Corporate Capitalism: How corporations are pulling the wool over our eyes.
By Sophie Jackson
There is no doubt that corporations have increasing amounts of power over our lives; Joel Bakan stated “they determine what we eat, what we watch, what we wear, where we work, and what we do”. Pure exploitation. In 2017, 69 of the top 100 economic entities were corporations rather than states (most being oil companies or banks) making ‘the corporation’ the dominant economic institution in the world today. These bureaucratic corporations are what make up corporate capitalism. They control production and the profits they generate, maximising shareholder value. Taekjin Shin said “the (shareholder value) principle tells us to choose whichever business strategy or investment option will maximise economic returns for shareholders.” This is increasing the inequality gap, leaving the rich to become richer and the poor to become poorer.
Is increasing corporate power is making the cost of living impossible to keep up with?
Noticed the absurd petrol prices? Your rocketing energy bills? Petrol and diesel prices are at an all time high, soaring above £2 a litre, with a full tank costing almost £88, adding to the cost of living crisis. Whilst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has contributed to the rising prices, it is ultimately the big corporations who inflate the costs for motorists. The motorists’ organisation RAC told the Guardian “We realise that smaller retailers who don’t buy fuel as frequently will be hit by higher wholesale costs but the biggest retailers who buy all the time shouldn’t currently be increasing their forecourt prices. We urge them to play fair with drivers at this difficult time.” Corporations such as Shell could afford to give drivers of the road some leeway and have sympathy for motorists at this time. However, they prioritise short term profits, which in turn, damages society long term. It is clear corporations will go to extreme measures to increase their profits, even at the expense of innocent people, and globalisation has made this easier on a worldwide scale.
Can we trust these corporations? Do they care about their customers or only care about profits?
Is the modern corporation a psychopath?
The corporation can be understood as a person: it has the same legal rights and responsibilities as a person, for example, can enter contracts. Bakan said the corporation can be understood as a psychopath. Like Ted Bundy, the corporation is intelligent but has no moral impulses, lacks empathy, guilt and remorse. They pretend to be good in order to gain popularity, thus profits. It is clear that profits have been made unethically and through unfair means. The Guardian reported that during the coronavirus pandemic, Walmart, the largest employer in America, didn’t give its employees paid sick leave, and limited its 500,000 part-time workers to 48 hours paid time off per year. So many unethical actions but no remorse.
Perhaps in order to divert attention away from exploitation, to gain popularity, or simply to be moral (unlikely) there are ‘benefit corporations’ which act for profit but with legally defined goals to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers and the environment. CEO’s representing Walmart, Apple, Pepsi etc. now acknowledge that within their business they must look at social and environmental factors.
“We care what you think of us”
After their profits plummeted prior to planning to sink the Brent Spar oil as a method of low cost disposal, Shell interviewed 100,000 people across 56 countries to see how they were being perceived and to look at their reputation. They made Profits and Principles (1998) the first full Corporate Social Responsibility report of a multinational company, reporting on social and environmental impacts. But were these measures taken in order to somewhat ‘save’ the corporations from being boycotted further and to ultimately, keep customers and carry on making profits? Because as proven, profit is the driving force of all corporations.
Without a doubt, corporations will always exploit us because that is the very nature of capitalism, whether we realise it or not. Everyday we are consumed by corporate advertising, with the rise of technology it is easier for them to control us and make our choices for us. It is simply too far into the process to go back now. Even if we wanted to ‘reverse’ capitalism and take power away from these corporations, we couldn’t. Power breeds power. Or in other words, selfishness breeds selfishness.