We’ve shot ourselves in the head and now we are in a forced coma, unaware of our relentless decline. Unaware, we dream of the good old days of wealth and pleasure while our strong arms atrophy. On the odd occasion, we wake up and yell for help but our injuries are too severe. Our doctors drug us again, forcing us back to the dream.
We are in a short state of awakening right now. The Occupy Movement is yelling, calling for help. But like anyone waking from an extended sleep, they are unfocused and unable to properly elucidate their issues or desires.
If you ask someone about the Occupy Movement, they may tell you that it is an anti-capitalism movement or an anti-bank movement or a movement calling for more money from the government or higher taxes on the rich. Listening to the occupiers, all of these ideas have emerged. The ideas are, of course, both wrong and right.
The Occupy Movement is identified as anti-corporate. They rail against the high salaries of the 1%, pointing out the ever-increasing disparity of both income and wealth. They rail against tax strategies which provide welfare-like support to corporations while negatively impacting the lives of the 99%.
They have the right to rail against these things. They are not wrong. These and other economic injustices are symptoms of our decline.
Where they are wrong is their target. They have taken aim at corporations. But corporations are only doing what they should and must do. The only job of a corporation is to make money. Nothing else. Corporations have no responsibilities to societies, countries or even to their workers. Period. End of story.
In our dreams, we go back to a time where things were better. Companies paid their workers better. Pensions were commonplace. Raises were regular, the effect of increased profits being shared more equitably between management and labour. We dream of a time where we built things and shared the benefits.
These dreams are take us back to an earlier stage in corporate evolution. The economy was growing in spectacular ways in 50 years ago. Massive amounts of demand, pent up by WWII, were released. Decades of scientific advancement was converted from research to applied science, then to innovative new products to meet this demand. The rest of the world was recovering from massive destruction or under the yoke of totalitarian regimes. Money was plentiful and businesses needed ever-increasing new workers.
During this time, it was in the interest of business to provide incentives to bring in new workers. It made sense to value highly the contributions of workers. Growth brought prosperity and a vast middle class. This was a great time, much better than decades before, when businesses hired thugs and police to prevent union organizers from negotiating with owners for a slice of the pie. A nightmare time.
One of the unforeseen consequences of growth and prosperity was the rise of the professional manager and transition of company management from innovators to executives. This transition created an evolving new species of corporate leaders wholly disconnected from creation and ideas. Their job was to grow profits.
This new corporate species, divorced from real ownership, was religiously dedicated to finding new efficiencies to reduce costs and raise profits. This was their job. Combined with cheaper transportation and the availability of slave labour around the world, it was a natural progression to build a business case for transferring our creative industries from North America to Japan, then to other low cost locations.
Again, and I cannot state this strongly enough, this is what corporations are supposed to do. They did nothing wrong. In the short term, their behavior resulted in more profits and greater salaries for the professional management class. They behaved according to their incentives, as amoral profit generating machines.
The Occupy Movement should rail against the success of the corporations in feathering their own nests. It is easier than point the fingers at the true culprits, ourselves and our representatives.
Our governments became partners with the corporations, taking on management structures reflecting business “best practices”. Growing businesses were recognized as the drivers of the economy and business leaders as the real heroes.
The outliers who reminded us that our success depended on checking the unfettered drive for corporate profits were dismissed as irrelevant, their warnings the ravings of the ignorant.
And we, the people, were too taken by ever cheaper goods built by slaves and children far across the ocean. We were blinded by easier credit while both parents had to work to pay the bills. We watched and celebrated as we hollowed out our own economy.
We have an opportunity now to take a step in the right direction. We must recognize that corporate behavior is rational and predictable. Our economy and our own individual interests are met when we understand this and constrain corporate behavior. This will require significant regulatory and structural changes and you can count on corporations and their mouthpieces to scream in panic.
We need to face the panic and begin making changes. Otherwise, we can return to our dreams until we end.