ReviewsLos Angeles Times - August 16, 2003
BOOK REVIEW - How the corporate big picture affects the little guy
by Merle Rubin, Special to The Times
The corporate mega-giants that have mushroomed in today's hothouse climate of deregulation, mergers, takeovers, bailouts and globalism may not yet have attained the absolute power famed for corrupting absolutely, but they seem well on the way to doing so. By 1999, according to a survey cited in Jamie Court's eye-opening "Corporateering," "fifty-one of the largest 100 economies in the world were corporations."
As Court explains, the forces that have traditionally served to counterbalance corporate power -- government and labor unions -- have been severely weakened, making it all too easy for corporations to do as they please, regardless of damage to workers, consumers, the fabric of society, the national interest or the natural resources on which human life depends.
"Corporateering" provides a trenchant look at the extent of the power currently wielded by the largest corporations. Court, who is executive director of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, attacks the subject from three angles.
He begins by detailing the ways in which corporations have encroached on our private lives and commercialized our public spaces. Next, he examines the underlying assumptions -- the "prevailing logic," as he calls it -- that have enabled them to get away with this. And finally, he suggests ways in which individuals can resist or fight back.
While many fear a threat to freedom from the heightened security measures taken by the government in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, few seem aware of the more commonplace (and less justifiable) incursions on our personal freedoms by corporations.
Among the rights Court sees as endangered are privacy (when corporations share our personal information without our knowledge or consent), free association (when companies interfere with the right to join a labor union) and legal recourse (when employers require workers to waive their right to a trial and submit to binding arbitration as a condition of employment).
Still more disturbing is Court's account of how corporations have managed to transform the climate of public opinion in their favor. Thanks to a long campaign of vilification against union leaders (routinely dubbed union "bosses" and government (the buzzword here is "bureaucrats"), corporations have persuaded people to distrust the two entities capable of counterbalancing corporate power -- or at least setting some limits on it.
The campaign to enshrine corporate ideology has proved so successful that many now unthinkingly believe that freedom is identical with free enterprise and that society, culture and morality are all reducible to the marketplace.
Catering to (and sometimes artificially creating) the demands of the marketplace, as Court explains, is not the same as providing for the social, cultural and health needs of individuals. Television "news" consisting of scandal and crime may reap a high ratings share, but it does not keep the public well informed about its political choices. Junk food, recreational drugs, cigarettes, violent and pornographic films, and video games may sell, but they certainly don't enhance the well-being of those who consume them or of society in general.
The earliest corporations, Court reminds us, were granted charters by the state permitting them to operate provided that they served the public interest. If they didn't, their charters could be revoked. It was only in the late 19th century, the era of the "robber barons," that a perverse ruling by the Supreme Court proclaimed that under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, corporations had "rights" formerly believed to belong exclusively to human beings.
Thus, it became possible for a company to avoid safety inspections on the grounds that these would infringe on its "privacy." Or for arbiters to decide that limiting the amount of political advertising a corporation can buy would infringe on its right of "free speech."
Crisply written and lucidly argued, "Corporateering" will certainly strike a chord with those concerned about the erosion of their rights and looking for tips on how to fight back.
But one hopes it will also find readers among those who are not, at present, outraged by excessive corporate power: people who automatically assume that what's good for Wall Street is always good for the rest of us.
Court's astute analysis of this misguided mind-set -- and how it came to prevail -- should induce at least some readers to re-examine their assumptions and start thinking outside the corporate box.USA Today - September 8, 2003
By Barrington Salmon, Special for USA TODAY
Like that great moment in the movie Network, Court is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. And, he writes, neither should anyone else.
In the foreword, Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine; Stupid White Men) tells us, "If corporations were people, this would be their time of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, there's no Betty Ford Clinic for corporations."
Corporations have perfected what the author calls "corporate transcendence," which has transformed them from impersonal bureaucratic institutions to companies imbued "with personalities and distinct values." So Allstate has morphed into "The Good Hands People," McDonald's "Loves to See You Smile" and General Electric "Brings Good Things to Life."
Yet, the truth is that commercial gain has trumped people's lives and individual, social and cultural gain, Court says. The corporate world, he writes, uses guile and stealth to "routinely and quietly rob us of our personal freedoms, including privacy, security, the right to legal recourse and more."
U.S. corporations spend more than $1 trillion a year on marketing nationally and globally to present a world view that "brings into focus or blurs, promotes fictions or facts that benefit one's interests and fades out facts that" don't.
We are bombarded with more than 35,000 commercials a year, and the saturation continues through logos and labels.
With the crush of mergers and consolidation, meaningful choices for customers continue to diminish. And corporations continue to aggressively target children.
It is no accident that Corporate America has such vast power, given that it has immeasurably improved living conditions and produced amenities that have introduced an unparalleled level of comfort and convenience into everyday living.
But people can't seem to shake a sense of disquiet.
One poll conducted in 2000 showed that while Americans credited corporations with being the basis of their economic prosperity, almost 75% of this same group said they felt corporations had too much power over other parts of their lives.
Court asks a series of questions calculated to jar readers into wondering if, for example, a company has much integrity if it cheats individuals in their billing statements.
Court suggests we need a whole new vocabulary to combat "the amorphous nature of the modern corporation. ... There is no Bastille to storm, no physical structure to target, no apparent basis for attack."
Activist Naomi Klein goes a step further in an article in The Nation magazine: "What do we hold onto when so much that is powerful is virtual '97 currency trades, stock prices, intellectual property and arcane trade agreements?"
Moore's take: "As of this writing, there's privacy for the corporation, not the individual; full legal rights for Corporate America, not the consumer; bankruptcy protection for Enron but not the average investors who lost their life savings by investing in Enron stock ... voicemail hell, credit card bait and switches, television commercials playing in the urinal."The Associated Press - August 4, 2003
By STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer
Jamie Court is trying to establish a new household word: "corporateering."
It's also the title of the consumer activist's new book, "Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom ... And What You Can Do About It," and to Court it sums up the state of the American culture in the first years of the 21st century.
Corporateering means the act of putting commercial gain over individual, social or cultural gain. A corporateer is one who makes commerce a priority over culture.
In Court's view, corporations have become so dominant in American life that they shape the culture. Public buildings named for civic heroes become advertisements for multinational companies. Consumers lose the right to go to court as binding arbitration clauses become standard language in retail contracts. Schools become testing grounds for products aimed at children.
"It's corporateering when all I hear is 'Mom, why am I too young for makeup?' because the school board bought books sponsored by a cosmetic company," Court writes. "The corporateer does not care what children learn, only what they buy."
Major corporations are not all bad, according to Court. They have "greatly expanded standards of comfort and convenience," providing levels of service and products to the average person that were once available to only the wealthy.
Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, based in Southern California, also has a list of corporate executives he admires, including Sol Price, founder of the Price Club warehouse stores; and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
But too many corporate executives, in Court's opinion, ignore what's good for the society as a whole and pursue only quick profits.
"Corporateers have created a new internal order that puts the free movement of corporations and markets above the common good of societies, that places things ahead of people," he says.
Court traces this surge in corporate dominance to a memo that Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote to leaders of the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1971, shortly before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, warning that American business was "plainly in trouble" and needed to change public attitudes.
The result, Court says, was a proliferation of corporate-financed think tanks, trade associations, lobbying groups, academic programs and political-action committees designed to change public and media opinion and to boost corporate political clout.
Court offers a variety of ways to counter corporateering, ranging from the formation of customer associations (a "union for customers") to monitor and critique corporate activity, to crossing out mandatory arbitration clauses in retail contracts.
Court says he routinely follows that practice. "In some cases, it works. In others, it doesn't," he says.
Mainly, Court is striving for a change in attitude, that the well-being of the market is not necessarily of greater importance than the individual and of society as a whole.
At times "Corporateering" reads a bit like an economics textbook, but mostly it's a thought-provoking look at the condition of American society. Court is at his best when discussing topics he knows about firsthand, including the California energy crisis of 2001 and the case of a 2-year-old who, a jury ruled, suffered blindness and brain damage because of medical negligence.Publishers Weekly - May 5, 2003
Court, who directs the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and wrote the 1999 HMO expose Making a Killing, is keeping the muckraking tradition alive.
He's particularly disturbed by "corporateering," a word he hopes to add to the popular lexicon, defined as "when corporations exceed their traditional role in a marketplace to dominate the cultural sphere and compromise individuals' rights, freedoms, power, and the democratic systems that protect them." Corporations have this power, Court says, because many of them have become larger than some national governments.
The book explores the impact of this power on America's judicial system, education system and the public spaces that define community. In the judicial system, for instance, Court shows how corporations use their might to limit lawsuits and losses in the name of tort reform and influence the makeup of the courts through advertising and campaign funds. Court's arguments are compelling and debate worthy, but he doesn't offer much in the way of prescriptive solutions. The problem, he says, is that much corporateering occurs below the public's radar and is wrapped in widely accepted values, such as the sanctity of "free markets." His goal is to teach readers how to see corporateering's effects and speak its name aloud, and in that, he succeeds.
Forecast: Like Moore, who wrote the foreword to this book, Court knows how to generate publicity - he's appeared on shows from NPR's All Things Considered to Dateline NBC - and has started a campaign to get opinion leaders to use the word "corporateering" in public discourse. His book should resonate with consumer rights groups and fans of Moore's brand of activism.Pasadena Weekly - June 19, 2003
by Ellen Snortland - Columnist
"Corporateer: cor-po-ra-teer v. to prioritize commerce over culture n. One who prioritizes commerce over culture."
Jamie Court has just published his book about corporations and how they've managed in the past three decades to hijack culture and most Americans' idea of what business is and should be. "Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom '85 And What You Can Do About It," is a book that goes on my summer reading recommendation list.
I'm on the board of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the organization where Court is executive director. But I would never recommend his book unless I thought that it is fantastic. Phew. It is.
Page after page, Court lays out just how persistently many of our corporations have insinuated themselves into our daily lives and make business more important than people, including kids. He goes into deeply serious issues concerning misappropriation of identity and privacy, unethical use of medical records and perversion of the Bill of Rights, among other heady issues.
But for our daily lives, he describes the chipping away of culture. Look at your typical day: you wake up to corporate logos on clothing, ad cookies on the net, the kids go schools "sponsored" by a corporation, we're bombarded by billboards, calls during dinner, you know the litany. The "ad" in ad nauseum takes on a new meaning.
And then, if you have a problem with a corporation, you spend precious time on the phone, attempting to correct a mistake that is handled by someone who treats you like you're the problem.
Just yesterday, I followed up a "missing" T-Mobile phone rebate. They contacted me last December that my $89 rebate had been "approved." I still haven't received it. I called and was on hold for a LONG time. Finally, after going through my information for a third time, the operator told me that my numbers did not match their records and the rebate had expired. I wonder how I got their announcement that my rebate had been "approved." Somehow they just couldn't manage to get me my check. I'd say that there's pretty clear evidence that the mistake was theirs.
Would I get my rebate? Probably not, "It's run out," the hapless employee told me. But it's not my fault, I told him. Well, we don't know, says he. I felt like I was in some kind of weird dream. After a half-hour of wrangling, he finally agreed that he would speak to his supervisor. I then asked when he would let me know the result. Oh, that's impossible, he said. He's not allowed to make outgoing calls. So now, I need to spend at least another hour of my time and most likely be told that, "The rebate has elapsed." By the way, I know at least one other person who has had trouble getting their T-Mobile rebate and all I hear is complaints about their service. Class-action suit, anyone?
How many times have you declined to pick up the phone to follow-up something because you dreaded the voice-mail hell or disempowered employee that you knew you'd encounter? You've been corporateered!
Have you ever asked to use a restroom in a chain store and been told that it's corporate policy to not allow customer access? If so, you've just seen corporateering at its most petty. The restroom example is my own, not Mr. Court's. Being allowed to use a bathroom is the most basic standard of neighborliness. I now avoid shopping at places that won't let customers use the "facilities." That's my individual "policy."
I stopped subscribing to Pacific Bell voice mail services when they informed me that I had to pay an extra fee, PER MONTH!, simply to change the number of rings on my incoming calls. Corporateering! Charge for everything you possibly can! I use an old fashioned answering machine instead.
Next time your fifth-grade daughter, granddaughter or niece asks if her butt is too big, you can say, "No, sweetheart, you've simply been corporateered."
I began this column with Court's definition of "Corporateer" to support his mission to make "corporateer" a part of our vocabulary. He very correctly identifies that one of the most powerful things we can do to create change is to have language for the thing we must transform. Use it when you see it. It will probably become a word you use far too often for your taste.
The next thing to do is get out there and buy this book. It's both infuriating and empowering, a powerful combination. Have the young people in your lives read it, too.San Francisco Bay Guardian - June 25-July 1, 2003
George Orwell warned us 50 years ago that the powers that be would subvert the public interest by co-opting our language, in his essays and in his prophetic 1984, in which the Ministry of Truth '92s motto - "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." - would seem just as appropriate for the Bush White House or Fox News.
Longtime California consumer activist Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights and the disciple of consumer movement stalwarts Ralph Nader and Harvey Rosenfield, has penned an important new work, Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom - And What you Can Do About it, that illustrates how corporations have stolen our culture and prescribes how we might regain it.
Appropriately, Court begins by defining the word he coins: "corporateer v. To prioritize commerce over culture n. One who prioritizes commerce over culture." He then helps us see "the invisible hand of the corporateer" and what it '92s done to us since Orwell '92s day, largely by manipulating our language and expectations. Corporateers invade our privacy, trick us with deceptive advertising, attack our rights of organization and association, compromise press freedom, erode our rights to use the courts, endanger our health and safety, corrupt our electoral system, and turn public spaces into commercial zones.
This book should be an eye-opener for the sedated American masses, but it also has valuable nuggets for those of us who already accept its premise. Court shows how the deification of "the market", and the resulting subversion of democratic values, was no accident or spontaneous occurence but a calculated campaign by this country '92s business and conservative leaders.
That movement began in 1971 when President Richard Nixon appointed corporate attorney Lewis F. Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court, whereupon the jurist sent an alarmist "confidential memo" to the leadership of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce titled "Attack on the American Free Enterprise System." Troubled by the growing political strength of the environmental and consumer movements of the day. Powell called for an organized "counterattack" using the courts, media, schools, and political system and spelling out his scheme to equate market interests with societal interests in chilling detail.
"Powell '92s vision became real within a decade," Court writes. "Corporate-financed think tanks, trade associations, lobbying groups, academic programs, and political action commitees proliferated to change both the individual '92s view of the corporation and the balance of power between the corporation and society."
Corporateering is the Powell memo in reverse. Just as Powell saw ruling-class interests threatened by democratic reforms, Court sees our most cherished democratic values being subsumed by corporate domination, and he '92s calling on all of us to fight back.
How? Well, we start with the language we use to define the problem. Behind the word corporateer are important ideas and distinctions. We can evaluate a given corporation to see whether it is corporateering, and if so, whether the public interest might be better served by regulating or even destroying that corporation.
That's a revolutionary notion in this era of the hallowed "free market," but maybe a revolution is what we need right now. Pamphleteers llike Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson awoke their compatriots to the injustices suffered under King George III, and perhaps it will be author-activists like Court who help us again declare our independence and assert our sovereignty. (Reviewed by Steven T. Jones)