Publishers Weekly Daily
This month, Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, Arianna Huffington and a host of others will start uttering the term “corporateering.” The term signifies prioritizing commerce over culture; it was coined by consumer activist Jamie Court, author of Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom… And What You Can Do About It, published this week by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam (www.corporateering.org). PW Forecasts said: “His book should resonate with consumer rights groups and fans of [Michael] Moore’s brand of activism.”
Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights [FTCR], is co-author of Making a Killing: HMOs and the Threat to Your Health. He spoke to PW Daily contributor Norman Oder by phone from his office in Santa Monica, Calif.
PWD: Why did you write this book?
JC: Our group has been engaged in a lot of battles to reform insurance companies, energy traders, banks. I’d never seen a book that exposed the hidden hand of the corporations, their assumptions, tactics, and strategies for cultural power.
PWD: Strategies? Really?
JC: I can point to a memo that showed how corporations moved beyond having merely a commercial role and started trying to change the culture. In 1971, [lawyer and later Supreme Court Justice] Lewis Powell wrote to the Chamber of Commerce about how the corporation is
being kicked around on the campus and in Washington, D.C., and about how it was time to unite to take back cultural power. Powell, in a remarkable prefiguring of the next 30 years, said they had to start using their powers as sponsors of the media, to start influencing academia, by getting pro-business faculty and creating think tanks.
PWD: Aren’t there people on the other side, like Ralph Nader and Michael Moore?
JC: The corporation spends a trillion dollars a year marketing across the globe. Marketing isn’t just about products; it’s attitudes, assumptions that have cultural resonance. Corporations market products and issues to suggest that they are human organizations rather than institutions that have one goal, a commercial goal, of maximizing profit.
PWD: Aren’t you being a bit of a purist?
JC: Until the past 30 years, corporations served only a commercial purpose. The public has to see certain activities by the corporation as stepping over the line. The book seeks to put a word in use, corporateering, so the public has a vocabulary to describe when corporations sell individuals’ private information without their permission, or require that individuals give up their Seventh Amendment right to trial and submit to mandatory arbitration when they rent a car.
PWD: What about sharing personal information?
JC: The public is very angry about the sale of personal financial information without the individual’s permission. Consumer groups want corporations to ask permission. In state after state, that’s been defeated. The assumption is that there is no privacy for the individual unless they take great pains to tell the corporation not to sell their information.
PWD: Why do the corporations win on this one?
JC: The corporations, particularly the financial services industry, have given tremendous campaign contributions. The only hope right now is a ballot initiative that could break the logjam.
PWD: How did you come up with the word ‘corporateering?’
JC: We need a way to describe inappropriate corporate influences. As I started to think about them, they involved electioneering, profiteering, a lot of words with ‘eering.’
PWD: Will you target specific companies or acts?
JC: With credit scoring, corporations use a ‘black box’ and give you a score, which says whether you can get insurance or not, or buy a car at the best interest rate. We’re going to expose some of the logarithms that go into it. That’s the point: to spark cultural competition among
the corporations to do better, in their governance, in their relationship to individual freedom. We tend to think of corporation as giving us greater freedom, but only in the economic realm. The good life is not an unregulated commercial transaction.
PWD: Don’t a lot of people believe that government doesn’t work?
JC: Government isn’t necessarily very efficient. We work to keep government from being a client of corporations or being too lethargic. But corporations furthered the demonization of government as big, the same way they vilified the ‘greedy trial lawyers’ and the ‘elite environmentalists.’
PWD: What can the ordinary person do?
JC: Just by talking about the problem of corporateering, they can start to spread some consciousness. They can mail back reply envelopes empty, so the corporation has to pay. The book explains how you can collect $500 every time you get a ‘junk fax,’ or get another $500 every time you get unsolicited call when you’re on the [do not call] list. (sign up at: http://nocall.doj.state.ca.us/)
PWD: Corporations should pay for wasting our time?
JC: We should establish some sort of time value equation for individuals’ lost time. Corporations waste an inordinate amount of time putting us on hold or straightening out a billing mistake. But the minute we’re late on a bill, there’s a late fee. Time value could be developed by some new laws, or through the courts. Corporations should establish some standards for when they waste an inordinate amount of time.
PWD: You think a few people can create change?
JC: We’ve got to create better opportunities to dissent within the corporation. There has to be more dissent within the culture as well about what corporations do inappropriately. People can ask what percentage of revenue a corporation spends on political influence. We [FTCR] also have proposed a corporate ‘three strikes’ bill: if a corporation has three felonies, they lose their license to do business in the state. There are felons who’ve gone to jail for life for stealing a slice of pizza–and there are corporations that lie and cheat and steel and are never penalized.