The Honourable East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth to represent the crown in all matters of trade with the nations of the far east in 1600. It was a simple beginning to what evolved two and half centuries later into the worst possible anecdote for corporate power unchecked. With its own army, it subdued the Indian subcontinent and forced China to import vast quantities of opium.
Corporations have a unique ability to transcend national boundaries. They represent opportunity as well immediate cash on the table. In a world opening up as never before they have the first foot in the door and an opportunity to create quick profits for everyone. They rarely set out to do evil, but with their unique position largely unchecked temptation lurks just behind every fair deal.
The example of the East India Company is not antique. History does not repeat, but it does rhyme.
Before wisdom comes learning. Before learning comes observation. Before observation comes perspective.
Globalization, as we have all come to see it from our various cultures, is confusing at best. It appears chaotic even though it does have several key vectors of direction. These are increasing integration, increasing technology, and increasing need for resources. Somewhere between he cultural and political chaos and these strong directions there is a reasonable anxiety, often expressed very well in popular culture as dystopian fantasy. From the perspective of where we are today these forces appear to lead us off into something not just new but very likely out of control
Clearly, a different perspective or set of perspectives is necessary to produce the right observations which will lead to the appropriate learning and eventually wisdom. But what is that perspective?
Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!
(Workers of the world unite!)
– Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (1848)
For 170 years, this cry has echoed through every May Day. On streets all around the world, police and many citizens have watched warily as many of their neighbors marched under red banners. Others have hidden, wishing the hint of revolution and danger would simply pass. In most nations, it’s a day off to celebrate the simple fact that labor creates all wealth. In the United States, almost alone, it’s not even a holiday.
What is the proper celebration for all workers on this International Day of Labor? Perhaps it is best to recognize that the best application of the same cause which Marx championed, the workers, may have created Communism as an ideology but in practical terms stands to save Capitalism from itself.
A corporation, by strict legal definition, is any group of people acting as if one for whatever their stated purpose. This definition is broad enough to include non-profits or NGOs. In practical terms, however, it refers to a an organization which makes something and hires people to do it.
But what is the purpose of them? Recently, it’s become very popular to assume that the main purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value. That is, to grow and reward those who put their money down to make it all happen in the first place.
There are many reasons to see this need for constant growth as dangerous. Most generally, it’s not sustainable outside of the rate of population increase and productivity gains, at least once the entire planet reaches a similar level of development. But more important, the view of what a corporations is, or at least why it exists, is extremely damaging to its own stated purpose. And it’s easily shown to not actually be true in practice.
Economics is all about money, right? It’s all about theories on how to distribute it, use it, make it, or protect it, yes? This is a common perception, and the focus on money dominates the area of political and personal understanding of all things related to important concepts like markets and wealth.
Yet there is substantial evidence that this is simply inadequate at best, wrong at worst. The purpose of money, according to a rigid definition, is to be a medium of exchange and a store of value. But there is quite a lot of evidence that as a store of value, a representation of accumulated wealth, it often fails horribly.
Money only works in a dynamic sense. There are several ways to read that statement, and they are all valid points.