t byfield on Thu, 15 May 2014 20:11:38 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> tensions within the bay area elites

amcgee@gmail.com (Thu 05/15/14 at 12:17 AM -0700):

> These are corporations operating in a pseudo-Capitalist economic system,
> doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. There is no such thing as
> evil in this context, only logical self-interest.
> You either regulate their behavior, or they will always do what is 
> natural. Evil has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Setting aside what others said about the origins of 'evil' in Google's 
motto (which I guess is a sort of theodicy for the age of PR), this 
argument is pernicious in several ways. A corporation is just a legal 
construction. The matrix of laws that shape this construction have 
definite biases, but they don't dictate that corporations *must* act 
in the most shortsighted, destructive ways. Instead, that force is 
delegated to owners, whether 'private' (ownership of the corporation 
is transacted on a more or less consensual basis) or 'public' (various 
forms of ownership are traded on exchanges) -- which have radically
different dynamics and results. So you can end up with companies like 
Halliburton or whatever Blackwater calls itself these days, whose 
combination of management and ownership seem to have a hard time with 
ethics; or -- I'll use the conventional US example *to avoid an inane 
debate* -- Ben and Jerry's. A pseudo-analysis that flattens all these
distinctions on the grounds that they're all just 'corporations' and
therefore condemned to stop at nothing to extract maximum wealth is
wrong. It doesn't accurately describe the law, market forces, or the
plainly obvious fact that there's a difference between a smallholder
organic farm and Rio Tinto.

Worse, that kind of cynicism completely excludes any basis for trying
to understand high-level conflicts that really matter, like investor-
state dispute settlement mechanisms. In a nutshell, ISDS is a technique
for using international treaties to supersede 'local' laws -- say, 
environment or public-interest laws -- that limit corporations' ability 
to extract and expatriate profit. They're called 'dispute settlement'
because they would create new mechanisms for settling these disputes
by vacating those laws and paying financial penalties. If your argument 
was right, these kinds of provisions wouldn't be necessary; but the 
aggressive push to introduce ISDS provisions into secretly negotiated 
multilateral trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) 
and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) clearly 
means some interests want them very badly. Those interests aren't simply
corporate; on the contrary, some nations (like the US) are pushing hard
for them because, from a policy standpoint, it's easier to insist on 
legal regimes that tolerate no exceptions than it is to quibble over
an endless stream of ad-hoc, sui generis details about this or that 
industry, crop, etc. So your assertion that 'you either regulate their 
behavior, or they will always do what is natural' misses another key
dynamic on another -- crucial -- level.

> These insane attempts to distinguish one corporation from another, and
> ascribe to them personalities with ethical traits, is one of the saddest
> manifestations of mental illness I have ever seen.

No. Here's a thought experiment. Pick two people from your family, one
of whom you love and respect dearly, and the other you know to be a nasty, 
rapacious jerk. Drop them in some Smithian paradise where each one starts
a company, including going to a lawyer an filing the documents needed to
start a 'corporation.' Both do well -- one by rewarding good ideas, hard
work, and smart choices, the other by hiring borderline sociopaths who
screw everyone they can in every way they can imagine. Now scale that up.
You're going to say that the mere fact that they filed some paperwork 
and checked a few boxes on some tax forms means there's no difference? 

Personally, I think the theory that corporations are the equivalent of a
person under the law has gone way too far, and in peculiar and perverse
ways. But, that aside, they very definitely have personalities -- and 
the sooner we develop critical frameworks for understanding how that 
works and what it means, the better. I think that's what Geert was after,
not some tiring argument about whether -- wrap every one of these words
in scare quotes -- Google is really good or Facebook is really evil.


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