Documentary: The Corporation

Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar’s doc begins with a bold assertion about the nature of the modern business world:
“150 years ago the business corporation was a relatively insignificant institution. Today, it is all-pervasive. Like the church, the monarchy, and the communist party in other times and places, the corporation is today’s dominant institution.”

Abbott and Achbar attempt to prove this by examining the roots of the corporation. Ray Anderson, the CEO of the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer Interface, says the birth of the corporation began in 1712 with the birth of the industrial age. That was the start of the real micromanagement of productivity and, almost immediately, the corporation would establish its arguable malevolence.

The corporations were initially forced to toil daily in servitude to the state. Fortunately (for some), the Civil War came along and resulted in the passage of the 14th Amendment. That’s the amendment that says that no States are to deprive people of life, liberty, or property. A few people believed, at the time, that the amendment was passed to protect newly freed slaves. In reality, though (says the doc), after the Supreme Court heard corporate lawyers, the 14th Amendment gave corporations recognition as people and the rights of people. This resulted in such statistics as one which states that between 1890 and 1910, of the 307 14th Amendment cases brought before the court, 288 were by corporations.

Abbott and Achbar will go on to further explain how the modern corporation works and to weigh the positive impacts it has had on the world (oft advertised environmental concern, charitable contributions) against the negative impacts (environmental destruction, corruption).

The balance is tipped against the corporation despite the filmmakers giving corporate figures opportunities to explain and defend their parts in their respective organizations. Defense can be a difficult task, though, when, as Abbott says, “the corporation is legally bound to put its bottom line ahead of everything else.” What type of person does that make the corporation? The answer, coming from FBI consultant on psychopaths Dr. Robert Hare, is that Joe Corporation is a prototypical psychopath.

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