Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bringing Democracy to the Corporatocracy

Watching John Perkins - author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman - giving a speech from about a year ago, he starts talking about changing corporations to make them open, transparent, and democratic. The reason for this is simple: modern governments around the world and especially in the United States are little more than puppets of large corporations, a form of government he calls the corporatocracy. This corporatocracy serves as the true government of the planet, and so long as corporations remain organizationally identical to, say, the Roman Army or feudal Europe, real freedom and democracy are impossible.

Democratic corporations. That's an interesting idea. I remember coming across it for the first time in Bruce Sterling's 1998 cybperpunk novel Islands in the Net, a volume I read many times as a teenager. The main character is a member of just such a democratic corporation, as are most people around the world - except for a few small rogue zones, the islands referred to in the title. Corporations in the novel did not specialize. Each was basically a massive economic cooperative, in which members assigned executive power during open elections, had rights as well as responsibilities, and the freedom to choose what kind of work they would do for the company rather than simply a set of assigned tasks. Of course, they weren't guaranteed to get what they asked for; a large part of the management's job was to review proposals made by those lower in the hierarchy, and decide whether or not to grant them. The longer and better one's record, the more resources one could muster for a given task. It wasn't a perfect deal, but it was a lot better for the people involved than what they'd had before.

The management class and their pet economists will claim that corporate democracy would be a business liability (which it will, to a degree: the rich will not be quite so rich). The reasons for why it's bad will vary. One claim might be that management talent will be lured away from any company that adopts the principles (then again, employees would probably be attracted to such companies, and employee talent can be far more important than management.) Some might claim that it would lead to bad decision making (but, why they should expect closed management hierarchies to be immune to the problems that plague closed societies?) My own feeling is that a truly democratic corporation would be a much leaner, much more efficient economic machine than anything built on the current model, generating far more wealth for far more people, and distributing that wealth with a much more even hand.

Initiatives like this are what give me hope for the future. A global revolution in favor of corporate democracy would be a wonderful thing.

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