Tom's Reviews > The Corporation

The Corporation by Joel Bakan
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's review
Jun 22, 2007

really liked it

I saw the film a couple of years ago and really liked it but the book explains and summarises the reasons causing many people's querulous attitude to the type of capitalism expounded by The Economist in a wonderfully clear and concise fashion in a way I struggle to articulate. It also avoids Michael Moore polemics, yet is still very succinct, so much so that it gets to reemphasise its central tenets throughout the chapters. It excellently attacks and scrutinizes the rigid beliefs fostered globally by free-marketeer Corporate fundamentalists.

The book illustrates that Corporations are hugely powerful wealth accumulating institutions that we have created and given a legal duty, based on 19th century neo-liberal laissez-faire economic thought, to maximise its shareholders profits at all costs against the other needs of humanity. This rapacious pursuit of self-interest disregards negative environmental and social costs (and any other externalities) and is incompatible with humankind’s other wider needs and interests. What is good for profits is not necessarily good for humanity. Yet this institution projects its psychopathic values upon society by ruthlessly manufacturing ‘created wants’ upon humans urging them to ‘get wealth forget all but self’. Corporations are legally bound not to accept social responsibility over their financial bottom lines and thus are not trustworthy guardians of our wider interests.

Bakan accepts difficulties in controlling this Frankenstein’s monster of an institution but calls upon strict democratic government regulation and enforcement as the only possibility to curb its destructive (often self-destructive in the South Sea Company or Enron’s case) tendencies. This has become near impossible in this current climate of collusion between political and corporate elites. Corporations (particularly multinationals) see themselves above other stakeholders and as partners to government itself, alluding to their exclusion from government’s sphere of sovereignty.

He ends on a positive note, quite simply ‘we created you, we can destroy you’. He admittedly states he hasn’t given much scope to discuss the wider democratic failings that allows a few rich CEOs to run the world but he emphasises that we are still the ultimate power in stopping the tyrannical Corporations whenever we wake up, and we are becoming increasingly disillusioned with many aspects of the world that Corporations are creating. Thankfully people like Joel Bakan help focus our frustrations into a clear manifesto in a way corporately funded politicians have ceased to do.

The book has been criticised for ignoring publicly owned enterprises’ failings but it never intended to observe and analyse alternatives, merely highlight the essential fallibility of for-profit Corporations. He also doesn't mention the material wealth ruthlessly efficient corporations have bestowed upon a First World society relatively impoverished only a century ago. Yet, again, it is not his aim in his capacity as a legal scholar to propound the virtues of market-led wealth generation but to expose the inherent legal flaws in a destructive system that is all-consuming.

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