Ming the Mechanic:
Abolish Corporations

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Abolish Corporations2002-12-25 03:26
picture by Flemming Funch

The biggest obstacle blocking the emergence of a free and peaceful world is in my opinion the legal concept of a corporation. It is, in principle, very easily removed, as it is only a legal fiction in the first place, and not any naturally occuring 'god-given' phenomenon or right. Corporations only exist because there are laws saying that they can. In practice it will be very hard to change, exactly because the current corporations can put vast resources to use in protecting and expanding their own power.

People should certainly be able to organize themselves and operate as a group or organization. But a corporation is something else. A corporation is allowed the rights of a natural person. However, it has responsibilities and liabilities less than a natural person. And it can live eternally.

These things can be useful and sensible when it is a small group of people who are trying to operate a business activity together. The initial people don't have to be too worried about being personally liable for the potential failure of the business, and the business can open a bank account for itself, and it can be continued even if the original participants drop out for some reason.

But when it grows bigger, there are certain key design features that start to become prevalent. A corporation is controlled by very few people, but the fuel is provided by a great many people, in the form of investments and manpower.

A large corporation might have the will of one person, carrying out one person's plans, and it has the legal right to act in most arenas as one legal person, but it might have the manpower of 100,000 people, and available resources bigger than those of a small country. All in the hands of a handful of people who don't have any personal liability for what the corporation does.

It is very difficult to successfully convey what a horribly bad idea that is. Most of us are so used to the idea of corporations, and most of us have bought the propaganda that they're inextricably linked to free markets. Nothing could be further from the truth. Large multi-national corporations are the anti-thesis of free markets. They are the communist revolution you never even noticed happening.

A big corporation is much like a communist state, or like an old-fashioned kingdom with a divinely ordained dictatorial ruler, if you like that metaphor better. If you are one of its subjects, it might take good care of you, feeding you and clothing you, and it might give you bonuses and parties and fancy titles. But you have to do what you're told, and you have to direct your efforts to the benefit of the will of your rulers. It is not a democracy in any way. You have no rights whatsoever in terms of influencing what it does or how it does it, other than within the confines of the job you've been assigned from someone higher up in the hierarchy. But as an employee it isn't too bad, just like it wasn't terribly bad for most people to live in a communist country. Your range of success is very limited, but you can feel fairly secure that you'll have a job if you continue to do what you're told, and you can be confident that it doesn't matter a whole lot what you individually do or don't do.

But the more serious damage is in how a big corporation relates to the rest of the world. Like a 100,000 ton gorilla with no other purpose in life than to increase its own value, in whatever way its handler thinks would be effective.

A market where creatures like that are competing with individuals or small groups of people is, of course, heavily skewed in their favor. That shouldn't be very hard to see, but I'm sure you'll be able to find many economic 'experts', paid by large corporations, who will tell you otherwise. That corporations are the will of the people, empowered fair and square by the stock market.

A free market is essentially an environment where self-organization is enabled and allowed. People make choices, including value choices, and those choices will determine which things are more valuable than others, which things need to be done, which things need to be produced, what we need more of, what we need less of, etc. It is collective intelligence. A free market is inherently the same principle as a direct democracy. It is a brilliant concept, based on the way nature organizes itself.

But, playing in the market with large corporations is typically not fair. The CEO of a large corporation can book every single billboard in town, pay for TV infomercials, hire experts of all sorts, all to say exactly what he wants to say, very loudly, so that everyone in sight will hear it, again, and again and again. Doesn't even matter if any of the people implementing it agree or not. He can buy your house, your neighborhood, your politicians, your business relations, your banker. If you're one person, or a small group of people in a business, you obviously can't match those things. So, even if you have the most high quality product, at the lowest price, and everybody who's compared the products would prefer yours, none of that necessarily matters if a corporation has thousands of times more resources than you. Not that you don't have a chance. You most certainly do. But the odds can be heavily skewed against you.

If you show up for a street fight with a stick, and the opponent has tanks and bombers, and holds your family hostage, it is just not fair. If you show up for a beauty pageant, and one of the contestants has bought the arena, hired the judges and the whole audience, it isn't really fair.

In some areas it doesn't matter whether you're really 1 person or 1 million, or whether you have $50 or $50 billion in your pocket. The Internet provides a taste of environments where it really doesn't matter so much. Your webpage doesn't necessarily get substantially better if you spend a billon dollars on designing it. But there are enough sectors of our lives where it makes a big difference that it is a big cause for alarm.

Again, notice that it is not that there is any problem with our inherent tendency to get together and organize ourselves. If 100,000 people want one thing, and 10 people want another, the 100,000 will of course have a much bigger say. If they work together to get what they want, great. In a free market, or a direct democracy, all of them, including the 10, could probably get what they want.

But the problem with a corporation is that it is NOT 100,000 people organizing themselves to bring forth something they agree is needed. It is more like 5 people (a Board of Directors) arranging things so that 100,000 people will feel that they have to do what they say. And it all is allowed to count as one person.

So, 11 legal persons show up to the competition, but 1 of them just happens to have 100,000 obedient slaves behind it. Not much the other 10 can do about that, other than go play somewhere else.

It takes something like a corporation or a dictatorial ruler with slaves to build the great pyramid. An enormous amount of resources and manpower and human lives applied to something that is fairly useless to anybody other than the small group of people it was made for. It is a great wonder and a great symbol, but it is not what all of those people would have built, if they had had a choice and they had looked at what the actual needs were.

It is not that all corporations, or all dictatorial states, are evil. It is mainly that it is an unfair arrangement for everybody but the dictators, and it tends to kill the emergent intelligence in groups of people making choices. Some large multi-national corporations do indeed have noble values and inspiring corporate cultures, and they aim at giving their customers what they actually want, in the best possible quality. But others don't. And there is nothing at all in the definition of a corporation that requires a corporation to do something noble and useful. And destruction is often more profitable than construction.

The reason small companies and individuals even have a chance at all against the big corporations is exactly that they are like communist states. Most people within them don't really care for what they do, and they're badly organized, often cancelling out each other's work. And well-informed people will be able to find quality products, even if those with the mediocre products are making much more noise.

Anyway, instead of all that, let's create truly free markets, and let's actually work together when we have shared aims. And let's pull the plug on corporate communist entities without hearts and souls. Power to the real people.

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25 Dec 2002 @ 05:46 by istvan : Corporation and cooperative
It is interesting to note that our daily activities in the participation of the flow of time, despite a supposedly increasing human awareness is still controlled and largely based in fiction. The ancients had their fictional gods to keep them busy in worship, we have our fictional corporations to keep us busy in frantic worship of gadgets and gismos to keep os busy, and all in hope of eventual happiness.  

25 Dec 2002 @ 07:11 by cho : Fascia - the mediocrity bond
Coincident with reading your piece on the technical documents dewd who got $70K for writing half a page of text in a year (but he was a really nice guy to have around, and he fit into the org chart real well) I happened across the diary of a very well respected hacker who goes by "jwz" ... the diary covers Netscape's boom period ... glorious, painful, frightening, inspiring. And his writings also include a piece on why he abandoned the project and the field ... vainglorious navel-gazers had taken over.

Your buddy got US$70K for screwing the pooch raw ... I got CDN$35K for creating an integrated logistics support team and pulling a whole freakin' avionics R&D projec outta the ditch (little chores like FMECA ...a Failure Mode Evalutaion and Criticality Analysis; for every component in our micro-wave landing system [every resistor, every transistor, every IC, etc etc etc], do a statistical analysis of how things fail and what happens when they do ... including MTBF and MTR, of course!)

My point is this: there are those who have some sense of the plethora of shared processes that make the world go around, and those who think of the world as their personal living-space; these latter bind themselves together with shared worldviews, nominally for some great good, but effectively in oder to discriminate between themselves (those who can be popular while pulling big bucks for doing squat) and the proles who do the heavy lifting. The actual corporate structure is merely an artifact.

I have no doubt that the new oligarchy will have a super-structure that represents its corporatist heritage only vaguely, but it's oligarchic mandate will remain the same: the ensure that the few will enjoy optimal luxury and sovereignty while avoiding toil. Whether the new oligarchic code is expressed in the jargon of Harvard business or ESToid psycho-babble is entirely immaterial ... the point is to discriminate between the "us" and the "them", to ensure that prestige and priviledge remain well monopolized.  

25 Dec 2002 @ 15:43 by ming : Solutions
So, what I'd like to do is help find better ways of noticing who's really doing valuable work and who's not. Better ways of recognizing quality against bullshit. Part of what keeps that system running is that people can't see clearly what is going on. Those that look good and say the right things, but who try to get off as easily as possible, will often score best, because the majority can't see the difference. So, we need better ways of blowing the cover of people who are just pretending.

At the same time I'd like to explore how to legitimately and productively do more with less. I mean, it isn't always the people who do the most work or who expend the most effort who are most useful. Sometimes one person doing something easy and ingenious is more valuable than 10 people working hard for years.  

26 Dec 2002 @ 15:52 by sharie : Corporations are for criminals
Hospital Administrators, Doctors, and Lawyers do business under the cloak of a corporation. The sole purpose of a corporation is to allow criminals to profit from defrauding the public, avoiding criminal prosecution because it was a *corporation* not a person who did it.

Corporations cloak the criminals. Crimes committed by businesses such as environmental pollution, murder by chemically-altered nicotine, nuclear power plants, medical error... shouldn't be allowed to leave the victim without compensation.  

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