The inspiration for the film that won the 2004 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary, The Corporation contends that the corporation is created by law to function much like a psychopathic personality, whose destructive behavior, if unchecked, leads to scandal and ruin.
Over the last 150 years the corporation has risen from relative obscurity to become the world’s dominant economic institution. Eminent Canadian law professor and legal theorist Joel Bakan contends that today's corporation is a pathological institution, a dangerous possessor of the great power it wields over people and societies.
In this revolutionary assessment of the history, character, and globalization of the modern business corporation, Bakan backs his premise with the following observations:
-The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue relentlessly and without exception its own economic self-interest, regardless of the harmful consequences it might cause to others.
-The corporation’s unbridled self-interest victimizes individuals, society, and, when it goes awry, even shareholders and can cause corporations to self-destruct, as recent Wall Street scandals reveal.
-Governments have freed the corporation, despite its flawed character, from legal constraints through deregulation and granted it ever greater authority over society through privatization.
But Bakan believes change is possible and he outlines a far-reaching program of achievable reforms through legal regulation and democratic control.
Featuring in-depth interviews with such wide-ranging figures as Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, business guru Peter Drucker, and cultural critic Noam Chomsky, The Corporation is an extraordinary work that will educate and enlighten students, CEOs, whistle-blowers, power brokers, pawns, pundits, and politicians alike.
At first blush, a book characterizing the modern corporation as an"institutional psychopath" might feel like an exercise in hyperbole, but legal scholar Bakan (Just Words: Constitutional Rights and Social Wrongs) makes a persuasive case. No wild-eyed tract from the political left, the book--the basis of an eponymous documentary scheduled to be screened at Sundance in 2004--is a well-reasoned attack on the corrosive impact of mammoth corporations on human rights and democratic forms of government. Legally mandated to pursue its own self-interests,"the corporation can neither recognize nor act upon moral reasons to refrain from harming others," Bakan writes."Nothing in its legal makeup limits what it can do to others in pursuit of its selfish ends, and it is compelled to cause harm when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs." Bakan builds his case against corporations in strong prose uncluttered by jargon and bolstered with judicious facts and statistics (e.g. a Proctor & Gamble science curriculum assures students that clear-cutting"creates new habitats for wild-life"; a commodities broker notes that 9-11 was a"blessing in disguise" because his gold market clients made money; and, of the 1,400 new drugs developed between 1975-1999, only 13 were designed to treat tropical--i.e. unprofitable--diseases). But the book is prescriptive as well as critical. Bakan recommends that corporate power be reined in through better government regulations; publicly financed elections; protected, rather than privatized, stewardship of important groups and interests, such as cultural institutions and health and welfare services; and a shift away from market fundamentalism in international institutions like the WTO and the World Bank. Essentially an optimist, Bakan reminds--and attempts to empower--his readers:"Most important, we must remember...that corporations are our creations. They have no lives, no powers, and no capacities beyond what we, through our governments, give them."