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10/19/00 nader.C.Thalken

  Volume 101, No. 60   Tuesday, November 28, 2000  

The new tyrants: global corporatization

If you don't like Big Government, blame Big Business the two are intertwined

By Travis Metcalfe
Daily Texan Columnist

Just one week prior to the announcement of the AOL-Time Warner mega-merger earlier this year, Time-Warner CEO Gerald Levin said in a CNN interview that global corporations are "fast becoming ... more important than government," and they provide "a more efficient way to deal with society's problems" through the market. This statement is not merely a prediction; it's also a value judgment.

We are asked to place our faith in the mysterious forces of "the market" to solve our problems, and we are promised that it will deliver with a much greater efficiency than anything Big Government could possibly come up with. But like an E-coli infested fast-food hamburger, this notion contains more than the acceptable amount of fecal matter.

In the real world, "the market," to the extent that it actually operates, is ill-equipped to solve many problems. Through the government, we try to regulate the market so it will produce a socially desirable outcome. As businesses become larger and more powerful, it becomes increasingly difficult to regulate them effectively. As a consequence, Big Government and Big Business naturally grow together; and if they don't, we find ourselves exploited by one of them.

In the presidential race this year, we heard a lot of rhetoric from the two major-party candidates about their allegedly competing visions of the size and role of government. But if you listened to any of the third-party candidates, many of them were talking about the excessive power of global corporations. These candidates were appealing to the sentiments expressed through civil disobedience and other tactics during the shutdown of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle one year ago this week.

At first glance, it seems odd that more politicians didn't try to appeal to this backlash against Big Business, especially since there are so many recent examples of corporations abusing their power as the government fails to regulate them adequately (Though, it doesn't seem quite as odd once you look at the list of top contributors to the major-party campaigns).

Coca-Cola recently announced the largest discrimination settlement ever, filed last year by its African-American employees. The company minimized the public-relations damage by announcing the settlement in the wake of the unsettled presidential election, which dominated the media and overshadowed an otherwise newsworthy event. Where was "the market" when the minority workers at Coke were being systematically underpaid and passed over for promotion?

Aventis, a biotech firm, is the producer of the genetically engineered "Starlink" corn that recently showed up in taco shells despite the fact that it had not been approved for human consumption. The company recently announced that the protein responsible for triggering allergic reactions showed up in tests of non-Starlink corn.

They claim they have "no idea" how it got there, but you don't have to be Gregor Mendel to figure it out. When genetically-engineered corn is released into the environment right next to a field of regular corn, some cross-pollination is bound to occur. Where's "the market" when a majority of the American public says it wants genetically-engineered food to be labeled?

And how about the Firestone tire recall, and the recent report from Good-year that it has experienced similar problems with its tires over the last two years? Did "the market" prevent hundreds of deaths and injuries from defective tire blowouts on bloated SUVs? Of course not. Why? Look at who has the power.

David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World, notes that 51 of the world's 100 largest economies are now corporations, not countries. For example, the total economic output of General Motors is greater than the GDP of Denmark. Unlike most countries, however, the economies of corporations are centrally planned and are ruled by a CEO-dictator. We could talk all day about the evils of Big Government, but in the end it might all be irrelevant. Big Business may indeed hold the keys to our future. But we should decide now, before it's too late, if that's the kind of future we want.

Metcalfe is a doctoral student in the Department of Astronomy