The San Francisco Bay Guardian
Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom – And What you Can Do About it, By Jamie Court, (J.P. Tarcher), 336 pages, $24.95
George Orwell warned us 50 years ago that the powers that be would subvert the public interest by co-opting our language, in his essays and in his prophetic 1984, in which the Ministry of Truth’s motto – “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” – would seem just as appropriate for the Bush White House or Fox News.
Longtime California consumer activist Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights and the disciple of consumer movement stalwarts Ralph Nader and Harvey Rosenfield, has penned an important new work, Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom – And What you Can Do About it, that illustrates how corporations have stolen our culture and prescribes how we might regain it.
Appropriately, Court begins by defining the word he coins: “corporateer v. To prioritize commerce over culture n. One who prioritizes commerce over culture.” He then helps us see “the invisible hand of the corporateer” and what it’s done to us since Orwell’s day, largely by manipulating our language and expectations. Corporateers invade our privacy, trick us with deceptive advertising, attack our rights of organization and association, compromise press freedom, erode our rights to use the courts, endanger our health and safety, corrupt our electoral system, and turn public spaces into commercial zones.
This book should be an eye-opener for the sedated American masses, but it also has valuable nuggets for those of us who already accept its premise. Court shows how the deification of “the market”, and the resulting subversion of democratic values, was no accident or spontaneous occurence but a calculated campaign by this country’s business and conservative leaders.
That movement began in 1971 when President Richard Nixon appointed corporate attorney Lewis F. Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court, whereupon the jurist sent an alarmist “confidential memo” to the leadership of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce titled “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System.” Troubled by the growing political strength of the environmental and consumer movements of the day. Powell called for an organized “counterattack” using the courts, media, schools, and political system and spelling out his scheme to equate market interests with societal interests in chilling detail.
“Powell’s vision became real within a decade,” Court writes. “Corporate-financed think tanks, trade associations, lobbying groups, academic programs, and political action commitees proliferated to change both the individual’s view of the corporation and the balance of power between the corporation and society.”
Corporateering is the Powell memo in reverse. Just as Powell saw ruling-class interests threatened by democratic reforms, Court sees our most cherished democratic values being subsumed by corporate domination, and he’s calling on all of us to fight back.
How? Well, we start with the language we use to define the problem. Behind the word corporateer are important ideas and distinctions. We can evaluate a given corporation to see whether it is corporateering, and if so, whether the public interest might be better served by regulating or even destroying that corporation.
That’s a revolutionary notion in this era of the hallowed “free market,” but maybe a revolution is what we need right now. Pamphleteers llike Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson awoke their compatriots to the injustices suffered under King George III, and perhaps it will be author-activists like Court who help us again declare our independence and assert our sovereignty.