MaxBarry.com
that guy, who wrote that thing

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Thu 20
Jan
2005

On Capitalism and Corporatism

What Max Reckons I am occasionally accused of being anti-things: anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, and anti-globalization, mainly. If you’ve read Jennifer Government, you may have an inkling why. But that’s a novel, not an essay. So I am going to settle the burning issue: What Max is Anti-.

Let’s start with anti-corporate. People say this just because I wrote a book in which Nike commits mass murder as a promotion for sneakers. The truth is, I consider myself fairly pro-corporation. After all, I believe they should be allowed to exist. I’m happy for them to manufacture things, and offer those things to me in exchange for money. So long as they don’t externalize the true costs of such manufacture—by, for example, dumping their waste in a river—that’s totally fine. My only beef with corporations is that they would clearly kill any one of us if there was a clean profit in it, and they seem to be getting themselves into a position to do just that.

Now apparently that makes me anti-corporate. Which I think is totally unfair; after all, I can be pro-lawnmower even though I don’t want them running over my feet. I don’t believe that corporations are evil. I don’t think they’re immoral. They’re simply amoral: they have no capacity for ethical judgment. Like a lawnmower, they do what they’ve been designed for.

My attitude toward corporations doesn’t depend on whether they’re large or small, chain or independent, foreign or local. It’s certainly true that companies that serve the general public (like McDonald’s and Apple) act nicer than companies that don’t (like Monsanto and Halliburton), but this is no anomaly: it’s just further proof that corporations are only interested in public opinion when it affects their bottom-line. Fundamentally, all public companies are cast from the same mold. They are all machines, running different programs on the same operating system.

This is not a particularly common view in these days when corporations appear to us as grinning clowns and energetic bunnies. We are generally encouraged to view them as real people, complete with emotions and personalities and quirky senses of humor. To me this is the purest horseshit, and why I am never surprised by scandals of companies caught behaving badly. They are not people, and it isn’t cynicism to say so: it’s the plain truth.

(By the way, I suspect that the increasing personification of corporations might turn out to be their Achilles’ heel. The more society buys into the myth that companies are real people, the more we expect them to adhere to human-like standards of ethical behavior. People like me would allow corporations to get away with murder, because we expect nothing better. It’s the people who get shocked when they discover that designer-label clothing is manufactured for ten cents an hour by children in China who cause trouble for a brand’s image and force companies to improve their behavior.)

As for capitalism, I’m definitely pro- that. At least, I’m in favor of the kind of regulated capitalism that clearly beats the pants off any other economic system the world has come up with so far. Capitalism has its pointy bits, but it’s hard to argue with life-saving medicines, mobile phones, and being able to buy a vintage Chewbacca figurine over the internet. Now, I don’t think it’s a smart idea to privatize water, or the government, or any other essential service that isn’t subject to natural competition, but that doesn’t mean I’m anti-capitalist. That means I’m not a zealot.

Somehow, the words “corporation” and “capitalism” have gotten mixed up: the prevailing view is that corporations are champions of capitalism, while anybody prone to waving a placard outside a Gap store must be against it (and maybe even against *cough* *cough* freedom.) I don’t know how anyone who’s actually worked for a corporation can believe this. Companies are like the Soviet Union pre-1989: they’re centrally-managed, they’re always trying to establish a monopoly, and there’s nothing they love more than a little price-fixing. Sometimes they send people to lobby government, but not for more competition: no, they want subsidies, special favors, tax breaks, and government assistance. So who’s the pinko? It’s corporations that are anti-capitalist, not people like me.

Finally, globalization: I’m pro- that, too. Its great potential benefit is that as it erodes national boundaries, the privileges of rich nations leak out to the poor. Today, the single greatest determinant of your health, wealth, and general standard of living is which part of the Earth you happened to be born in—something you had no say in, and can take no credit for. There is currently some consternation in Western nations about jobs flowing offshore, to people who will work for less pay (although this has been the case ever since I can remember, just in different industries), but as far as I’m concerned, this is terrific. As much as it would suck to be made redundant from your call center because the work is moving to India, that job is going to someone poorer than you, who needs the work more than you, and who in unemployment faces more serious consequences than having to cancel his World of Warcraft subscription. We are gradually coming to grips with the concept that people shouldn’t be discriminated against for things they can’t control, and thanks to globalization, this will eventually apply to people outside our own national borders. It is an outrage that Western nations preach free trade while blocking poorer countries from selling us their goods; it perpetuates Third World poverty in order to protect First World jobs. I’ll suck up a lot of lost Aussie culture and Planet Hollywood stores to get rid of that.

Comments

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Esam Al-Shareffi (#986)

Location: NY, USA
Quote: "Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, in Soviet Russia, poem writes you!"
Posted: 3562 days ago

Yay! I get first comment.

Ahem... it all seems fairly rational and I don't know of anyone, even the most ardent supporters of capitalism, who would seek to open critical services to corporations... not to mention that most of these people also deeply appreciate the role of the government in setting the rules as long as they don't play in the game.

As for the "problem" of exporting jobs overseas, I think that as long as the concept of the nation-state, created in order to protect the lives and interests of its members above the rest of the world, you will always have people upset with that particular piece of globalization. If it becomes a real issue (if a lot of jobs are affected,) all it would take is for a politician to promise strict limits... for he or she will not care about that overseas worker who cannot vote for them.

Morzaria (#463)

Location: Bangalore, India, well, most of the time atleast...
Quote: "We are gonna run run run to the cities of the future.."
Posted: 3562 days ago

*nods in agreement*

Sir Dougie (#618)

Location: Southport, UK
Quote: "[insert funny quote here]"
Posted: 3562 days ago

Excellent piece.

It is possible to be pro-globalisation and pro-capitalist without having to sell your soul to the devil (or Haliburton). Plus, exisitng corporations would love nothing more than restrictions of competition - now that they have the market share!!

One of the most intelligent articles I have read on the subject.

Matthew Tilley (#81)

Location: North Carolina, USA
Posted: 3561 days ago

Real life positions . . . that is, opinions that real people have, not those of the talking heads who want to think they represent "the people" . . . are so complex.

They're also boring.

It's much more sexy to be or paint someone as being anti-something than to take the time and energy to explain or listen to an explanation of the complexities that make up one's views.

Excellent explanation. You're spot on and this capitalistic corporate whore agrees whole-heartedly.

Unfortunately, its not the rabble-rousing stuff that turns people on and moves civilzations toward progress or decline. Sound bites and emotions win wars.

Dawn (#270)

Location: Atlanta, GA, USA
Quote: "It's too bad I don't have something witty to write here..."
Posted: 3561 days ago

I don't know, Matthew... I think this would make a great soundbite (though it wouldn't help the 'Max is anti-corporate' argument any):

"Companies are like the Soviet Union pre-1989: they’re centrally-managed, they’re always trying to establish a monopoly, and there’s nothing they love more than a little price-fixing."

JJ MacMillan (#819)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "I just wanted you to see what bad planning looked like."
Posted: 3561 days ago

As someone who has had three (3) jobs off-shored from underneath him, I would like to say that the person in India who got my job didn't need it any worse than I, because when he got my job, his income went from $10 per hour to $10 per hour whereas mine when to $0 per hour.

Also, as much as people like to demonize the nation state as the root of all evil, remember that war no longer needs borders and your only protection from corporate misadventures (Gee, there's lead in the costume jewelry coming from China) are those instituted within those borders.

Besides, why do we all have to be exactly alike? If we're going to celebrate diversity, let's go ahead and maintain our independent cultures.

Sorry, W's being inaug'd for the SECOND time and it's just ruined my whole day.

JJ

Cass (#984)

Location: Canada
Quote: "I will cut you"
Posted: 3561 days ago

Have you seen the Canadian documentry 'The Corperation'? It talks about how corperations have the legal rights of a human being, and if it was a human being it would be a pyschopath in the first part of it, which is REALLY interesting.

Paul (#104)

Location: Connecticut, USA
Quote: ""Don't fight it son. Confess quickly! If you hold out too long you could jeopardize your credit rating. " --Brazil (1985 movie)"
Posted: 3561 days ago

Which brings me to hope that since corporations are on your mind, _Company_ will be out soon. :D

Seriously though, take your time on the novel and the _Syrup_ script, and I'm sure both will come out as fabulous as your previous two novels!


*****WARNING: _SYRUP_ SPOILER*****
Actually, your premise of _Syrup_ isn't far-fetched... Quaker Oats Company paid for much of the original _Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory_ (including tweeking the title a bit to add their new brand name) for a candy line. If you notice on the opening credits, the movie is actually co-copyrighted to the Quaker Oats Company. (The chocolate bar suffered from a recipe that caused the chocolate to melt at room temperature (OOPS!). But this is how the Willy Wonka candy line was introduced, and although the candy may look different from that in the movie, you can buy "Wonka's Everlasting Gobstoppers" even today. And that was many years ago!

*****END SPOILER*****

Cantrall (#26)

Location: New Orleans
Quote: "Anagrams with my name: Chancellor thirst rap, Anarchist perch troll, Ranch pro at hillcrest, Ill rorschach pattern, Cornstarch hitler pal"
Posted: 3559 days ago

And Detroit Rock City was funded by Kiss...

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 3559 days ago

I think if you rewind the clock maybe 100 years, 'socialism' in its various forms was an untried economic structure, and the combination of business and government created scenarios that would lead any rational human to 'red' sympathies if not membership in the I.W.W.

I realize there are still people who think that it's a matter of who is in charge, that somehow the U.S.S.R., China, Cuba, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Spain, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and all the other cute little bloodbaths and economic stagnations caused by the implementation of Marxist and Marxist-derivative ideas, are just flukes.

Corporations, even Nike, have on the whole behaved better than the Kmher Rouge, and as bad as television gets, it's not on a par with the Cultural Revolution.

The central conceit of 'Jennifer Government,' that if you abolished taxation and left everything right down to ambulances and the streets they run on to the private sector, you'd have anarchy. But whether it's a politician, a dictator, or the CEO of a corporation, if he's using force or fraud to advance his aims, he's engaging in anarchy's opposite: 'government' for want of a better term.

A mugger in an alley is a government of one over one, taxing the contents of his pockets. The Mafia is an alternative government, complete with taxation, laws, etc. It happens to compete with another government in places like New York City, with lots of fun cloak and dagger action and outright use of force by both sides. If corporations and associations like the NRA had the sort of unfettered freedom to use force and fraud to impose their will on the public, they are a defacto government.

That's what I think is so delightful about John Nike scoffing at Orwell getting it wrong. John Nike is a warlord at that point, not an executive, wherein lies the irony of his thoughts.

As far as 'globalization' goes, the superficial aspects of homogenaety could be countered by people just paying attention and spending their money on things for reasons other than that the TV told them to buy it.

The uglier side of it, Bangladeshi cotton workers cranking out jeans for Wal-Mart, for instance, is easy for an American to be smug about. But not that long ago, our own textile workers were pushed as hard, in conditions at least as bad, etc. We seem to want to twinkle our nose and have Thailand or Jamaica just 'poof' have the economic resources to pay good wages, employ good environmental controls, and so forth. When you add the aforementioned totalitarian experiments of the past 100 years, is a marvel that some of these countries are doing as well as they are...

Shivaun (#50)

Location: melbourne
Quote: "we must go to the party in order to drink a lot and dance with girls"
Posted: 3559 days ago

I don't think this will ever change but people only like to think in easy terms when it comes to understanding others - it's very simple, structured thought process: he said this so he must be this, he makes a joke about marketing and therefore is anti-globalisation, and soon its what defines you in the eyes of others: who's max? oh, he's the anti-globalisation writer. It does not leave room for all the strange and interesting little contradictions that make us human beings. And when you are in print - people see you only from the things printed about you in interviews and what you write yourself etc - it is even harder to see the gray in between, to see irony and humour (note: that's humour with 'u' max!). It becomes difficult for people to not see you in such black and white terms.
It's sad and it makes interacting with others complicated and at times disappointing but also you can be amazed and shocked and delighted. It's just life!

Machine Man subscriber M.I.Minter (#347)

Location: Houston Texas, USA
Quote: "When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
Posted: 3558 days ago

If I steal this for my Business Government and Society Class you won't tell will you? It's fun to lie to Ethics professors......just like it was funny that my Aesthetics teacher was butt ugly.

M. Ian Minter

Cédric (#1020)

Location: Adelaide, Australia
Quote: "Flee now, and live to fight another day"
Posted: 3552 days ago

For myself perhaps, I accept capatalism, but I suppose I am rather idealist, and hope and look to a better system less flawed, but it has proven to been the best that works so far. But I guess that as time progresses, slowly our systems of economy will be refined.

And with our current economic models it will be necessary to intake immigrants from growing countries — as the populations of economically strong nations continue to diminish — so as to maintain a high economy. But in the end, these countries worse of in economy, will inevitably strenghten in economy, and there will be a need to change our economic models, for as a result the world population will no longer grow, and an economic model based on growth will be ineffectve.

James (#1022)

Location: England - or similar
Posted: 3551 days ago

As far as i can see (while trying to avoid long and complicated words that generally confuse people, or words that end in things like -ism and -ist) there will always be people who will do anything for money (and quite alot of the time there are people who will do anything for the promise of money), and there are usually people with lots and lots of money who want more - go figure.

jonathan (#445)

Location: Portland, OR
Quote: "Uhhh you want some shrimp? Hp workers unite!"
Posted: 3550 days ago

Advertise on this ladies cleavage, max the world is coming to an end: http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=5951626613

Nathan Shayefar (#1025)

Location: Berkeley
Quote: "Gladia"
Posted: 3550 days ago

I think I'm going to go re-read Syrup and Jen now for good measure. Heck, I'll probably go out and buy myself a copy of each to support the arts, or something. :)

Spectralwraith (#1051)

Location: Renton Wa.
Quote: "Mr. consumer side economics"
Posted: 3541 days ago

Max...."I am occasionally accused of being anti-things: anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, and anti-globalization, mainly".

It took me all but a day after playing your computer game that your ideology is Libertarian to a tee. The CATO Institute would certainly approve. There is no such thing as a corporate entity. They really are real people running them.

As for the success of the U.S economy over Western Europe at the moment, it's called more deficit spending, public and especially private. It's going to have to dry up sooner or latter. Look at what happened in the United States in 1942-1945 and compare that to 1946-1948 and now we have the anamoly of private sector debt as well.

As for offshoring, it is a zero sum game. Were is many Western European economies going? Why to Eastern Europe of course. And The U.S. to China. We can lead China around by the nose now and extort them economically but we could have accomplished that without sending our economy over there. We could have did it the old fashioned way by setting up industry in China and India to be used by the Chinese and Indians and Vietnamese too.

As long as we would have sent them product as opposed to the money supply, then all would have worked out just fine and there would have been no detriment to our own economy. Yes, you have to tax for it, but remember the rich get it all back anyway through the money cycle as evidenced by the real GDP growth always going to the top 10% year after year.

Lower prices mean lower wages, lower property values and a lower GDP level. All you need to do is compare the States in the U.S. to each other and you will see the obvious correlation. Subtract Federal Government tax subsidies and it gets even more blaring. Race to the bottom economics never makes any sense. The ones who argue for it leave out so many aggregates.

Spectralwraith (#1051)

Location: Renton Wa.
Quote: "Mr. consumer side economics"
Posted: 3541 days ago

Max...."Finally, globalization: I’m pro- that, too. Its great potential benefit is that as it erodes national boundaries, the privileges of rich nations leak out to the poor".

The theory dosn't hold weight when the facts are examined. Don't think for a minute that China is a Socialist country. Maybe they are still into communes (glorified concentration camps) and Bureaucratic rule at the moment but their CEOs make more as a percentage of their lowest paid worker than our own do in the U.S. The poor in China (the vast majority)are just as poor as they always have been and there is no reason to believe that things will change in the future. It's all about Plutocracy and that is the real end results of Libertarianism. The results will always be just a modern version of Feudalism. Feudalism is a quite inferior form of economy compared to a Democratic economy.

As for eastern Europe, wages have gone up naturally but not due to the results of foreign investment capital. They have benefited from more employment opportunities but of course at the disbenefit of German and French workers etc.

Dinko Hristov (#1065)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: """No one is fool enough to choose War over Peace. In Peace sons bury fathers, but in War fathers bury sons."- Herodotus"
Posted: 3534 days ago

"Companies are like the Soviet Union pre-1989: they’re centrally-managed, they’re always trying to establish a monopoly, and there’s nothing they love more than a little price-fixing."

Hey Max!

This is my first comment here, so please bear with me.

*flexes fingers*

OK. I'm ready now.

Max, I congratulate you on this excellent piece on Corporations.

The idea behind Socialism and Communism was a good one. Everyone got a share in everything. Everyone got paid the same for the amount of work they put in. Everyone had a place to live. Basically, life was good. True, Lenin and stalin assassinated a lot of people, but in the end, it was all in the name of common good. At least that's how Lenin and Stalin saw things. Yes, power was centralized, but that's what kept the Proletariat in line, wasn't it?

Then one nice day, doctors (for example) decided that they were more skilled than coal miners. They demanded more pay. They demanded better living conditions. Socialism and Communism fell apart.

Now, I'm originally from Bulgaria (a former Communist country). I've seen my fair share of coup d'etats. As so called 'democracy' came into power, the national currency got devalued. More and more people became unemployed. Prices skyrocketed, and living standards fell further into the pit. The Corporations arrived. And with them, the currency devalued further.

And exactly like what Max said, these Corporations were highly centralized, tried to become monopolies and with that, prices continued to rise, and the standards of living fell further and further into the pit.

My family then decided that it was time to get out of that former Communist country and that we should seek a better way of life here in Australia. This is now my 5th year in Australia, and my second since my family gained Permanent residency status. We love life in this Great Southern Land, and I'm looking forward to many more years of living here.

Regards,
Dinko

Tyler (#695)

Location: Paper Street
Quote: "For a moment, nothing happened, then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen"
Posted: 3533 days ago

So Max, now that you like capitalism, what exactly is the problem with having ads on nationstates?

Nikkie (#1149)

Posted: 3508 days ago

''that job is going to someone poorer than you, who needs the work more than you, and who in unemployment faces more serious consequences than having to cancel his World of Warcraft subscription. ''

I disagree with that . You are assuming this person has warcraft and isn't poor either etc.

I'll use my home country (usa) . There are many poor people here who (despite what others believe) are not mcdonalds eating , warcraft playing ''richers'' :) ...They need that ''job'' .

It is wrong to expect things from other countries and leech off of them cause their country does not have a good system . The people of the other country should not be punished for something they had no control over and don't owe anyone anything .

Raoul Duke (#1247)

Location: Los Angeles
Quote: ""Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.""
Posted: 3472 days ago

I think simply farming out jobs to some third world country isn't going to actually change anything for the people of that country. If no controls for how the poor countries proctect their works are in place then the works of that country will simply be ground down in a wage slave system. There will be no prospect for improvement just work until death. Unless a world wide policy is in place with REAL regulations for how much workers get paid and the safety of the job they do, the third world will continue to be the thrid world and the first world will slowly move to a pure "service industry" market, where we all get to ask, "Do you want fries with that?".

the Patrick (#1262)

Location: St. Paul, MN
Quote: "There's a guy to the 9! Well, maybe it's a guy; maybe its a cow..."
Posted: 3467 days ago

World policy, schmurld policy. I think Max is pretty close to the mark on the benefit to most of the world on outsourcing; I would just add that there can be too much of a good thing. Outsourcing at a reasonable rate which allows the folks outsourced to change their profession or industry is probably beneficial overall; too rapid outsourcing that forces folks out of work altogether is probably bad. It means that things won't get better everywhere overnight, but didn't all the quick result revolutions of the last century end in bloodbaths anyway?

IdealA2 (#2108)

Location: United Kingdom
Posted: 3196 days ago

I wish to congratulate/thank Max for an extremly thought provoking article.

I spent an awfully long time writing a personal response to this - it's filled with my own personal biases and emotions - simply arguing what I feel. I agree with many of the posts above - and a lot of Max's views - but there are many other views and ideas i do not.

Rather than Hijack by posting here, There's a link <a>http://www.ideala2.com/blog/2006/01/21/9/</a> if allowed. If not, feel free to delete.

I hope someone will take the time to read it, and comment - and argue too. Or atleast tell me i'm not allowed to link - so i can come back and post it on here.

[NB. Excuse any bad spelling, awful grammar, confused punctuation, and amateurish language as it is 2.30 in the morning and I am an amateur).

Mickey Finn (#2595)

Location: Houston, TX, USA
Posted: 2989 days ago

An aspect of outsourcing that alot of people don't realize actually ties back in to Corporations tending towards what's best for them...in the short haul.
The "call centers" (it's not just call centers, the first thing my huge energy company lost to offshoring was our 3rd level support) are being offshored to people who don't know how to do the job, because someone in the corp saw an opportunity to get a positive score for saving the company money, then get out before they realized it was a pig in the poke. The company and the consumer are hurt in the long run, because the the support personel cannot deliver like the old ones can, costing more in the long run.
There's also some interesting cultural differences. In some asian cultures, it's impolite to say you can't do something...so they lie (to them, it's not lying) to save face. Meanwhile, the US, Australian, and European customers think the spiffy new, inexpensive folks in that asian country (not all asian countries, mind, just a few that are really popular places to outsource to)is fixing the problem, while they're just ignoring it. This is not hyperbole, we have run into this problem on a regular basis.
There's also a nasty side effect of messing with THEIR economy. These folks have better paying jobs, this is true, but it also creates a new class of people with extra money, which raises the local prices of goods faster than it should as others try to cash in. Those not in the right groove suddenly can't afford things they could yesterday, making them poorer. Ouch.
I am not against globalization...I'm simply against trodding all over people on both sides so a few people can make a quick buck.

jason (#2714)

Location: Oregon,USA
Quote: ""Am i test subject?" This mouse is pooped!"
Posted: 2944 days ago

Im just starting to read Company! It was recomended to me by my girl friend who is a big fan of yours! She told me all about Jennifer Government, it sounded similar to the company i work for! I feel at most times I am just a mouse looking for the cheese! I am looking forward to finishing Company so I can read J Government!

Kindnessia the Second (#2974)

Location: Somewhere, NH
Quote: "There are no wild cows, except in Texas, where they walk on two legs."
Posted: 2801 days ago

Thank you, Max, for writing a thought-provoking piece (and for all the people who commented, because then I get even more thought-provoked.) I really, really wish I could write clearly like that. See, I have a blog, too, but all that comes out is "I hate corporations" and "I'm a radical leftist" when that's not actually the case...More on that later, but for now? Globalization is good if there are strict enough regulations to ensure that the workers don't get treated like crap by their own employers while lax enough to ensure that the corporations in question can actually make money for themselves and their workers. I agree that globalization is good in general because it breaks down national boundaries. At risk of using a really big word, I'll say I'm an altermondialist, which means I agree with Dinko and Spectralwraith.

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