Another Part of this Force: A Sociopathy Built into the Structure of Our Corporate System

In the series-within-a series – “This Evil Force” can be seen “Moving Through Time” — I argued that the force that’s taken possession of the American right in our time is the re-emergence of the same spirit that took hold of the South in the 1850s and drove the nation to Civil War.

But that is not the only component of the destructive force now operating. Another grows directly out of the Corporate Capitalist system. In some ways, this power-seeking, greed-fueled system is akin to the corporate world of the age of the Robber Barons. But this is also different, because this sociopathic conduct is built into the structure of the system.

So we end up with a system on “Automatic Pilot,” so that it is not really human beings — like a John D. Rockefeller or an Andrew Carnegie — deciding on the path ahead, but the system itself.

This piece ran as an op/ed in almost all the major newspapers of Virginia’s 6th congressional district.

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Divided We Fall

Oh how I wish the people of America – liberal and conservative – could join together to protect our common interests and shared values. While focusing on issues that divide us, we are in danger of losing our birthright.

Power in America has shifted from the citizenry to the corporate system. The role of money in American politics – always a problem – has greatly expanded. At the same time, wealth has been drained from the middle class and increasingly concentrated in the hands of giant corporations and the relatively few individuals who run them.

As our democratic government becomes ever more an instrument of the corporate system, our nation’s constitutional doctrine is being pried open ever wider to allow corporations the political rights of actual “persons.”

We Americans should be asking, “What kind of ‘persons’ are these corporate giants whose rights and powers in our political system are expanding so dramatically?”

The answer is not comforting.

The original idea of a “corporation” in American law was an entity that would serve the public good. But our giant corporations today are set up in a way that virtually requires that they behave immorally whenever their profit-making conflicts with the public good.

Those who run our publicly-traded corporations declare that their fiduciary duty is to serve the interests of those who own their companies. But while real human beings care about many things, the corporate system is set up so that the “interests” of the owners of corporations (i.e. stockholders) are defined in purely financial terms. The ostensible owners have no effective way of registering other concerns. As a result, the corporate decision-makers see themselves as obligated not to allow any other values to interfere with the maximization of profits.

In other words, our corporate system is structured so that these mighty “persons” will behave like sociopaths, governed by selfishness unrestrained by conscience.

This sociopathic quality shows itself in virtually every case where industries have discovered that their products kill people. The asbestos industry is still in courts around America and the world for hiding from their workers the lethal truth the companies knew full well. The result of their deception was that many thousands died terrible deaths from asbestos they breathed on the job.

The big tobacco companies lied for decades about the connection between their products and fatal illnesses, maximizing their profits even at the cost of their customers’ lives.

Now the hugely powerful energy industry is doing much the same, running a public disinformation campaign to sow doubt where science says there is none. In the pursuit of short-term profits, they work to keep us addicted to their products even if the disruption this causes to the earth’s climate has a catastrophic effect on the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Are these the kind of “persons” we want controlling our government, making the decisions about what kind of nation America will become?

This power without conscience is increasingly visible in countless decisions being made in our political system.

We can see it in the laws that remove protections for the pensions that hardworking Americans earned. We can see it in the bankruptcy rules that favor banks over American families devastated by medical crises. We can see it in the weakening of the rights of workers in an era where the proportion of our national income going to wages is already way down. We can see it in the perpetuation of subsidies for a fabulously rich oil industry. We can see it in policies that revive the prosperity of Wall Street while Main Street still suffers. And on and on.

All of us real persons in America have a profound common interest in protecting our founding vision of a government not just of the people but by and for the people as well.

When we get distracted by the issues that divide us – the issues on which our differences cannot be resolved – we are falling into the trap set by powers working hard to weaken us. Divide and conquer is clearly their strategy. Our strategy must be united we stand.

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In the context of this series, this piece shows one of ways that our institutional systems can be sources of brokenness. (There are others.) For human beings, the central challenge is first to understand the dynamics by which our systems tend to take us, whether we want them to or not, and second to get some control over how our systems evolve, so that we as a nation and we as humankind can arrive at a destination that we, and not our systems, have chosen.

It is essential that we learn to understand these systemic forces of brokenness and that we devise ways to use the powers of wholeness to block the force of brokenness from doing its damage.

In this instance, such ways would involve wise, fair, and efficient regulation of corporate activities where that’s needed in both the economic sphere (such as rules limiting pollution) and the political sphere (like campaign finance reform that puts effective barriers to prevent the great financial power of the corporate system from being translated into ownership of the American government).

And one other remedy for this problem of structurally mandated sociopathy: I present a solution, giving more real power to the legal owners of these publicly-traded corporations, in chapter 11 (“Autopilot”) of my book The Illusion of Choice: How the Market Economy Shapes Our Destiny.

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6 Comments

  1. To the host and chief Proclaimer:

    Definitions are a part of the pathway to understanding present reality
    (economic and legitimate political liberty and reasonable freedom of speech).

    Would you condescend to the level of your ordinary readers and please enumerate the chief ‘issues’ you think divide ‘us’.

    1.
    2.
    3. & etc. if more

    ‘And how and by ‘whom’ these ‘issues’ entered the legal and ‘constitutional’ arena and thus became political.

    Sincerely,

    Been Waiting

    • These days, of course, just about every issue divides us. That’s because one of our political parties is bent upon turning our citizens against each other, thus nullifying the people as a political force.

      But what I had in mind when I said, “While focusing on issues that divide us, we are in danger of losing our birthright,” were issues like abortion and gay rights.

      You will presumably argue that it is the liberal part of America that pushed these issues into the political/constitutional realm, and there are ways that this is true, though those ways are limited.

      What is much less ambiguous is what’s happened in our times, while the once-respectable Republican Party has been transformed into something very different from what it was.

      Abortion was an issue on which, for the most part, a truce existed in American politics following the passage of the Hyde amendment back some time ago: tax-payers would not pay for abortions.

      If one looks at the 2004 election, and then again at the conduct of Republican-controlled statehouses after the 2010 elections, one sees a concerted Republican attempt to focus attention on those divisive issues, and a similarly consistent attempt to divert attention away from those matters — such as putting Americans back to work most recently — on which opinion polls showed considerable consensus across the political spectrum.

      One thing on which Americans could readily agree: we want a government that is for and by the people, and not one that is for and by the big concentrations of wealth.

      Divided we fall.

  2. Right on, Andy. A recent academic study of note by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page of Princeton and Northwestern Universities, respectively, essentially concludes that the US is no longer a functioning democracy. It’s an oligarchy or plutocracy, where only the well-heeled have any political sway. Chillingly, those with the most influence, the ultra rich, tend toward an ultraconservatism that is antithetical to mainstream American values. The “culture wars” have been engineered to keep us fighting amongst ourselves while the corporate foxes like the Koch Brothers raid the hen houses of democracy. I find it interesting that those in the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are angry about many of the same things. The TP blames government, and OWS sees Wall Street as the real culprit. It’s worth noting that Mussolini defined fascism as the merger of government and corporatism. That merger is gaining strength daily thanks to our continued distraction about so called “hot button” issues.

  3. Richard H. RAndall

    To Mr?Ms Anonymous: Perhaps I read a different article, but examples were enumerated quite clearly with respect what some of these issues are. Moreover, over the years Andy has shown that both democrats and republicans, and especially the latter, have entered into deals to remove/destroy taxes, and even ensure tax refunds to the major corporations, which as he has pointed out succinctly in this article look first to the increase in profit to itself and its stockholders, and the denial of wrongdoing when coverups and malfeasance are discovered. If a teacher did this, s/he would not only lose their job, but could face prison time. Corporations, especially financial giants recently can get away with massive financial fraud and be protected by presidents, like Bush and Obama. See the documentary film, by Charles M. Fergusson, “Inside Job,” and you will see the links between government, former government workers, now lobbiests, members of academia, and those think tanks ,e.g. The Heritage Foundation. It will in no sense be a waste pf your time.

  4. Robin M. Pettit

    I do not believe I am distracted. In some ways, Andy, what you paint above isn’t dire enough. Even now the Koch Brothers are pushing legislation to tax the solar power energy while pushing legislation to lower or remove taxes on oil and natural gas producers. Some seems to smell about these positions to use a metaphorical technique and it’s not just the smell of petroleum products.

    The Republican technique is to take a successful positive government program, lower it’s funding, put up legal roadblocks to keep it from doing it’s job and then decry its poor functioning using said poor functioning to justify cutting it even further and replacing with a corporate entity that often does better because they have hobbled and cut funding for the public entity until a corporate version looks good. After a few years we get a poorly functioning corporate entity making large sums of money, costing the government much more than even when the function was fully publicly funded and government run. A town in Florida, of all places, was drowning in debt due to corporate run prisons and jails. They cancelled all the contracts and brought it under public government management and control and saved large sums of money. If I find a link to the story I will post it. This is the ground war of the coming corporatocracy or as Andy and others put it the Oligarchic government that we are now living under. Please open your eyes and let’s work together to fix what has been broken.

    Do Democrats do this, yes, but it is mostly Republicans. Pretty much all nationally elected Republicans do this. I can point to a large number of nationally elected Democrats who do not do this. Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sander (independent but caucuses with Democrats), and a others. I can’t point to any Republicans.

  5. While Andy’s point seems to be what I’d call “process oriented” but the link below is to data which I’d call “results oriented” I’ll post it anyway. For people who may be interested in doing a bit of their own poking around with data, see:

    http://topincomes.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/

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