Monday, April 11, 2005

The Corporation

Been looking forward to this documentary because the reviews were good, and while I think capitalism is pretty nifty and all that, I do think corporations hold and wield too much power these days. This documentary explains that and why, but...

Gad, I'm a lefty and this thing was so far left of me, I had to glance to the right to see if it was visible on the event horizon that way, too. They don't come right out and endorse socialism, per se, but they gesticulate at it like someone playing charades at gunpoint. Look, socialism just doesn't work as the primary solution engine of an economy or even a culture. No, a good mix of market/privately held concerns and some publicly held institutions is the healthiest possible situation.

The flick does a good job of explaining the problems of privatizing everything, to its credit. There are two mind-blowing examples of corporate overreach which can't be described as anything other than evil:

- The World Bank forced Bolivia to privatize their water system before allowing loans to improve the same. The company (based San Francisco - can't find the name easily and I don't take notes during movies, k?) that was contracted to do it had laws passed that claimed they owned ALL the water in the country, including any rainwater that fell from the sky. Then they pulled an Enron-like shortage scam and overcharged for the water. Well there was a revolt and things got fixed, but Jesus Christ Almighty. Two people lost their lives, and many were maimed for life during this revolt, by the way.

- RiceTek patented basmati rice, evidently a staple in India, and even altered the seeds they sold so the plants that grew were sterile and would not produce more seeds. You wonder which of Dante's circles of hell the bastards who thought that one up will spend eternity. Hopefully it involves George W. Bush reading poetry about choking on a cracker and cell walls festooned with nude photos of Karl Rove.

But, the film is so freakin' lefty, only lefties are gonna see it. Now they do include guys from both sides giving their point of view, but like Fox Pretend News, you have no doubt as to the agenda of the filmmakers. Had this been a bit more balanced, it would have been an important film. Well, it is an important film, but if you wrap fish guts in newspaper, no one's gonna wanna read the paper anymore. Alas.

The official site of the film is here if you just wanna poke around and not commit to two hours of talking heads splainin things atcha.


The first commenter to this post pointed out that companies have been altering seeds to grow sterile crops for quite a while. My bad. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that maybe the farmers might want this as a feature. Lots of farmers like to rotate crops, and if the old crop always seeded, maybe they would be dealing with mixed crops all the time. I admit having almost no useful knowledge on farming, so these are just all wild guesses on my part. My point is these sterile crops might be what the majority of the customers want. I simply don't have enough info to offer, and I'm not interested enough to research it.

The commenter also said I was a loose canon, I presume based on the version of hell that I painted. Well, that would just be one of my versions of hell. I had originally worked in Noam Chomsky playing an out-of-tune banjo, just to throw in an unrepentant lefty with the unrepentant tighty-righties, but the line didn't have the same snap, so Noam got the ax. (Though to be a worse hell for me personally, there would be bagpipe music accompanied on pipe organ rather than a bad banjo.)

That aside…

What was not in this movie, but is my primary concern with American corporations, is all the quasi-monopolies that have sprung up. Fair competition is the lifeblood of capitalism and these monopolies interfere with that.

In the recent years, I've seen three examples of corporate consolidation into monopoly-like entities that have been to my detriment as a consumer - I get an inferior product, or the same product at a drastically ballooned price when the production of said product hasn't risen at the same rate.

When I first moved to my house, there were many small power companies that were competitive and offered electricity and natural gas at decent prices. For some reason that I've never been able to suss out, in one year they were all bought by the same monolithic national utility. I do know it had nothing to do with the financial viability of the little power companies; an article in the paper at the time showed they were all running nicely in the black. After this consolidation, the new big boy in town said prices had to rise so that they could stay in business, which was all bullshit of course, the profit margins weren't where the company wanted them, so we all got gouged. My utility bill has more than doubled in this time. This is unacceptable for something so crucial to our daily existence. These folks can make a profit, as far as I'm concerned, but gouging on necessities is immoral.

The other two examples are lesser issues, because they have to do with media, which is not a necessity of life.

My cable bill is twice what it used to be, and remember, deregulation of cable was supposed to lower prices. Ha. There has been no discernable change in quality and quantity in what I get over cable. And the physical network was in place, so what's the reason prices have doubled? There aren't any. There's just no competition to drive prices down.

The example that hits me hardest in the soft underside of my soul is the demise of radio. I was raised on a robust, rockin' radio scene where all sorts of great music was there at the turn of a dial. We all know about the lame, commercial-laden mush that we now have, in part due to radio quasi-monopolies, but also due to the music industry's accompanying consolidation into 5 companies, and the brain-dead bottom line approach to selling music, as if it were Cheetos or something. Back in the day, a song could break in one city's market or through one DJ's influence, and based on that popularity it might make it nationwide - effectively circumnavigating the omnipresent payola system the music companies use to push hits. But, now that we have just a couple companies homogenizing the whole nation, and everyone has the same basic radio stations, the system locks out any methods of hearing good songs outside the ones the music companies want to push. I imagine this situation will correct itself - market self-correction being one of the benefits of a capitalist system - and this correction time will allow the internet to get on its feet as a popularization and distribution system, which is a good thing. But I sure miss my music. The AM radio station I praised recently is already off the air. I am alone. Where are you Baba O'Riley? {Sigh}


Anonymous said...

" Hopefully it involves George W. Bush reading poetry about choking on a cracker and cell walls festooned with nude photos of Karl Rove."

Your cannon is loose. F1 hybrid seeds have been a staple in American agriculture since at least the 1950s, and F1s are sterile. Try it. Grow a standard garden this spring and summer using seeds you get at the grocery or garden store, collect some of the seed when the plants bolt, and see what happens next year when you plant it. This is just a fact of agricultural life; you buy fresh seed every year because what the plants will produce won't work. It bodes ill for us in the postlude of nuclear war, but I suspect much will bode ill for us then.

Your punishment is to obtain a copy of Bush's inauguration speech and read it aloud to your daughter - without a lot of Moorean drama and meretricious emphasis.

Yahmdallah said...

But that would be just cruel...

However, that also proves my point about this movie. Seems they coulda mentioned that was standard practice in the seed industry.

That just leaves Boliva...?

sharon said...

Don't apologise for going after RiceTec (notice 'c' at the end, not 'k'). Their sin wasn't so much the old familiar evil of non-reprodctive rice--and it *is* evil, since impoverished farmers in third-world countries are forced to buy new grain yearly instead of their traditional patterns of setting aside seed grain--but "biopiracy." A big corporation patented basmati rice, a grain that was developed by indigenous farmers over hundreds of years. Kind of like bioengineers patenting the house cat on the basis of having produced one with a slighly longer tail.

Anyway defending "standard practice" in the seed industry WRT non-reproducing (& BTW not bio-diverse) seeds is like defending "standard practice" among the usurious credit card companies who are getting their dream bill pushed through Congress right now. Just because the big corporations have all been getting away with the unconscionable for a long time doesn't mean it's OK.

Hey, while we're on the lefty rants, how about those vanishing air traffic controllers? Why is it they're *all* about to retire at the same time, now?

Yahmdallah said...

Oh man, don't get me started on that one. I was in the industry when that crap happened. Yes, folks are going to start wondering why planes just start smacking into each other. Maybe we should hold a pool as to how many will occur before it's addressed.

Whisky Prajer said...

I expect you've had your fill of "The Corporation" (it's a long and repetitious movie, but if you felt your patience tried, you may be thankful in this instance that you weren't Canadian - because of its Canucklehead cred (and the absence of an NHL season, surely another example of the psychotic corporation run amok) we had the opportunity to watch it on at least two publically-funded television stations, at several intervals!) ... *deep breath* ... but if you're curious, the book is better. Nestled in among the alarming stories are one or two examples of CEOs who mustered up the moral wherewithal to do the right thing.

Also, wondered if you were familiar at all with theologian Walter Wink. He has some similar thoughts about the "beyond-control" nature of corporations *and* governments, but takes it in a slightly different direction.

The Corporation Book:

Walter Wink:

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