Global Corporate Charters

Click to access GTI-Perspectives-Global_Corporate_Charters.pdf

So, I’ve been researching and teaching about the expansion of the global capitalist system for decades.  From all the research I’ve done, it strikes me as just about inevitable that business will soon break away from its national charter licence system to one that is supra-national.

International law as it now stands is virtually toothless, but it won’t be long before a global justice system with enforcement capabilities will be necessary.  When large business corporations no longer operate nationally, but have their headquarters in one country, research and development in another and production in several others with no one country able to legislate their activities, it’s time for a change.  The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, formerly the Canadian Manufacturers Association, has no problem representing businesses who produce nothing (or virtually nothing) in Canada.  Businesses that formerly produced (manufactured) refrigerators, stoves and other appliances in Canada but who now produce them in China in their own factories or under licence to Chinese companies or in other countries with low wages and virtually no health and safety standards for workers are still considered Canadian manufacturers.  To me that’s pretty odd.

As business corporations become more and more global they will need to be regulated more and more globally if we have any hope at all of avoiding becoming nothing but fodder for the creation of obscene corporate profits. Of course, it’s much more complicated than I’ve stated it here.  I’ll have more to say about this in subsequent blog posts.  In the meantime, have a look at the article for which I’ve included a link above.  Check out its provenance,  the Tellus Foundation.  What they propose in this article is a new global charter system for business corporations.

How We Harvest Horseshoe Crab Blood to Save Human Lives | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

How We Harvest Horseshoe Crab Blood to Save Human Lives | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building.

I’ve been pretty quiet lately on the blog front.  That’s partly because I’m building a new deck to replace our old rotten one and that’s taking time.  I’m also writing a guest column for a local paper called The Record.  I may post some of those columns here although they’re probably more suited to my other blog on homelessness in the Comox Valley.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about us as a species and how we treat other animal species. Well, it’s actually been an ongoing interest of mine, but every once in a while I read something that freshens up my interest.  Of course many animal species rip apart and eat other species in a carnival of violence every day on this planet, but I think that we take the cake.  As the article I’ve reposted here shows, we’ll do pretty much anything to another species (as well as to our own, of course) including draining their blood as involuntary blood donors.  I don’t know.  Sometimes I despair about my species.  At other times I marvel at our ingenuity and imagination.  So many contradictory feelings about all of this.

Gwynne Dyer – A review of a recent talk: a lot right, some not so much.

Gwynne Dyer – A review of a recent talk: a lot right, some not so much.

 

Gwynne Dyer (http://gwynnedyer.com/) spoke recently at North Island College as part of the Institute of War & Peace being taught over the spring term by three faculty members from the English and Humanities and Social Sciences Department.  This is the third time I’ve heard Dyer speak and on every occasion he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to go on for an hour and a half without notes or even the benefit of a power point presentation.  Astounding!  But he is a compelling speaker.  When I was still teaching sociology at the college I often used Dyer’s films in my classes, one on the experience of Marine basic training on Parris Island, South Carolina and another great one on the ‘tribe’ as an organizing social and political force.  Dyer is an intelligent reporter and critic on world affairs, especially those with military dimensions.

 

In his recent talk at the college he covered three areas of ‘current unrest’ in the world, the Middle East, the Ukraine and the South China Sea.  His analyses often seem counterintuitive as one listens to them yet strangely plausible at the same time.

 

With reference to the Middle East, Dyer argues that there has been no major war to disrupt the area for quite some time.  He goes over the power and potential of the major states in the area, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and Iraq, but also of Egypt, to win a war with Israel.  He concludes that all out war between Israel and any one of those Arab states is highly unlikely.  Of course, the tension always seems to be there and there have been the odd military excursions here and there and punishing attacks by the Israelis in Gaza in ‘retaliation’ for Palestinian attacks like the wave of bus bombings in Jerusalem a few years ago.  The West Bank is slowly being overrun with Jewish settlements.  So what would be a viable solution to the ‘crisis’ if one were a Palestinian?  Well, the two state solution seems plausible with Israel taking the bulk of the territory but with the Palestinians at least holding on to some territory over which they would have sovereignty.  A better solution, still, Dyer proposes, might be a one state solution where Israel would cover the whole area from the Egypt to Lebanon and everyone would become a citizen of one country, Israel, whether Jewish or Palestinian.  Because of the demographics of the situation, and if the Palestinians had the vote which would be their right as citizens of Israel, power could realistically devolve to the Palestinians in a reasonable period of time.  Apparently, this scenario is gaining ground as a possibility among Palestinians but the impediments to such a solution are not easily discounted.  Plausible…as they would say on Mythbusters, but probably a long shot.

 

Dyer’s comments about the Ukraine are less optimistic than are his thoughts on the Middle East.  He sees a lot of outright stupidity and bravado there but he is cautiously optimistic that war will be averted as long as Western countries keep their noses out of it but that the tension could very well devolve into something more serious than a skirmish.  Dyer is much more knowledgeable about the situation than I am.  I freely admit that I know very little about the politics of that area of the world, but I still feel there is something lacking in Dyer’s analysis, a feeling I get from my general knowledge of the global political economy over the past few centuries, particularly since the first serious wave of the spread of European capital to other parts of the world in the 15th Century. (let’s not quibble about the Roman empire).  Back to that later.

 

Dyer ended his talk with a note on the South China Sea where China and Viet Nam are now in a dispute about the ownership of some islands that coincidentally are on top of substantial oil reserves.  We know from the news that Chinese nationals are being attacked by Vietnamese in Hanoi and other cities causing thousands of Chinese to return in haste to China. Dyer also talked about longstanding disputes between Japan and Korea over islands (of course).  His main point in his talk about the South China disputes is that China is headed into a deep recession.  Its in need of a diversion so that its citizens are focused on an external ‘threat’ thus inflaming an always present but sometimes dormant nationalism.  For the Chinese leaders this is a much better outcome than having China’s workers brooding on the fact that their jobs have disappeared and having them get revolting over that. There’s already enough unrest in Chinese factories with workers demanding pay increases and better working conditions.  Don’t need any more of that!   I don’t believe I’ve misinterpreted Dyer in any of this but I’m open to be corrected if need be.  That said, I left Dyer’s talk last week a little dissatisfied.

 

Dyer, being a specialist in military and political history, can be forgiven for not integrating political economy into his analysis more completely.  In reference to some situation in the Ukraine that I can’t recall at the moment, although it may have had something to do with the sad state of productive capacity and outmoded means of production and competition from other jurisdictions, he made an offhanded remark that ‘well, that’s just business.’  Well, business, especially at the scale we’re concerned with here, is never just business.  When Dyer mentions that a coming recession in China is driving foreign policy he’s getting it, sort of, but not essentially.

 

I want to step back here for a moment and consider why there has been no major military battles in the last 70 years on this favourite planet of ours.  It could be argued, I suppose, that assured mutual destruction may have something to do with it.  Launching nuclear weapons is a no-win game and everybody knows it.  That doesn’t mean that some nut job in the Pentagon or the Kremlin hasn’t thought about it.  So far more rational heads have prevailed.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

 

I believe, however, that the main reason for the fact that bombs aren’t flying between major powers in the world today is much more about the fact that countries are not really the drivers of economic activity, multinational corporations are.  I know not everyone agrees with me on this, but from my reading of European history, the driver of the formation, configuration and constitution of countries (states) from as far back as the 14th Century is capital expansion.  In the Middle Ages the acquisition of land, often violently but mainly by treaty and intermarriage, was the way wealth and power were accumulated.  After all, it was the prospect of new territory that prompted Queen Isabella of Spain to bankroll Christopher Columbus on his little jaunt into the Atlantic Ocean.  Columbus himself didn’t care a hoot about territory. He was interested in ‘stuff’ he could bring back from India or wherever he landed to sell on the European market to make himself rich.  For his class of people, the bourgeoisie, commodities, not the conquest of land were the source of wealth.  That’s still the way it is today although today we’ve come to a time when the world is becoming highly integrated in economic terms.  Companies with head offices the whereabouts of which matter very little anymore, produce (or contract other local businesses to produce) goods in export processing zones all over the world.  They then move them to ‘consumer’ markets mostly in Europe and North America, but increasingly to every corner of the planet by just-in-time processes of distribution.  In whatever country a corporation has a head office (usually just because it first saw the light of day there) it’s likely to lobby hard and get the support of the national government to champion its interests even though those interests may clash with those of the citizens of said country.  The larger the corporation the less likely the national government is to ignore it.  And if, as with the petrochemical or auto industries, a number of corporations lobby hard through their non-profit lobbying societies like the Canadian Petroleum Producers Association, then the government takes the call no matter what time of the day or night.

 

In fact, with a few exceptions, the governments of our world are all too eager to serve corporate interests to the detriment of those of its own citizens.  A recent article in The New Republic suggests that a number of ‘American’[1] corporations are already whining about how economic sanctions against Russia would be sanctions against them because they do billions of dollars of business a year in Russia and have high hopes for Russia as an emerging market for US goods (some produced, no doubt, in China). There are Pepsi and Coca-Cola signs all over Moscow. (Vinnik 2014)  Now this has a critical impact on the likelihood of open interstate warfare, especially where nuclear weapons are concerned.  It’s really not about territorial expansion anymore, anyway.  It’s about control of commodity markets, including those for cheap labour power.  Particularly strange would be for the US to decide to attack China with bombs.  It’s true that if Walmart were a country it would be China’s 8th most important trading partner.  I can’t imagine Washington attacking Walmart’s factories in China!

 

In fact, in a perverse kind of weird way, I think that the fact that corporations, in looking for the cheapest sources of labour and raw materials, spread themselves all over the globe is a deterrent to all-out war between states.  Of course the fear of war is important because that justifies feeding billions of dollars into arms producing businesses.  But skirmishes here and there use up some of that arms production as do military exercises like patrolling the South China Sea, something the American Navy has done since 1945.  Still, an American government aiming to protect ‘its’ corporations is not likely to send in the troops when that would lead to dropping corporate profits.  Nowadays, war is not always good for business and its clearer now than ever that corporate interests come first in our world.  I hate to admit it, but corporate global expansion may be a strong deterrent to interstate warfare. (Vinnik 2014)

Works Cited

Vinnik, Danny. These U.S. Corporations Are Probably Scared of Sanctions on Russia. March 4, 2014. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116853/economic-sanctions-would-hurt-american-companies-russia.

 

 

 

 

[1] Corporations are considered legal individuals in the US and in Canada but it’s a stretch to think of them as ‘national’ when capital supercedes state in the way the world is organized these days according to Thorstein Veblen and other commentators for whom I have a great deal of respect.  Although the relationships are complicated, it’s more accurate to say that capital created the modern nation-state than the other way around.

Canadian prison overcrowding going to get worse in long-term, auditor general reports | National Post

Canadian prison overcrowding going to get worse in long-term, auditor general reports | National Post.

Harper is aspiring to be a mini-me to the US in terms of prisons and incarcerations.  The US puts more people in jail than anywhere else by far.  It’s good for business.  Stephen Harper is jealous and feeling that Canada’s not keeping up.  So the auditor general is right.  Prison overcrowding and the provocation that is will cause riots and higher recidivism rates.  Welcome to Harper’s Canada.  I don’t feel it’s mine anymore.

For more on this read Nils Christie’s book, Crime Control as Industry.  Very informative.

 

Why is Kevin O’Leary so smug about being on the right?

I’ve long been interested in the way language embodies class and power relations.  Obviously, our language embodies much of our culture, so it’s not surprising that it would embody class relations.  The word ‘poor’ is used to describe many conditions of inadequacy.  ‘Rich’ can describe a chocolate cake or a wealthy person, both desirable components of a valuable life.  ‘Right’ does not only indicate a direction in it’s most obvious sense, but also correctness.  To be correct is to be right, as in right-handed.  In contrast, to be left-handed is to be sinister.  The ‘proper’ adjective used to point to my left-handedness is ‘sinistral.’  Left-handers are sinister.  Of course ‘left’ indicates nothing good.  The sun is bright and right, the moon dark and left . Both these terms in turn are symbols for men and women respectively.  The moon is the domain of women, the sun belongs to men.  After all, who is at the right hand of God, and who at the left?  It’s fairly clear that Jesus sits to the right of God, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty among Christians about who sits on His left. Probably better not to go there.  Where are women in heaven? Not particularly evident, at least not in the heaven I learned about as a young Catholic boy.

Turning this discussion to politics it’s clear what we can expect.  Any conservative political party is on the right of the political spectrum and the socialists, liberals and communists occupy the sinistral left.  Now, isn’t that convenient?  Right is correct, left is just plain wrong, isn’t it?  Our language pre-conditions us to think about conservative (Republican in the US) parties as being right, as in better than those on the left.  Kevin O’Leary, that obnoxious and rude commentator on the CBC about business and finance has no doubt that he is right because he’s on the right.  After all, he represents the interests of business and finance, the natural elements of conservative thinking and of what C.B. Macpherson called possessive individualism.  After all, who can be against business success?  Our prosperity depends on it, or so the argument goes.  The poor are immobile, the walking dead, the wealthy have money to allow them mobility.  The poor are what’s ‘left,’ and they get what’s left when we’ve finished eating.   The wealthy always eat first and are always on the right path…don’t you know?

SHOP.CA

SHOP.CA.

So begins the endgame for  the small retail commodity store.  Services will still be immune from this type of shopping, but not most commodity shopping.  Hard goods retailers will be especially hard hit.  WalMart is not immune although it will take some time to topple that giant.

What is more interesting is the way this website and organization is being promoted – using very nationalistic themes – and how it’s connected to banking.  The nationalistic appeal on the YouTube video advertizing this site, which only appeared a couple of days ago, is highly misleading of course.  We don’t buy products as citizens, but as consumers.  We buy tons of hard goods, services, and other commodities from all over the planet.  There is no ‘Canadian’ consumer.  There is only a consumer of capitalist commodities.  Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric.  But, it doesn’t matter much.  The end result of all of this is a more integrated global social system that is at the same time more local in its meaning for people.  We are more and more globalized as we become more and more insular, shopping from home on our computers, iPads and iPhones.  The world, she is a changin’.  We don’t understand the implications of such a centralized, overarching ‘Canadian shopping experience’ until the deal is done.  But there’s no turning back.  This is not a moral dilemma.  All I’m doing here is observing what’s fast becoming our new social order.

Indiastries – The Prescient Misters Pohl and Kornbluth

I love strange books with compelling titles and The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth fits the bill.  This book, first published in 1952 but with the seventh and last printing taking place in 1972, was printed in the U.S.A.  It’s based sometime in the future and looking back to it’s publication in 1952 from a 2012 vantage point is a bit  strange.  Pohl and Kornbluth obviously had to design a future that was credible to a 1952 readership still infused with memories of World War II and trying to deny the existence of the Korean War.  In some ways, that’s not too difficult a task, but in other ways the challenge is daunting.  For instance, the characters in the book still use phones like in 1952, board planes on the tarmack at airports and smoke incessantly, but space travel is common.  The book is about the marketing business and how it has evolved.  Lies are common and the bigger the lie the better.  Products are not simply advertized anymore.  Marketing businesses create products to sell not based on their utility but on their salability.  (How far is THIS from our current reality?) They are trying to sell people on Venus colonization.  How can they make Venus attractive to potential colonists?  It’s virtually uninhabitable.  I leave it to you to find a copy of the book to see how the main character in the book, Mitchell Courtenay, gets along.  What I want to highlight here is a simple paragraph on page 7 of my edition of the book which reads:

“Fowler Schocken inclined his head.  ‘Thank you, Matthew,’ And he meant it.  It took him a moment before he could go on.  ‘We all know,’ he said, ‘what put us where we are.  We remember the Starrzalius Verily account, and how we put Indiastries on the map.  The first spherical trust.  Merging a whole subcontinent into a single manufacturing complex.  Schocken Associates pioneered on both of them.  Nobody can say we were floating with  the tide.  But that’s behind us.”

Indiastries [my emphasis].  ‘Now that’s prescient,’ I thought to myself.  Pohl and Kornbluth project into the future a trend that was in its infancy in 1952 with post-war globalization and geopolitics, that is, the corporate drive to find cheaper raw materials and labour wherever they might be.  Of course, that’s a movement or trend that started long before epitomized by Christopher Columbus and his P3 venture, but did it ever take off after WW II.  Now, global business corporations scour the globe like bottom feeders, looking for the cheapest raw materials and the cheapest labour.  In the case of raw materials, its a little more difficult than with labour.  Raw materials are found where they lie in the earth.  It’s possible for hard rock mining companies, oil producers and other exploiters of the earth’s ‘natural resources’ to more to parts of the earth previously unexplored to uncover precious commodities like gold.  Canadian mining corporations are all over Mexico, Central and South America mining and exploring for minerals.  That doesn’t mean Canada has no gold left in ‘them thar’ hills, but the ‘business climate’ is much better in Mexico and the near absence of environmental regulation (or their enforcement) is just fine, thank you.  And labour is cheap, cheap, cheap. For secondary or value added manufacturers and businesses operating in the service sector, the ‘Third World’ is their oyster.  They’ve managed to cut deals with impoverished governments all over the world to set up export processing zones (EPZs) which are sometimes secured compounds, sometimes entire cities or regions, where powerful global corporations can set up shop, exploit cheap labour, pay no duties, no taxes, and face no environmental or health and safety regulations.  Corporations have flocked to the EPZs.  ‘Our’ corporations are abandoning North American, Japanese, European, Australian and South Korean labour and moving production to EPZs or other facilities in the ‘Third World’ at an exponential rate.  There is no turning this around.  China and India are big players in providing cheap labour for ‘our’ corporations making it hard to pick up any ‘consumer’ product these days that’s not manufactured there.  But make no mistake about it.  Those products are not Chinese or Indian products.  They are Nike, Apple, Dell, Monsanto, Nestlé, Wal-Mart, etc., etc, products produced by cheap labour in poor countries bypassing ‘expensive’ labour ‘here.’

So, Indiastries.  Looks like it’s well on the ways to reality. India harnessed as a whole by a single manufacturing trust. With how rapidly things are changing these days, how far down the road can that be? Pohl and Kornbluth were pretty prescient guys. Only problem I find with their scenario is who’s going to buy all these wonderful products made in India and elsewhere in the ‘Third World?’  Won’t be workers here because they’re putting us out of work as fast as they can.  We’ll see how it goes.