Monday, June 4, 2012

The Rise of Corporate Governments

I love factoids:  little facts that are easy to remember and you can use to amaze your friends and colleagues.  I have a large collection of them, and probably 90% are only amazing to me, (such as the chances of dying on the way to get a lottery ticket are greater than the chances of winning) but here are a few that should amaze all but the most despairing (which is where these factoids could drive you, if you are not careful). 

Yahoo is bigger than Mongolia.

General Electric is bigger than New Zealand.

Fannie Mae is bigger than Peru.

Exxon Mobil is bigger than Thailand.

Wal-Mart is bigger than Norway.

For all the details about these and several other comparisons, see Business Insider.

But of course these are corporations and they belong, in some ways, to a large group of shareholders.  Scarier even than those statistics is this report, which documents that one of the most powerful economies in the world belongs to the Koch brothers, who own the second-largest privately held company in the United States with annual revenue of about $98 billion dollars.  Compare that to the total revenue for the government of Canada, which in 2011-12 was $248 billion dollars. The brothers each had a net worth of $25 billion, more than the Walton family who made their fortune from Wal-Mart.

Until recently these Wichita, KS based brothers were unknown, working quietly behind the scenes doing all they could to fund the Tea Party, get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency, debunk climate change, and destroy any and all environmental regulation.  They were propelled into the spotlight by an article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker in 2010.  Among many other claims to notoriety is the factoid that Koch Industries is one of the top ten air polluters in the USA. 

In the struggle for social justice we have always had to confront corporate power and its political influence on government.  But now we need to develop strategies to fight corporate power that is governmental in its size, so much so that even relatively large governments such as Canada find it difficult to resist or regulate what these corporations do.  This fight must begin with a demand that there be a limit on how big any corporation can be, and how much wealth any person or corporation can amass.  Are we up for this fight, which will require every ounce of cleverness we have?  I hope so.  Frederick Douglass summed up our choices in a speech he gave August 23, 1857, eerily prescient for our own time:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

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