Global mining interests selling Papua New Guinea downriver; and Populist Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower getting fired after he used ABC’s own radio waves to condemn Disney’s assimilation of that company. In another apparent bias, this review seems to pander to Texas news angles. But this state does cast a long shadow in the underworld of Corporate Predators. Californians may truly believe, for example, that the recent showdown with Pacific Lumber’ over America’s last big stand of privately owned redwoods is a Golden State morality tale. In fact, it was a mere backdrop for a showdown between two Texans. Charles Hurwitz, the C.E.O. of Houston-based Maxxam Corporation, considered himself the owner of Pacific Lumber and the Headwater redwoods. David Chain, a twentyfour-year-old Earth First!er, journeyed from Austin to the Headwaters to make a last stand among those redwoods. The protestors interfered with Hurwitz’s plan to sell the redwoods for a king’s ransom, and one of his chainsaw-wielding loggers killed Chain, by dropping one of the trees he sought to save on top of him. Corporate Predators’ brief treatment of this tragedy is revealing, because the authors find room to ‘ask a question few news accounts broached. Why weren’t Pacific Lumber, its executives, or the logger charged with involuntary manslaughter? Drunk drivers face this charge when they run people down, even though their deadly recklessness lacks deadly intent. Fraternities and universities have faced manslaughter charges for tolerating hazing activities that kill frat boys. And Earth First! even videotaped Pacific Lumber’s lumberjack threatening to kill the protestors, shortly before he killed Chain. Similarly, the authors characterize the mega-merger of Citibank and Travelers insurance company as an act of “uncivil corporate disobedience” that breaks a Depression-era law prohibiting banks, stock brokerages and insurance companies from owning each other’s stock. Corporate Predators is a good little read. The vignettes in this book show a pattern of corporations running amok, usurping the rights of citizens while eschewing attendant responsibilities. The book’s main deficiency is that it leaves readers hungry for answers to fundamental questions that the book raises without attempting to answer. These questions include: How did corporations acquire so much power? What is to be done to establish democratic controls? hese are the essential questions tack led by Boston College sociology professor Charles Derber in Corporation Nation. Much of Corporation Nation retraces this nation’s love-hate relationship with corporations. This history demonstrates that Americans have not always given corporations such a long leash and that we need not do so today. This is important, because Derber detects an ahistorical corporate brainwashing in his college students as well as in people old enough to know better. This brainwashing allows us to hear about a corporate logger dropping a tree on a tree-hugger without even thinking about punishing the perpetrators. Derber likens this “corporate mystique” to the “feminine mystique” that prevented fifties housewives from questioning their lot. We fall into the corporate mystique when ‘we: Create and exaggerate “natural” distinctions between the private and public sectors, on the one hand; and Fail to distinguish between human rights and corporate rights, on the other hand. America’s founders were almost as leery of concentrating power in corporate hands as they were about concentrating power in the hands of government officials. The first corporations were chartered by government for limited time periods to serve specific public needs \(e.g., build a road or charters at any moment. Like NATO in the Balkans, today’s corporations lack an exit strategy, and are prone to inflicting the very profit-driven collateral damages chronicled in Corporate. Predators \(such as massive layoffs, unionbusting, price fixing, government bribery, ecological degradation, and Key to the mutation of corporations is the legal doctrine that grants “legal personhood” to corporations. In 1886, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are entitled to the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee that no state “shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This decision freed corporations from the shackles of democratic control by granting them a constitutional protection that had been created to protect real people freed slaves. Wielding corporate legal “personhood,” the railroad robber barons of the Gilded Age used corporate trusts to amass unprecedented powers in American society. That turn of that century has parallels to the merger binge of the current one; Derber likens today’s emerging telecommunications networks to the railroad empires of a century ago. The Great Depression stripped the last gilt from the Gilded Age. Franklin Roosevelt’s administration successfully checked corporate power through government regulation, while unions flourished. Forty years later, economist Milton Friedman launched an attack on these checks, and argued that profit maximization is “the one and only social responsibility of business.” Since Ronald Reagan took office, government officials have put Friedman’s ideas into practice by dismantling those of FDR. Derber follows this useful history with a call for new checks on corporate powers. For inspiration he looks not to Roosevelt’s technocrats, but to the ordinary grassroots prairie populists who founded the People’s Party in 1892, in an unsuccessful challenge to Gilded Age corporate plundering. Yet Derber also criticizes the prairie populists for being too anti-corporate. What he advocates is a fuzzy concept of “positive populism.” Throughout much of Derber’s discussion of this concept, readers may find themselves wondering if he contracted some “corporate mystique” from his students. Here and there he hints that positive populism might benefit from corporate codes of responsible conduct or employee stock ownership programs. Moments later, however, he acknowledges that the corporations that have embraced these fads \(e.g., Exxon, heading where he wants to go. Derber’s most concrete “positive populist” proposal is to create a new charter for all corporations worth $1 billion or more. This charter would “express a clear vision of the corporation’s public purposes, reserve for citizens all powers not expressly See “Corporations,” page 39 JULY 23, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 37
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