Community has been replaced by the corporation. Instead of knowing the individual or family who makes your shoes or raises the chickens you will eat for supper tonight, you depend upon a vast interlocking network of supply chains to provide you with both the necessities and luxuries of life. Such a divorce between the means of production and that intrinsic sense of belonging truly erodes the very nature of the human soul.
I appreciate the author providing a brief history of the emergence of the chartered corporation as the intermediary compromise between elitist aristocrats and the mercantile bourgeoisie, circa the 16th & 17th centuries. Of course, such oligopolies are only possible with the monopolized “legal authority” of the State, which originally started with the European monarchs of old. The danger here is that instead of either direct barter or indirect barter (in order to overcome the double coincidence of wants as well as the problem of indivisibility) within the free market, those participating traders were then forced to conduct commerce through these cartels. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the corporatocracy only grew in virulence and scope.
Two of the most incorrigible cartels that Rushkoff forgot to mention are the military-industrial complex and the multifaceted tentacles of central banking. Granted, while they may be the most extreme forms of corporatism that are publicly acknowledged (although not commonly remembered, interestingly enough), they are nonetheless the logical end of government intervention in the market. Though most corporatism expresses itself in our daily lives commonly in the form of industries such as discount retail, given enough time and undue government privilege, the final result is little other than property destruction, enslavement, and even democide (if you think I am exaggerating, I would like to refer you to Halliburton, the Federal Reserve, and IBM, respectively).
Besides the hard power of the State, corporations also benefit from the soft power of illusion (much like the government itself, usually through its nationalized public school system). Advertisements, recognizable brand labels, and predictive programming elements in their fiction and for what attempts to pass as their literature is little more than not-so-thinly veiled propaganda. Frankly, what they are engaged in most of the time is a never-ending series of confidence games; consider the banking industry giving “loser loans” to borrowers they already knew were terrible credit risks, but yet decided to go ahead with it anyway, “slicing” and “dicing” portions of those mortgages to anyone who was either stupid or greedy enough to believe that they were either somehow intrinsically valuable, or as an cheap way to “pass the buck” to someone else who was foolish enough to think they were. And if the worst happens, no problem; the government will just steal from the productive and give their wealth to the corporatists who get to enjoy huge undeserved bonuses. Isn’t the welfare state just grand?
Despite the anti-corporate tone, I have some serious problems with Rushkoff’s book. First, he approaches the cancer of corporatism as if it were purely a sociological one. Constantly, he is stammering about “people, places, and values” while incessantly complaining about artificial vacation spots. Second, he has a very skewed notion about the relationship between the individual and the collective. Consider this lovely gem:
“Although corporatism offers itself up as a universal answer to our needs, it really just reduces the myriad complexity of human need down to individual selfishness. This monolithic approach to society and its recovery is antisocial in intent, dehumanizing in effect, and dare I repeat it, fascist in spirit.”
Wow, what a way to obfuscate the problem here, Doug. So, according to that illogical rhetoric, if I hold that the tiniest minority on the entire planet is the individual, and I highly value that most “disenfranchised minority,” then that means I am totalitarian in terms of my worldview? Rushkoff is undoubtedly correct when it comes to the corporatocracy hegemonically pigeon-holing everyone they can into a singular mold, but he clearly does not understand that rational (and even not-so-rational) individual self-interest drives the agora that he himself professes to value!
Third, Rushkoff makes no effort to economically explain anything, preferring instead to rant and wail and gnash his teeth using pleasingly aesthetic terminology. All that he needed to do in this regard is to mention the fact that corporations are nothing more than state-enforced unions for the rich who privatize gains while socializing losses, which is about as anti-capitalistic as it comes, short of outright statism. When it comes to Wal-Mart, I’m much more inclined to side with Rushkoff than I am with that pacifist Lew Rockwell, the latter of whom picks up on the admittedly free-market characteristics of corporations, but then disingenuously neglects to distinguish between laissez-faire and corporatism that makes all the difference in the world.
If there was any facet that was particularly the most egregious, it would be that of corporate personhood. Following the end of the War Between the States, everyone was “equalized” into being Fourteenth Amendment bitches; however, instead of recently “emancipated” slaves benefiting from their newly given legal protections, it was actually corporations who made up the majority of court cases citing the 14th as their justification regarding whatever the particular dispute was about. Thus, even those individuals with primarily African ancestral lineages got royally screwed over…again. Such is the nature of the beast we are all now dealing with.
While Rushkoff claims to know how to take the world back from the corporations (as is evidenced from the subtitle), the closest thing to this that he can muster are mere suggestions, such as that people should take up urban rooftop gardening and philosophize about the merits of local alternative currencies. Considering that this book of his is being sold for profit, you’d think he’d have at least a plethora of recommendations (or dare shall I say it?), if not something resembling a coherent plan or strategy. It’s pretty pitiful, but what else can you expect from a liberal statist?
Douglas Rushoff’s Life, Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How To Take It Back is a book that fails even in informing the reader as to the nature of the situation we are all suffering under. His analysis is shoddy, his prose in trite, and his rhetoric is disingenuous and heavy-handed. You can’t solve collectivism with more collectivism; put another way, you can’t replace a red helium balloon with a blue helium balloon and expect something fundamentally different. I DO NOT recommend this book, especially for your friends who have not yet tried to see through the fog, for it will just implicitly encourage them to believe that more statism is what is needed to solve the problem of corporatism, which only exists because of big government anyway. Besides, it’s not even heavy enough to use as a paperweight; to Rushkoff’s credit though, at least he is no Ellen Brown, since nobody is following him in any major way as if he were some secular guru.