“Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom … And What You Can Do About It.” By Jamie Court. Tarcher-Putnam. 322 Pages. $24.95.
Jamie Court is trying to establish a new household word: “corporateering.”
It’s also the title of the consumer activist’s new book, “Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom … And What You Can Do About It,” and to Court it sums up the state of the American culture in the first years of the 21st century.
Corporateering means the act of putting commercial gain over individual, social or cultural gain. A corporateer is one who makes commerce a priority over culture.
In Court’s view, corporations have become so dominant in American life that they shape the culture. Public buildings named for civic heroes become advertisements for multinational companies. Consumers lose the right to go to court as binding arbitration clauses become standard language in retail contracts. Schools become testing grounds for products aimed at children.
“It’s corporateering when all I hear is ‘Mom, why am I too young for makeup?’ because the school board bought books sponsored by a cosmetic company,” Court writes. “The corporateer does not care what children learn, only what they buy.”
Major corporations are not all bad, according to Court. They have “greatly expanded standards of comfort and convenience,” providing levels of service and products to the average person that were once available to only the wealthy.
Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, based in Southern California, also has a list of corporate executives he admires, including Sol Price, founder of the Price Club warehouse stores; and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
But too many corporate executives, in Court’s opinion, ignore what’s good for the society as a whole and pursue only quick profits.
“Corporateers have created a new internal order that puts the free movement of corporations and markets above the common good of societies, that places things ahead of people,” he says.
Court traces this surge in corporate dominance to a memo that Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote to leaders of the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1971, shortly before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, warning that American business was “plainly in trouble” and needed to change public attitudes.
The result, Court says, was a proliferation of corporate-financed think tanks, trade associations, lobbying groups, academic programs and political-action committees designed to change public and media opinion and to boost corporate political clout.
Court offers a variety of ways to counter corporateering, ranging from the formation of customer associations (a “union for customers”) to monitor and critique corporate activity, to crossing out mandatory arbitration clauses in retail contracts.
Court says he routinely follows that practice. “In some cases, it works. In others, it doesn’t,” he says.
Mainly, Court is striving for a change in attitude, that the well-being of the market is not necessarily of greater importance than the individual and of society as a whole.
At times “Corporateering” reads a bit like an economics textbook, but mostly it’s a thought-provoking look at the condition of American society. Court is at his best when discussing topics he knows about firsthand, including the California energy crisis of 2001 and the case of a 2-year-old who, a jury ruled, suffered blindness and brain damage because of medical negligence.