Thought some of you might be interested in the Mokhiber/Weissman take
on corporations as part of their New Year thoughts.
>Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999 17:49:24 -0500 (EST)
>From: Robert Weissman <email@example.com>
>Subject: [corp-focus] The Corporate Century
>List-Id: Sharp-edged commentary on corporate power
>The Corporate Century
>By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
>As we move to the end of the millennium, it is important to remind
>ourselves that this has been the century of the corporation, where
>for-profit, largely unaccountable organizations with unlimited life, size
>and power took control of the economy and of the political economy --
>largely to the detriment of the individual consumer, worker, neighbor and
>Let us again remind ourselves that corporations were the creation of
>the citizenry. (Thanks here to Richard Grossman of the Project on
>Corporations Law and Democracy for resurrecting and teaching us a history
>we would have collectively forgotten.)
>In the beginning, we the citizenry created the corporation to do the
>public's work -- build a canal or a road -- and then go out of business.
>We asked people with money to build the canal or road. If anything
>went wrong, the liability of these people with money -- shareholders, we
>call them -- would be limited to the amount of money they invested and no
>more. This limited liability corporation is the bedrock of the market
>economy. The markets would deflate like a punctured balloon if
>corporations were stripped of limited liability for shareholders.
>And what do we, the citizenry, get in return for this generous public
>grant of limited liability? Originally, we told the corporation what to
>do. You are to deliver the goods and then go out of business.
>And then let humans live our lives.
>But corporations gained power, broke through democratic controls, and
>now roam around the world inflicting unspeakable damage on the earth.
>Let us count the ways: price-fixing, chemical explosions, mercury
>poisoning, oil spills, destruction of public transportation systems.
>Need concrete examples? These are five of the most egregious of
>Number five: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Price Fixing.
>In October 1996, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the good people who
>bring you National Public Radio, pled guilty and paid a $100 million
>criminal fine -- at the time, the largest criminal antitrust fine ever --
>for its role in conspiracies to fix prices to eliminate competition and
>allocate sales in the lysine and citric acid markets worldwide.
>Number four: Union Carbide and Bhopal.
>In 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India released
>90,000 pounds of the chemical methyl isocyanate. The resulting toxic cloud
>killed several thousand people and injured hundreds of thousands.
>Number Three: Chisso Corporation and Minamata.
>Minamata, Japan was home to Chisso Corporation, a petrochemical company
>and maker of plastics. In the 1950s, fish began floating dead in Minamata
>Bay, cats began committing suicide, and children were getting rare forms
>of brain cancer. Thousands were injured. The company had been dumping
>mercury into the bay.
>Number two: Exxon Corporation and Valdez Oil Spill.
>Ten years ago, the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Prince William Sound
>Alaska and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil onto 1,500 miles of
>Alaskan shoreline, killing birds and fish, and destroying the way of life
>of thousands of Native Americans.
>Number one: General Motors and the Destruction of Inner City Rail.
>Seventy years ago, clean, quiet and efficient inner city rail systems
>dotted the U.S. landscape. They were eliminated in the 1930s to make way
>for dirty and noisy gasoline-powered automobiles and buses. The inner city
>rail systems were destroyed by those very companies that would most
>benefit from destruction of inner city rail -- oil, tire and automobile
>companies, led by General Motors.
>By 1949, GM had helped destroy 100 electric systems in New York,
>Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles
>In 1949, a federal grand jury in Chicago indicted and a jury
>convicted GM, Standard Oil of California and Firestone, among others, of
>criminally conspiring to replace electric transportation with gas- and
>diesel-powered buses and to monopolize the sale of buses and related
>products to transportation companies around the country.
>GM and the other convicted companies were fined $5,000 each.
>These are not unusual examples. Books have been written documenting
>the ongoing destruction. The question remains -- how do we put a stop to
>And the answer seems clear to us -- reassert public control over what
>was originally a public institution.
>The ideas on how to reassert such control are the subject of debate
>and conflict, in Seattle and around the world. But it seems clear to us
>that as the twentieth century was the century of the corporation, the
>twenty-first promises to be the century where flesh-and-blood human beings
>reassert sovereignty over their lives, their markets and their democracy.
>Let us not forget that corporate control was never inevitable. They
>took it from us, and it is our responsibility to take it back.
>Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
>Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
>Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
>Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
>Courage Press, 1999, http://www.corporatepredators.org)
>(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
>Focus on the Corporation is a weekly column written by Russell Mokhiber
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