Independence From The Corporation

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The following Op-Ed commentary was published on July 04, 2003 in the San Diego Union Tribune.

On this Fourth of July, Americans should consider how many of their freedoms are now up for sale.

An individual’s private medical and financial information is bought and sold by corporations without the person’s permission.

Children are aggressively marketed to in school without their parents’ consent.

An individual must give up his or her Seventh Amendment right to trial in favor of mandatory arbitration simply to have a bank account, buy a car or receive health coverage.

Corporations are after more than our money.

While the settlers and Founders of this nation believed government threatened their freedom most, today large corporations pose one of the greatest challenges.

Doubt it?

The ultimate definition of America’s cultural freedom is the Declaration of Independence. Remarkably, many of the grievances against King George III in the Declaration also can be made against the modern corporation.

“Refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Hasn’t the corporation refused assent to laws necessary for the public good when industry lobbyists stonewall financial privacy laws and other consumer protections?

“Depriving us in many cases of the right to trial by jury.”

Today mandatory binding arbitration is a condition of commerce. There is no appeal of legal errors to a court, and friendly arbitrators receive repeat business from corporate defendants (one credit card company won 99 percent of its arbitrations).

“Made judges dependent upon his will alone.”

Nationally, the Chamber of Commerce has increasingly financed judicial elections to unseat state Supreme Court justices opposed to limited liability for corporations — failing to respect the independence of the judiciary.

“Combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws.”

Didn’t industry-backed global trade laws subject Americans to a jurisdiction foreign to their constitution when NAFTA required Mexican trucks that did not meet U.S. standards to be allowed on U.S. roads or when sea turtles protected by the Endangered Species Act were suddenly shrimp bait under a World Trade Organization ruling?

Like King George, the modern corporation has increasingly redefined the rules of society, law and ethical custom to its advantage and the individual’s detriment.

The problem is a largely invisible one, however, because there is not even a word in the American vocabulary for it.

A brand for corporate misbehavior would help us identify the problem. Call it “corporateering.” The math of the corporateer is simple: “corporation > individual,” “commerce > culture.”

Such logic too often underlies the corporation’s dealings with individuals, the courts, government, the media and other arms of culture, such as the arts, academia, and science.

The major shift in corporate tactics to capture cultural control dates to the 1970s when America’s burgeoning transnational corporations faced increasing public criticism and new regulatory controls in Washington, D.C. inspired by environmental and consumer reformers.

An internal memo from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971 laid out what has literally been a 30-year plan to take cultural power from those who would criticize, regulate and reform the corporation in the media, the courts, academia and politics — the engines of culture.

By the 1980s, corporations had become aggressive in all these arenas to secure their interests — including the growth of corporate-funded think tanks, publishing houses, legal funds, political action committees, lobbying groups and public relations machines.

The “Age of the Corporateer” was afoot.

Fighting back will require more than words, but the Fourth of July is a good time to take pause and remind ourselves what we have lost.

True corporate accountability requires an understanding that corporations may serve commercial needs of the individual well, but not necessarily social ones.

California’s energy crisis and HMO abuses dramatize how dangerous it can be for society if profit-driven corporations are given control over vital social needs like electricity and health care.

Independence — for the individual and the public — must begin in the mind before it can take shape in the body. So as Americans hear the fireworks this weekend, we should consider which institution in our lives we most need to declare independence from.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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