Since the late 18th century American legal decision that the business corporation organizational model is legally a person, it has become a dominant economic, political and social force around the globe. This film takes an in-depth psychological examination of the organization model through various case studies. What the study illustrates is that in the its behaviour, this type of “person” typically acts like a dangerously destructive psychopath without conscience. Furthermore, we see the profound threat this psychopath has for our world and our future, but also how the people with courage, intelligence and determination can do to stop it.
Kenneth Chisholm ([email protected])
User Reviews: This extraordinary documentary is based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004) by law professor Joel Bakan (see my review at Amazon). Bakan’s thesis is that the corporation is a psychopathic entity.
In his book he notes that the modern corporation is "singularly self-interested and unable to feel genuine concern for others in any context." (p. 56) He adds that the corporation’s sole reason for being is to enhance the profits and power of the corporation. He shows by citing court cases that it is the duty of management to make money and that any compromise with that duty is dereliction of duty.
Directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott bring these points and a slew of others to cinematic life through interviews, archival footage, and a fine narrative written by Achbar and Harold Crooks. The interviews cover a wide spectrum of opinion, from Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky on the left, to Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman on the right. Friedman is heard to agree with Bakan that the corporation’s duty is to its stockholders and that anything that deviates from that duty is irresponsible.
What emerges is a view of the corporation as an entity working both for and against human welfare. Designed to turn labor and raw materials efficiently into goods and services and to thereby raise our standard of living, it has been a very effective tool for humans to use. On the other hand, because it is blind to anything but its own welfare, the corporation uses humans and the resources of the planet in ways that can be and often are detrimental to people and the environment. Corporations, to put it bluntly, foul the environment with their wastes and will not clean up unless forced to.
An interesting technique that Achbar and Abbott use is to go down the list of behaviors cited in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that identify the psychopathic personality and show how the corporation has all of those behaviors including a criminal disregard for the welfare and feelings of others and a complete absence of guilt. Indeed corporations feel no compunction when they break the law. Their only concern is whether breaking the law is cost-effective. The result is a nearly constant bending and breaking of the law. They pay the fine and then break the law again. The corporation, after all, has no conscience and feels no remorse.
Bakan notes that "corporations are designed to externalize their costs." The corporation is "deliberately programmed, indeed legally compelled, to externalize costs without regard for the harm it may cause to people, communities, and the natural environment. Every cost it can unload onto someone else is a benefit to itself, a direct route to profit." (pp. 72-73) We are shown how rivers are polluted, environments destroyed and people placed into something close to servitude by the corporation’s insatiable lust to profit.
The answer to this, as presented in the film, is to make corporations pay for their pollution. What many people are proposing is the creation of bills or certificates that would allow the barer "the right to pollute." The cost of these bills would reflect the societal and environmental costs of the pollution. This sounds scary, but what it would do is make those who pollute pay for their pollution instead of having the costs be externalized as they are now. Consequently, to protect their bottom line, corporations would pollute less.
Another problem with the corporation as emphasized in the film is that the corporate structure is essentially despotic. It is not a democracy or anything close. The owners hire officers to exercise control over everyone who works for the corporation. This is in direct contrast to democratic governments whose officers are elected and who are subject to the checks and balances of a constitutional government with shared powers. It is true that if you are a shareholder of a corporation you may be able to indirectly vote for the CEO. However, such a "democracy" is a democracy of capital in which the electoral power is inequitably distributed. Some people have hundreds of millions of votes. How many does the average shareholder have? Bakan, Achbar and Abbott play fair, and give both sides of the case–although that is not to say that the weight of evidence or sentiment is equally distributed. After all, who’s in favor of pollution or the destruction of the environment? The pathological corporation doesn’t care about such things, but its officers should. Some do, but feel constrained by their fiduciary duty to their stockholders. Consequently it is our responsibility as the electorate to get our government to make the corporation socially and morally responsible. The way to do that is make the fines for breaking the law large enough to change corporate behavior. Furthermore–and this is essential–make management responsible–criminally if necessary–for the actions of the corporation.
This is absolutely one of the most interesting, most compelling, and, yes, entertaining documentaries that I have ever seen. But beware of some graphic footage.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can’t Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)