannot be trusted. (John Adams believed this.) If one takes that seriously then people like William F. Buckley could be labelled 'conservative' in the latter sense because they certainly do support the powers that be. However, in this case Buckley is simply a liar because he does not honestly state that he distrusts the people and thinks the rich and well-born (like himself) should rule; rather he uses a variation of classical liberalism like that of Milton Friedman to rationalize his views and identify himself as a defender of 'liberty'. He attacks the state but is an ardent defender of business and the corporation.


Anonymous said...

Big business (large corporations) love war; they got their first taste in WWI:

"More than any other single period, World War I was the critical watershed for the American business system. It was a "war collectivism," a totally planned economy run largely by big-business interests through the instrumentality of the central government, which served as the model, the precedent, and the inspiration for state corporate capitalism for the remainder of the twentieth century.

That inspiration and precedent emerged not only in the United States, but also in the war economies of the major combatants of World War I. War collectivism showed the big-business interests of the Western world that it was possible to shift radically from the previous, largely free-market, capitalism to a new order marked by strong government, and extensive and pervasive government intervention and planning, for the purpose of providing a network of subsidies and monopolistic privileges to business, and especially to large business, interests. In particular, the economy could be cartelized under the aegis of government, with prices raised and production fixed and restricted, in the classic pattern of monopoly; and military and other government contracts could be channeled into the hands of favored corporate producers."

War Collectivism in World War I

James A Bond said...

That's avery interesting quote, either from Ludwig von Mises or in his spirit. I think it's essential that we be as accurate as possible here though. SOME big businesses love war (those in line to make money from it) and other big businesses oppose war if they believe their businesses and profits will be disrupted by it. But to me the bottom line is that without the avid support of government at both state and national levels in the last half of the 19th century there would have been few large manufacturing corporations treated as though they were mere "individuals" doing business like any other individual entrepreneur or partnership. See William Roy's "Socializing Capital: The Rise of the Large Industrial Corporationj in America".

James A Bond said...

OK, I see your quote came from libertarian Murray Rothbard. But I differ from his first sentence: "More than any other single period, World War I was the critical watershed for the American business system." As my comment above states I believe the "critical watershed for the American business system" was the latter half of the 19th century. There was a chance then to either keep corporations as publicly sponsored and publicly regulated institutions (as they had often been in the first half of the 19th century, see Roy) or give them carte blanche to be treated as "individuals" and favored with limited liability as well as other privileges; we did the latter. If we had kept business smaller and more competitive, as I believe von Mises and Rothbard might have supported, it might have been much more difficult for Wilson to drag us into WW I (needlessly I believe) and implement his "war collectivism". War is indeed the best friend of the State.