Charles Derber. Corporation Nation.(Corporation Nation)

Author/s: Dexter Napier
Issue: Spring-Summer, 2002

Charles Derber. Corporation Nation. New York: St. Martin's Griffin Press, 2000. No price.

Corporation Nation by Charles Derber uses the robber baron image of the Gilded Age as a comparison to the leadership and power of large corporations today. Most chapters compare the liberal, conservative and populist view that Derber favors. Many examples are given of the power robber barons of the past and corporation executives of today exercise. The author uses the corporate mystique to define the way that government as well as the individual have become corporation friendly. He suggests possible ways in which to reform corporations with a new vision of how they should and can become more responsible to society as a whole. Derber believes that the reforms needed are similar to those that took place by way of the progressive movement in the Industrial Age. The globalization we now face will have many problems connected with change; this book is a reasonable guide as to how we can make the enlightened choices that make equality a possibility in a world of very little equality.

The introduction by Ralph Nader speaks of a "new problem with no name"--a situation that leaves millions of Americans powerless and insecure in their work lives due to the power corporations wield today. Many corporations are more powerful than some countries. The author also writes that we as citizens are becoming more obsessed with money; we have become a greedy, materialistic society of mass consumers, which is exactly what powerful corporations want and have planned for. Nader believes that a positive populism movement similar to the changes led by the social movement reformers during the Golden Age is what we need in order to correct the problem.

Derber breaks down the myths that corporations use to keep their corporate mystique alive. First, the overwhelming one is that the collapse of the corporation could be a threat to the nation economically. The next myth is that competition is so fierce and technology so fast that we, as a nation, should not worry about monopolies and oligopolies. Their reasoning is who needs competition as long as corporations are delivering goods at a reasonable price. And lastly, those corporations are being empowered by competition and government regulations. According to Derber, what is not myth is the truth that multinational corporations are after absolute power. They are interested in monopolies because it leads to collaboration with rivals and less government regulation. To Derber, another truth is that the truly disempowered are small businesses, workers and unions.

Derber discusses the new "anxious class" made up of workers that work in fear of being laid-off or replaced by temporary workers or contract labor. He writes that there has not been this much tension since the days of the Great Depression. These corporations have broken the social contract with the people of this nation, the contract of Franklin D. Roosevelt made in the New Deal. This new version of problems has been brought about partly by the corporate mystique illustrated in this volume, a mystique that equates corporations with private power and individual rights that have been kept alive by business leaders, jurists and intellectuals. Its centerpiece is the corporation's right to the same rights as the individual. The corporation is gaining the kind of absolute sovereignty that Americans fought against in the revolution of 1776 with the CEO feeling beyond the will of the stockholder. Corporations now only answer to themselves because they can enter into their own contracts, can sue themselves, sue someone else and can exist forever. This "corpocracy" can shield its corporate officers from political and judicial review and are elevating the CEO to the level of Plato's "Philosopher King."

Derber believes that there is hope for our plight only if we take a few steps to change the way we look at politics. He believes this can happen if we return our basic rights to the individual and take it back from the corporations. To do this we need to return to active involvement in labor movements. These movements nationally and globally need to reach out to sweatshop workers, temporary workers, white-collar, pink-collar workers and mangers. As another step we can use community groups to fight for jobs, living wages, schools, for safe streets and affordable housing. We must reaffirm strength in families, churches, schools, foundations and volunteer work for agencies that support these. Next is a return to a populist, multi-culturalism that is interested in immigrants and ethnic communities and a return to new policies concerning race, gender and secular preferences. Lastly is support for Green populism, which fights to preserve nature and the environment. All of these should work in concert to push a new populist movement dedicated to taking back our individual rights from large corporations.

Corporation Nation is a well-written book. It is organized in a manner that gives the reader an ever-increasing knowledge of the subject as you continue through the book. The use of the Gilded Age image to ponder today's questions is a good choice that takes the reader on a tour of the history of manipulation by the "Corporation nation" of which we are now a part. The book reads easily and is aimed at the individual who is interested in the political changes we must face as globalization becomes a larger part of our lives.

Derber's book makes a valuable contribution to the subject because the author is not afraid to tackle the tough questions that need to be asked. He also gives possible solutions to the problems presented.

Dexter NapierEastern Kentucky UniversityRichmond, Kentucky 40475

COPYRIGHT 2002 Pi Gamma Mu

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group




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