March 28th, 2017
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Do you want true sustainability and flourishing communities? Don’t overlook the elephant in the room.
“The healthy function of society requires that governments be accountable to the electorate and that corporations in turn be accountable to democratic governments. Our ability to deal with every other issue of our time — from climate disruption to inequality to violence — depends on that accountability.” ~ David Korten, co-founder of YES! Magazine and author of “When Corporations Rule the World”
With a polarized public and never-ending bickering about the best direction for America, a glaring elephant in the room is completely overlooked — one that, until it’s addressed, will forever sabotage any real change in this country. That elephant is the massive power imbalance between corporations and governments. What we are seeing today is a complete lack of accountability — corporate accountability to governments, and government accountability to the public in which they serve.
We seem to have forgotten is that corporate entities are a creation of government — and “government is a public entity bound to serve the public interest.” In truth, each and every corporation should be required to have a public purpose clearly stated in its charter, which is then held accountable by the governmental authority that issued its charter in the first place. But what we have instead are multinational corporations that aren’t fully accountable to anyone, let alone regional governments. With this structure, everyone loses — except the corporations themselves.
“The lack of corporate accountability is amplified when a corporation sheds its allegiance to any place, person, or public interest. It may be chartered in the United States, park its profits in Bermuda to avoid taxes, contract with sweatshops in Bangladesh, sell its products in France, and be a subsidiary of a parent corporation headquartered in Brazil. In effect, it is stateless and operates as a power unto itself, and has no concern for the interests of any people or place.” [source]
Korten further drives the point home:
“Earth is dying. A few hundred billionaires are consolidating their control of the Earth’s remaining real wealth. Racism is rampant. And violence devastates millions of lives. What is not mentioned, the elephant in the room, is that which blocks serious action on these and other critical threats to the human future: the glaring and growing global power imbalance between corporations that represent purely financial interests and the institutions of government we depend on to represent the interests of people and living communities.” [source]
Until we have an accountable government keeping corporations in check, we will be perpetually caught in a vicious cycle where ‘free-markets’ disregard community interest — including access to clean water and food, affordable housing and medical care, a healthy environment and livable wages. These unrestrained corporations will only continue to rape and pillage local economies and ecosystems, stripping resources which are then sold to the highest bidder — but profit very few.
“As individual corporations grow in size, global reach, and political power, we see a corresponding shift in the primary function of national governments—from serving the interests of their citizens to assuring the security of corporate property and profits. They apply police and military powers to this end, subsidize corporate operations, and facilitate corporate tax evasion. They let corporations off the hook with slap-on-the-wrist fines for criminal actions. Rarely, if ever, do they punish top executives.” [source]
A perfect example of this happening today is the struggle at Standing Rock against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), where over 500 Native American tribes have taken a stand against massive corporate interest, which desecrated their sacred ancestral sites and threatens an important water source — the Missouri River.
Even though the US Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit for building the pipeline under the Missouri River last November, an executive order signed by President Trump the following January instructed the army corps of engineers to “review and approve” the project “in an expedited manner.” After the final easement was granted in late February of this year, “the move was enthusiastically greeted by Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s developer. The company has said it’s ready to proceed.” [source]
In a classic business as usual, profit over people stance, President Trump — with a single signature — sent a strong message to the hundreds of thousands of American’s who have expressed their support for the Standing Rock protests: the will of the people is meaningless in the face of corporate interests. Instead of the government protecting the people, it sent local officers and militarized police from seven states to quell the protests, many times with tactics that violated human rights. It’s estimated that $8.7 m in tax payer dollars were used for ‘law’ enforcement. You can read more about the conflict and what’s at stake for the future in the article, Actor Mark Ruffalo Arrives at Dakota Standing Rock Protests as Conflict Escalates with Militarized Police.
But this is just one instance of many where corporations have run roughshod over the environment, local communities and the well-being of the public — all in the name of the mighty dollar.
To fully address this unbridled and deeply embedded problem, we need to demand that stateless, multinational corporations be dismantled and restructured as national public-purpose legal entities, prohibited from engaging in electoral politics, and each owned by and accountable to living people, who are citizens of the country in which it is chartered to do business.
Once we have laid the foundation for corporate and government accountability, living communities will have a fighting chance. We can then move towards creating a world that benefits everyone, rather than just a select few.
- ‘When Corporations Rule the World’ — by David C. Korten
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