Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Most Powerful Idea in the Universe (Part 1: The Imperative)

In the next three posts, I will be discussing an idea that, in its own quiet way, tends to overwhelm or absorb all competing ideas. First, a little personal context.

The Enemy
For many Mormons, the best two years of their life are spent on a mission. But let’s talk about the flip side of this cliché. Easily the two worst years of my life were spent in BYU’s MBA program. No other two years even come close. This experience was unpleasant for a couple of reasons. First, the work load. Nineteen and a half credit hours of heavy business classes in each of the first two semesters. Seventeen for the next two. Like pretty much everyone else, I didn’t have enough time to study well for each class, so I had to make a decision I found somewhat repulsive. I had to determine which classes I would prepare well for and which I would let slide. I had always been a good student, so this went against my better judgment, but I had no choice. Fortunately, I detested finance, so it got very little attention. There was probably a real-life lesson somewhere in this course overload designed to encourage mediocrity, but in thirty-five years I have failed to find it. At least my feelings for finance did not go unrequited. Finance as seemed to ignore me too. And a few years after I graduated, BYU eased up on the course load. Good for them.
The other reason MBA school was so unpleasant is that as I became immersed in the experience, something pernicious began happening to my soul. At the time I didn’t understand why, but the curriculum, the atmosphere, and the mentality of both my fellow students and the professors had a devastating effect on me. I felt that I was being turned into something I didn’t want to become and was being torn apart inside. I had no idea what was happening to me. I only knew that some deeply personal part of my sense of self was being attacked. I didn’t know how to counterattack; I didn’t even know how to defend myself. I had no idea who the enemy was. So I just tried to survive.
And that was about all I did. I crawled to the finish line, bruised and bleeding, accepted my diploma with numb relief as if it were some organizational red badge of courage, and only then began putting myself back together and searching for answers. I wanted to know what had happened to me—and why. For some reason this was critically important to me. And fortunately, I was blessed with an opportunity to seek those answers and to find them. That opportunity, ironically, was a full-time faculty appointment (which was quite a surprise, I assure you, for someone who had developed serious anticorporate feelings).
I suppose I concealed quite well from my fellow students and my professors the awful battle that had been waging inside me. My grades were not spectacular, but they were definitely above average. And I had done particularly well in operations management, the subject I ended up teaching. The math had been a place where I could take refuge, I suppose. At any rate, I accepted the faculty appointment—so I could earn some money and take a few classes before applying to PhD programs (which never happened)—but also for some other reasons. One was that I wanted to give students a very different experience from the one I had just completed. Another was that I needed time to heal and time to search for answers. As it turned out, I filled empty faculty slots at the Marriott School for nine years on a one-year contract, and during that time I figured out what the MBA program had done to me—and to many others—and why.
The single most illuminating piece of the puzzle fell into place when one of my colleagues suggested I read a book by William G. Scott and David K. “Kirk” Hart titled Organizational Values in America. Kirk was a professor of ethics in the school, but I hadn’t met him before. Nevertheless, I found a copy of the book and read it. And when I came to chapter 3, I suddenly had my answer. I could finally put a name to the enemy that had attacked me during the MBA program.

The Organizational Imperative
Scott and Hart identified a basic assumption or belief that is almost universally accepted in modern organizations. It is a direct corollary to the degeneration of the corporation from a public-service institution to a self-absorbed entity bent on maximizing profit. Scott and Hart called this assumption the “organizational imperative.”1 It is the notion that since all the good things in our modern lives come from large organizations, it is imperative that these organizations not only survive, but thrive. Thus, anything that promotes the health of a large organization is, by definition, good and desirable. This, of course, is simply a subtle way of saying the end justifies the means. And so we get the Enrons, Worldcoms, Arthur Andersons, Tycos, Haliburtons, AIGs, and Phillip-Morrises of the corporate world. We also get all kinds of other abuses in organizations large and small, because the organizational imperative is really just another way of saying that organizations are more important than individuals.
This may not sound like an earth-shattering revelation. In fact, many people in today’s world would hardly blink at such a notion: modern society is so thoroughly saturated with the propaganda and logic of megacorporations and their “needs” that we hardly question this logic anymore. But when organizations become more important than people, the whole world turns upside-down and suddenly people are at the mercy of things. They become, to use the awful modern metaphor, human resources. And what is a resource? Something that is used to produce something else. And when it is eventually used up, it gets thrown away.
The organizational imperative insists that people are merely means to an end, things to be used in any way that will ensure the success of the organization. Above all, they are a cost to be minimized.
Perhaps most troubling, the organizational imperative creates an organizational morality that is in many ways a repudiation of traditional American morality. A few years ago, I taught a BYU Education Week class on leadership principles. In one of the sessions, I introduced the concept of the organizational imperative. One man raised his hand and volunteered a personal example to support what I was teaching. He said he worked for a small company that had recently been acquired by a multinational corporation. The corporation required each employee to sign an ethics code. This was fine, the man said, but he was rather surprised at how this code defined the term “ethics.” Anything that promoted the success of the corporation was deemed to be ethical. Organizational imperative indeed.

Pirsig’s Giant
In Lila, Robert Pirsig’s sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he relates the following story, which aptly illustrates how backward and passively dangerous our thinking has become in Organizational America. (In case you haven’t read either of Pirsig’s books, Phædrus is his alter ego.)
When he was young Phædrus used to think about cows and pigs and chickens and how they never knew that the nice farmer who provided food and shelter was doing so only so that he could sell them to be killed and eaten. They would “oink,” or “cluck,” and he would come with food, so they probably thought he was some sort of servant. He also used to wonder if there was a higher farmer that did the same things to people, a different kind of organism that they saw every day and thought of as beneficial, providing food and shelter and protection from enemies, but an organism that secretly was raising these people for its own sustenance, feeding upon them and using their accumulated energy for its own independent purposes. Later he saw there was: this Giant. . . .
The Giant began to materialize out of Phædrus’ Dynamic dreams when he was in college. A professor of chemistry had mentioned at his fraternity that a large chemical firm was offering excellent jobs for graduates of the school and almost every member of the fraternity thought it was wonderful news. . . .
So here was this Giant, this nameless, faceless system reaching for him, ready to devour him and digest him. It would use his energy to grow stronger and stronger throughout his life while he grew older and weaker until, when he was no longer of much use, it would excrete him and find another younger person full of energy to take his place and do the same thing all over again.
Now, this is a backwards way of looking at modern society, but Pirsig is a rare seer in many ways. He sees things others don’t. In America, we have encouraged and embraced a system called corporate capitalism. It is a system of organisms that use human beings for their own ends. And they are organisms, with needs and impulses and priorities. Their main priority is survival, and they will do anything they can get away with to achieve that priority. They maintain power through the subtle spreading of a value system that convinces people to become passive or even cooperative tools in the service of corporate goals.
Organizations reveal a great deal about themselves and their real values by the official terminology they employ. Many organizations, from retailers to churches, have a Human Resources department. This term comes straight and undiluted from the organizational imperative. By contrast, a good friend of mine who works for a large and somewhat enlightened corporation has the job title Senior Vice President of People Development Services. Although we might ask what purpose the people are being developed to serve, People Development Services does send a quite different message than does Human Resources. We need to be wary of other terms also—such as human capital, performance evaluation, work measurement, downsizing, rightsizing, empowerment, or motivation—terms that suggest people are things to be used, controlled, quantified, or manipulated in the production of goods or services. And the statement “Our people are our most valuable asset” is a backhanded compliment at best. People are not resources, capital, or assets. They are children of God, individuals with unalienable human rights. Organizations should exist to serve people, not the reverse. All organizations. Including the LDS Church. If the Church becomes more important in our eyes than the people in and around it, we have elevated it to the level of an idol.

Serving the Church
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims itself to be the re-establishment of the Lord’s true Church in these latter days. If true, it is indisputably the most important organization on earth. But is it more important than the people in it—or the people who aren’t members, for that matter? Of course not. God does not say, “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of the Church.” The organization is a vehicle, a tool, and a temporary one at that. Its purpose is to serve us, the individual children of our Heavenly Father, and to help us achieve our purpose, which is to become like him. It is also a gathering place—a receptacle, if you will—within which the Saints of God can experience community and prepare for the Second Coming of his Son.
Given this perspective, we need to consider an important question. Do we serve the Church? Should we? No. We serve in the Church. We serve each other. And we serve the Lord. But we do not serve the Church. At least we shouldn’t, because if we do, we are elevating a thing, a tool, above the people it should be serving. This is a subtle distinction, but it is vitally important. If a member with a little authority believes he is serving the Church, he will act in a way that will, first and foremost, preserve the organization or at least make it appear successful, even if this preservation or appearance of success comes at the expense of the people in the organization—because the organization, in his eyes, is more important than the people in or around it. Often the appearance of success also comes at the expense of the truth.
In a more general sense, any institution that rejects the organizational imperative will operate on the fundamental assumption that it exists to serve people, generally in two ways: to offer a valuable good or service to society and to provide opportunities for people to work, develop their talents, and earn a good living. Organizational survival or even success, often quantified as profit, is not unimportant, because organizations must survive in order to serve the people in and around them, but it is correctly viewed as a byproduct of these more important objectives.
So where did the organizational imperative come from? And what are the specific values it inflicts upon society? Stay tuned.
1. See William G. Scott and David K. Hart, Organizational Values in America (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1989), ch. 3.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mormonism and Capitalism

On May 27, 1868, the following appeared in a newspaper editorial:
“Throughout the world there is a struggle for power and supremacy between capital and labor. Capital seeks to have labor helplessly in its power, tied hand and foot, so to speak, and entirely subservient to its will. Labor strives to retaliate when circumstances offer opportunity, by attempting to force capital to hire it at its own terms. Capital endeavors to tyrannize over labor, to grind labor down. . . . It is haughty, driving, coercive and unjust, when the demand for labor is less than the supply. And labor, to find an equality, resorts to every means in its power to successfully combat capital. This is the condition of capital and labor in the world. Of course, there are exceptions, and in some places it is worse than in others; but wherever large masses of human beings are collected together to reside and labor, there capital strives to lord it over labor, to fatten on the poor, to grind and oppress the toiling bone and sinew that feeds its intolerable craving for wealth; and labor acts the hypocrite to capital, . . . does the least possible amount of work in the longest given time, and seeks to be even with capital in a struggle of mutual dishonesty.
“. . . Class feelings have thus been engendered, and, though living with and for each other, so to speak, in many places employers and employed hate each other with the most bitter hatred. But the capitalist has an advantage over the laborer, which makes the contest unequal, and the latter in nearly every instance is compelled to yield to the former, where an issue is directly raised as in the case of strikes of workmen. The capitalist can live without the workingman’s labor, in most cases, until he can starve labor to his terms.”
So, where did this treatise appear? England? Germany? And who was its author? Perhaps Karl Marx or one of his cronies? Not quite. Would you believe this editorial appeared in the Deseret News, and although it carried no byline, it was likely written by George Q. Cannon, editor of the News and counselor to Mormon President Brigham Young.
A little historical context is helpful here. It is 1868, and Brigham is worried about two things: the coming of the railroad, less than a year away; and a group of non-Mormon merchants who are reaping big profits by selling merchandise to the Latter-day Saints. Brigham sees these two developments as threats to his vision of Zion, the kingdom of God he is striving to establish. His response is the cooperative movement, the centerpiece of which is the new Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI).
The above-quoted editorial was part of Brigham Young’s campaign to promote his cooperative movement. The editorial goes on to say that the Mormons have the answer to the labor-capital conflict. Under the cooperative system, the workers become owners. And this defuses the class warfare between capital and labor.
Although arguments like the one quoted above sound extreme in today’s economy where labor has become docile through the repeated threat of having its jobs shipped off to Third World countries or replaced by technology, the flaws of the capitalist system persist. We still have what Peter Block identified as a dual wage system. We have a class of people who are paid as much as possible. And we have another class of people who are paid as little as possible. Hired labor is still defined as a cost to be minimized. The result is a society in which the working class has too little disposable income to buy all the products corporations need to sell to stay in business. So consumers buy on credit (and government picks up the slack). But this accelerates the growing inequality in our society because debt is the most efficient mechanism for shifting wealth from those who pay interest to those who earn it. So the system gets more and more out of balance, with the already wealthy taking a larger and larger percentage of the available wealth. A recent statistic that has been bounced around the media is that there are now eighty-five individuals who possess as much wealth as the bottom half of the earth’s total population. Such an economy cannot endure. Eventually, demand dries up, and as business profits shrink, even the top 1 percent become losers. Everyone loses in such an imbalanced economy. This is why the 1 percenters are starting to speak out about the rapidly growing inequality.
In earlier decades, we tamed this inherent tendency of capitalism with steeply progressive tax rates. After World War II, for instance, the top marginal rate was 94 percent. This helped create the postwar middle class that is now rapidly fading. Things started to change with Reaganomics (which George H. W. Bush called voodoo economics). A major piece of Reagan’s revolution was an economic fad that still plagues us today: supply-side economics. Today the top tax rate is 39.6 percent, which is actually up 4.6 percent from its nadir after the Bush tax cuts. Of course the Republicans, who had all taken the Grover Norquist pledge, howled and wailed and warned that raising the rate on “job creators” would bring dire consequences. Dire, I tell you. Well, so much for the devastating effects of raising taxes. This measly little 4.6 percent increase in the top rate went virtually unnoticed. Corporate profits continued to hit record highs, and the top earners continued to amass wealth at a breakneck pace. It was as if this little tax increase never even happened.
But raising taxes on the wealthy is to treat a symptom rather than attack the cause of the illness. If gross inequality is indeed the real danger that even the obscenely wealthy are now admitting it is, we need to prevent it rather than prune it. And that involves rethinking the whole program of ownership we have bought into. Only a different system of ownership can remove the dual pay system we now labor under.
Perhaps Brigham was onto something. If workers are their own owners, they don’t pay themselves as little as possible. They don’t cut their own health benefits. They don’t send their own jobs off to Vietnam or Indonesia or China. They also have more disposable income to buy consumer products. And there is less wealth being siphoned off by the rich, where it is often invested in foreign jobs or in speculative financial instruments.
I find it interesting, though, that Brigham’s cooperative movement didn’t survive. Even after he threatened to excommunicate any Mormon who did business with a non-Mormon merchant. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Brigham refused to personally embrace the law he expected others to live. As David Vaughn Mason puts it in his new biography of Young, “His utopian soul, which had grabbed Mormonism’s promise of a new society of equals in the struggling farmland of New York, could not smother his entrepreneurial instincts, which prosperity in his Utah kingdom inflated. Anyway, the man who proposed that the people submit themselves and their means to an appointed committee could not bring himself to trust anyone else to manage his money.”1
The early Mormon historical landscape is littered with abandoned attempts to achieve the economic equality that Mormon scripture demands (see, for instance, D&C 49:20; 70:14; 104:14–18). Every time Joseph Smith or Brigham Young tried a new method of reapportioning wealth so that the Lord’s goal of economic equality could be reached, the people, by and large, rejected it. But today things are different. Whereas these early attempts at achieving equality were largely theological or idealistic imperatives, today our efforts to tame inequality, the dread beast of Babylon, may spell the difference between a general prosperity and economic collapse. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we have the willpower to conquer the beast before it sinks the whole system.
1. David Vaughn Mason, Brigham Young: Sovereign in American (New York: Routlegde, 2015), 134.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Of the Corporation, by the Corporation, for the Corporation: A Short History Lesson (Part 3)

In part 2, I briefly chronicled the path corporations have followed to achieve dominance in American society. We’ve pretty much come full circle now in our economic preferences. After retreating from a distant feudal past and attempting for a time to create an economy in harmony with our political ideals, we are once again embracing an aristocratic system. Accumulated wealth has a way of imposing its will and shaping the perceptions of those who do not share materially in the wealth. But viewed objectively, the corporate form of capitalism is an anachronistic remnant from our aristocratic past. Thus, in an ironic twist of fate, we have embraced a strangely schizophrenic system in which we purport to enjoy political democracy and yet openly embrace economic authoritarianism. This perfectly disharmonious arrangement has turned Abraham Lincoln’s assessment of the proper relationship between capital and labor on its head: “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves the higher consideration.”1 But in today’s economy, labor, even though it creates capital, receives none in the typical structuring of corporate ownership.
Questioning this system, Marjorie Kelly points out an inconsistency in our thinking about property rights: “In believing that property rights spring not from all labor but only from the labor of entrepreneurs and CEOs, we value aristocratic rights over natural rights. The point is not that the skills of a CEO aren’t scarce and valuable but that they realize their value only in conjunction with the skill of others. The point is not that the property rights of the entrepreneur are illegitimate but that they have been stretched beyond reasonable bounds—much as the property rights of kings were once stretched beyond reasonable bounds.”2 The result is a sort of feudalistic form of capitalism in which a few elite feudal lords own not only the property where the peasants work but also the products created and sold by the serfs. And this corporate system of aristocratic ownership has now engulfed nearly the entire global economy. How did we ever come to this pass?

The Corporation System
After World War II, the United States experienced a period of growth and prosperity perhaps unrivaled in the history of the world. The rationing of goods during the war years had finally ended. Wartime industries were converted into a manufacturing base for consumer products. The GI Bill sent a generation of young veterans to college, preparing them for responsibilities in the burgeoning economy. Perhaps the most significant factor, however, was the fact that the rest of the world was in shambles. It would take Europe and Japan many years to become industrial powers. China and the Soviet empire had retreated behind their respective curtains—bamboo and iron—and did not pose serious economic threats.
For nearly two decades, Americans reveled in this climate of opportunity and prosperity. Then came the Sixties. Old inequalities seethed and stirred; civic unrest boiled over in a variety of radical movements. The Baby Boom generation, bored with the mores and values of their parents and weary of an unpopular war in Southeast Asia, pushed against boundaries on all sides. As a result, the Sixties became the decade of civil rights, feminism, free love, flower power, LSD, rock and roll, war protests, and general rebellion against the “establishment.”
Chaos appeared to reign. It seemed the whole world had turned upside down. But I would suggest that all this upheaval was merely a diversion. All the headline-grabbing movements of the ’60s and early ’70s were really just leaves blown upstream by a brief puff of wind. The deeper current, that turbulent era’s most real and certainly most significant development, which began in earnest at the end of World War II and flowed forward with stolid, unsentimental, and unstoppable momentum, was the rapid expansion and entrenchment of corporate capitalism. When the free-love, rock-and-roll, new-morality, drug-experimentation, radical-feminist, war-protest, and civil-rights movements of the ’60s and ’70s had spent their fury, we Americans awoke one gray morning to discover that in the meantime all of us—hippies included—had been quietly absorbed into a global economy dominated by multinational corporations, professional managers, and organizational values.
By the time the ’80s rolled around, Wall Street was king and greed was good. Corporate capitalism had not only weathered the social storm, it had absorbed it and adapted it to its own uses. How was this possible? Noted historian and social critic Christopher Lasch explains:
The market notoriously tends to universalize itself. It does not easily coexist with institutions that operate according to principles antithetical to itself: schools and universities, newspapers and magazines, charities, families. Sooner or later the market tends to absorb them all. It puts an almost irresistible pressure on every activity to justify itself in the only terms it recognizes: to become a business proposition, to pay its own way, to show black ink on the bottom line. It turns news into entertainment, scholarship into professional careerism, social work into the scientific management of poverty. Inexorably it remodels every institution in its own image.3
Americans generally and narrowly view corporate capitalism as the opposite of communism and naïvely assume it must therefore be good because its opposite is evil. But two opposites can both be corrupt. Both communism and corporate capitalism, particularly if the latter is unfettered by government interference, are authoritarian systems that are inimical to the well-being of most individuals. Both systems are actually more similar than different when viewed through the lens of America’s social and political ideals. But, as Lasch observes, the values of the market system tend to absorb anything in their path. And so we now have former hippies in pinstripe suits on Wall Street, and rock and roll has become just another industry. Feminism and civil rights may have started as liberal cries for general equality, but where they eventually focused their attention was on the desire of women and minorities to gain economic equality. Politics, increasingly, is dominated by the economics of power: not only are elections often determined by who has the most money to spend, but corporate interests routinely sway the perspectives and decisions of both elected officials and voters. Similarly, the media, once an institution that helped preserve our liberties by disseminating pertinent information and thoughtful analysis of current issues, has become primarily a profit-making venture, and advertising dollars often shape both the content and the slant of the news. Perhaps most tellingly, a university education—once intended to produce a well-rounded, moral, intelligent, and informed citizen—is now unashamedly promoted as a means to a far different end: producing marketable commodities for multinational corporations. Even English departments advertise themselves as good preparation for law or business school.
Regardless of the target, first the corporate values infiltrate it, then they slowly remodel it from the inside out until it is an adequate reflection of the preferred corporate pattern. Why is the corporate system so persuasive, so powerful? Precisely because it is a system; it is the system. Robert Pirsig, in his classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, gives this insight:
To speak of certain government and establishment institutions as “the system” is to speak correctly, since these organizations are founded upon the same structural conceptual relationships as a motorcycle. They are sustained by structural relationships even when they have lost all other meaning and purpose. People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to five without question because the structure demands that it be that way. There’s no villain, no “mean guy” who wants them to live meaningless lives, it’s just that the structure, the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it is meaningless.
But to tear down a factory or revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.4

Redefining the Corporation and Its Purpose
Once we understand the nature of the corporate system and the values upon which it operates and justifies its existence, we can begin to question these basic assumptions. Perhaps the most fundamental notion we should question is the very definition of what a corporation is. The current definition, which shapes both our laws regarding these institutions and the way we allow them to behave, is a paradoxical or self-contradictory definition. First, we define a corporation as a piece of property, something that is owned. This definition allows shareholders to claim ownership of the corporation, and it also allows the corporation to define its purpose as maximizing profit for its owners. According to this definition, then, a corporation is piece of money-producing property whose sole function is to enrich an elite group of shareholders and executives. If a corporation is property, however, then by definition everything that is part of the corporation is also property, including employees. According to this definition, people are not the focal point; the focus is money, and people are merely tools to be employed in the pursuit of almighty profit.
The second definition insists that the corporation is an individual, a “person,” with all the constitutional rights human beings claim as citizens of a free country. In this sense, Mitt Romney’s campaign gaffe was ironically accurate. Corporations are indeed “people too.” But corporate persons are more than mere human persons. They are allowed to exist in perpetuity. In essence, they have eternal life. They outlive their founders, their investors, their customers, and their rulers. They also have the resources to exert far greater influence―not just economically, but politically, socially, and morally―than any human citizen can manage. These two definitions, while contradictory, are still recognized by our current laws, and this creates moral, social, political, and economic conflicts in our modern society.
But what if a corporation is much, much more than either a manmade person or a piece of profit-producing property? As illustrated by the story of the consultant and the high-level executives in a previous post, corporations do have deeper and more fundamental purposes than merely to generate profit. What might those purposes be? I would argue that any corporation has two primary purposes: first, to produce a valuable good or service to improve society and, second, to provide opportunities for members of the community to have meaningful employment. Profit, while not unimportant, must be understood correctly as a byproduct of these two higher purposes. Additionally, it is obvious that a corporation is not a person. It is a collection of individuals working in concert to perform a vital function for human society.
If we discard these traditional, illogical definitions, we can then see that a corporation is both a community where people find meaning and a vehicle for bettering society. When we define a corporation as a community whose purpose is to improve society through the production of valuable goods or services, the corporation does not seek to employ as few people as possible and pay them as little as it can justify so that it might maximize profits; instead, it hires as many people as it can meaningfully employ and pay them as much as possible while still generating enough profit to secure the perpetuation of the organization. This definition of corporate meaning and purpose directs the company, in effect, to minimize profit so that it can maximize employment and worker pay. This scenario is entirely consistent with Adam Smith’s ideal of benevolent or sympathetic organizations.
If we do not reject the prevailing definition of corporate existence and purpose that drives the current system, we will, to put it bluntly, arrive at the destination toward which we are heading. And this is not a destination any of us really wish to reach—even the obscenely wealthy, because at this destination they too will soon be impoverished.
Corporate capitalism may be the most powerful system this world has ever known. Indeed, it has now consumed nearly the entire world. But what we have come to call the global economy is really nothing more than corporate capitalism nearing its inevitable destiny. It has so much momentum that the sheer force of it is almost irresistible. Even when it has proven to be both destructive and irrational, most of us cannot imagine a world without it. Even when it is falling apart all around us, we still want to fix it instead of replacing it. Most people can’t even imagine a different system, one that is more just and equitable and healthy. The current system has a logic of its own that in its own illogical way is virtually unstoppable. The only thing that can stop it is itself. Unless . . . unless we can tear ourselves away from incorrect definitions and shallow perceptions of the system. So, what can we do to avert the inevitable system failure, when the whole structure will collapse under the weight of its own inherent excesses? How do we build something new without simply repeating the mistakes we’ve embraced as corporate capitalism has engrained itself in our collective psyche? Well, welcome to a small slice of sanity. Stay tuned.
1. Abraham Lincoln, “Annual Message to Congress,” December 3, 1861, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: 1861‒1862, vol. 5 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953).
2. Marjorie Kelly, The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2001), 111.
3. Christopher Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, 97–98.
4. Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (New York: Bantam Books, [1974], 1980), 87–88.