CORPORATIONS AND HUMANITY
By Roland Watson
The last corporate public to consider is in fact all of us, all of the people, and all of the societies and cultures, around the world. We will now review how the above effects, on governments, employees, communities, schools, science and technology, the environment, and customers, are being propagated from country to country through the process that is known as globalization.
Indeed, when people speak of globalization, they mean globalization of the corporate system, so in the first instance this is economic. Corporations seek the cheapest sources of labor, and natural resources, to apply their capital to production, and they move from country to country in this search. And, along the way they are joined by the suppliers of capital, and the intermediaries in the "capital markets," their fellow travelers, the financial institutions.
One of the initial effects of globalization is the subjugation of labor to capital. Labor - people - are emasculated in this process, because of their lack of mobility. Only capital can leap borders at the push of a button.
The next, and arguably the most destructive consequence of all, is the worldwide spread of standardization. We have just seen that corporations want everyone in a country to buy the same products; they actually want everyone in the world to buy the same products. They want to bring about a conformity of the planet, a conformity of consumer tastes, what might be referred to as a culture of sameness, extending to every corner of the globe. (The primary tactic directed at individuals in this regard is the spread of television and "popular culture," and all of the behavioral manipulation that goes with it. The primary tactic directed at other institutions is the elevation of corporate interests above all others, as through the actions of the WTO.)
It has been commented that a byproduct of globalization is cultural destruction, but this is an inaccurate statement. It is not the byproduct: it is the goal! All of the different cultures around the world represent diversity, including diversity in styles and tastes. In order to enforce a uniformity of tastes, this cultural diversity, perforce, must be destroyed.
The only real barrier to this is cultural strength but, fortunately, this should not be underestimated. Small groups have been and will continue to be assimilated, but long-established and populous cultures, particularly those with traditions that are opposed to materialism, as in India, should be able to withstand the onslaught for a long time. (Perhaps this is a second reason why corporations prefer China to India.)
A further economic consequence, but as we have seen economic and social consequences are inextricably linked, is that corporations, and their ranks of employees, are the armies in the new global economic war. They are the means by which nationalism, the competition with and distrust of other nations, which historically was expressed in military conflict, is being maintained in the developing age of peace. Of course, many corporations retain an interest in the few remaining civil conflicts, such as by supporting dictators. As another example, arms manufacturers, and their ancillary suppliers, of such things as communication and computer equipment for advanced weapons systems, are one of the key catalysts behind the perpetuation of arms races and these conflicts.
One can only wonder how the executives of arms manufacturers can sleep at night. They provide high-technology weapons to conflicts previously fought hand-to-hand, thereby postponing their resolution and leading to an untold number of additional, unnecessary deaths. Of course, viewed cynically - and these people are nothing if not cynical - this is excellent marketing. More deaths means a greater desire for revenge, hence more demand for weapons, and still more deaths, etc. However, this is really not the point. Corporations couldn't care less about the consequences of their sales, or the characteristics and motivations of their buyers. For example, if China executed one thousand human rights advocates publicly, the CEOs of the companies that do business with the country wouldn't even blink, not even if the women advocates were raped first. They would just find some excuse, some rationalization, to continue their trade.
But, if you doubt this, you are wrong. It has already happened, in Tibet, and if you need more evidence, just think of all the companies that are eager to do business with Burma and Iraq.
Globalization is effecting a complete reshaping of the world's physical and social environment. And, while it does have some positive consequences, such as increased life expectancy, the negative effects are so extreme as to make the overall picture very one-sided. (People may live longer, but look what has happened to the world in which they do.)
The outcomes of globalization have been summarized as follows:
- Rise in inequality
- Dwindling jobs and wages
- Communities in collapse
- Casino economies
- Environmental plunder
- A threat to democracy and sovereignty
(Globalization: Fine for some, Bad for many, John Cavanagh, International Herald Tribune)
Globalization increases class divisions. At one end of the social order, the upper classes are wealthier than ever. Wealth, after all, breeds wealth, and not only through nepotism and corruption. You need money to make money, such as to take advantage of insider information and hot broker tips. Meanwhile, the lot of the lower classes is little changed, although not entirely: prices have gone up. And, because of this, one would expect, and we are seeing, increased resistance and also increasing anarchy. But, in response to this, the corrupt and dictatorial elites are attempting to entrench their power, and insulate themselves from dissent, rebellion and reform. The two sides are pulling very hard, in opposite directions. How long this situation, this fundamental disequilibrium, can be maintained, remains to be seen.
The second outcome, dwindling jobs and wages, is the natural product of the continuing search for people who are willing to work for less (and also of technology's quest for total automation). But at some point, quite soon, there will be nowhere else to look.
And, of course, with all of this we are seeing the collapse of communities. People are fleeing the countryside for employment opportunities in the cities and industrial centers. Once prosperous communities are becoming ghost towns, and cultural identities are being exterminated. And, the severity of this effect cannot be overstated, and it is all the more tragic since, when the companies leave, when the capital abruptly flies away, such people are left stranded, without jobs, far from home, and prey to all of the other social ills that have already been described.
This in turn leads to casino economies, by which is meant the idea that developing nations, like isolated communities in developed nations, are entirely at risk. Such economies function at the whim of corporate planners, investment fund managers and currency speculators. And, to this we must add the telescoping of economic development, which leaves behind not a well-grounded social infrastructure, which can generate its own development towards prosperity with no external assistance required at all, but rather overcapacity export industries teetering on the brink of insolvency.
As to the rest, including environmental destruction, and the threat to democracy - government for corporations, not for people - I have already commented extensively.
Finally, all of this is happening with no checks. Like a disease, it is spreading everywhere. What happens is that when corporations go transnational, they cut their links to nations. They flee jurisdictions, to escape regulation and accountability. Also, in some cases, such as with Unocal, which is one of the main corporate sponsors of the Burmese dictatorship, they cut their links with consumers as well, to ward off unwanted public attention and boycotts. Unocal actually sold its refineries and gas stations to escape from this type of pressure. It now concentrates on petroleum exploration and production, in regions dominated by dictatorships and weak democracies. Unocal is truly a model "corporate citizen."
The net result of all of this is a hardening of the world. Individuals, and all other species, are losing out as these new institutions consolidate and increase their power. With this we are being unitized and dehumanized, leading, of course, to greatly increased levels of unhappiness and despair.
© Roland Watson 2016