Now that the descent of Trump & Co. appears to be imminent, this seems like a good time to rethink our country’s obsession with corporate culture.
Many people voted for President Donald Trump because they thought his personal wealth and background in business proved his ability to run this country. The same rationale elected Gov. Rick Snyder of my home state of Michigan, but Snyder’s fixation on cutting costs to increase his bottom line led to the Flint water crisis. An investment in corporate values where we bank on capitalist ideologies isn’t the direction our government or our country should go.
It’s bad enough that corporations enjoy personhood under the law. It’s even worse that they are often protected more than the “people” they profess to be. Perhaps the worst thing is the rate at which non-governmental organizations, schools, libraries, museums and churches take on the corporate model.
Populations that were once referred to as “patrons” are now “customers.” Churches fund lobbying groups to gain political and economic power. Workers are fired without cause and the rights earned over decades of union struggle are steadily disappearing through the adoption of right-to-work laws. Social groups seek corporate sponsorship which often means setting aside their mission for strategic or economic goals.
Students have to test well instead of learn well in order for schools to secure funding. Institutions of higher learning slash tenured positions, preferring adjuncts who often have to piece together several jobs to make ends meet. A master’s degree in business administration has become the new symbol for leadership.
But schools aren’t businesses, and leadership doesn’t have to look like one man, often empowered by a board of his buddies, calling all the shots. Corporations stratify our society into a pyramid where the smallest point holds as much wealth as the rest. We work more and earn less, all the while the message of needing more is drummed into our heads. Corporatism thrives on systems of constant consumption, and capitalism is to blame.
The emphasis on a top-down solution to inequality has resulted in top-down forms of management. Neither the money nor the power trickles down and workers are left with little to show for heavier workloads and stagnant salaries.
It’s common for a school principal to make double the salary of the school’s highest paid teacher. Is this fair?
NGOs have started offering only part-time work to a shrinking office staff in order to hire directors with lavish salaries and little interaction with the public. Organizations are replacing human resources departments with advertising wings.
Consultants are on the rise while people working in positions for 20 years are overlooked for their expertise and fired before they can collect a pension. Corporations are staging the biggest hostile takeover, and our everyday culture and freedoms are on the line.
Think about Donald Trump’s suggestion that we get rid of the minimum wage. Think of his disdain for free speech. Think of his admiration for dictatorships. Think of his style of publicly insulting anyone disloyal to him. This is corporatism in action, and it’s not a model to be emulated by our public institutions. Corporations are capitalism’s strong arm, but capitalism isn’t the way for the most people in this country to grow and prosper.
There is a history of cooperative work in our country that runs deep. We can see it in every group of farm workers, every assembly line, every midwifery group, every food cooperative, every Girl Scout troop, every research lab and every group of editors. It’s time to disseminate methods of work that prove humane to workers and regenerative for our environment. It’s time to teach corporations something about collective work, shared ownership, stewardship and empowered communities.
It’s time to put people in positions of power who see leadership not as a means to control and conquer but as a means to facilitate shared control for shared benefit. Another way is possible.
Reach Jillean McCommons, a Berea librarian, at firstname.lastname@example.org.