Thu 20

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.

Tue 11

Idiot Does Stupid Thing

What Max Reckons Okay, look, yes: I realize some idiot has auctioned his forehead for advertising space, and January is a slow month for the media so they’re all writing articles about it. And yes, of course, some idiotic company is going to pay some idiotic amount of money for it, and that’ll make news all over again. (If you haven’t heard about this, here’s all you need to know: his mother is proud of him because he’s “thinking outside the box.”) Haven’t we already established that the world is engaged in a slow, hapless slide into corpocracy? Do we really need to celebrate every milestone?

Update (12-Jan-05): For a full listing of idiots, check out the hundred or so people currently offering various parts of their anatomy for sale as billboards (thanks to M. Burns for the link). Two items are worth a look, though: first, the “Forehead Ad Blocker” (screens out ads on idiots’ foreheads), and “Watch me bitch slap everyone selling their forehead”. Now that’s tempting.