(See Feb 2nd Update, below)
In last Thursday night's Special Comment about The Supreme Court's decision, that's what Keith Olbermann said America will become. (If you missed seeing his Special Comment, the video is at the end of this essay.)
The United Corporate States Of America.
It's a pretty frightening vision, one where every politician is completely bought and paid for by corporate interests. But it's also frightening because it includes the end of any source of information -- either from the Left or the Right -- that challenges what the wholly corporate-owned political puppets throughout America do.
After all, why would corporations finance anything that speaks negatively of their agenda to control our country and make as much money while doing so as possible?
That's right, in a corporate controlled world -- as Keith sees it -- there won't be any desire for citizens to be "informed" in such a way that they might think anything needs to be done differently than is currently being done.
Welcome to the world of "Fahrenheit 451", where critical thought is outlawed.
(By the way, unions have so little money -- comparatively speaking -- that Keith doesn't see them stopping this from happening.)
There are two scenarios I'm going to explore for what can be done.
I'm sure the first one is familiar to you. And I'm almost positive the second one is not. For that reason, please allow for this being an unusually long essay. The only way I can present this second scenario for getting us out of this crisis is to take some time walking you through it. Okay?
Here they are:
Solution One: The Classic Outlaw Bad Behavior Approach
Many efforts to express outrage about this development now exist. At least two coalitions are now working on the most all-inclusive solution: Amending the Constitution of the United States. They are Move To Amend and Free Speech For People.
MoveToAmend.org is a project of the Campaign to Legalize Democracy.
FreeSpeechForPeople.org is led by Professor Jamin Raskin, a constitutional law expert at American University and a Maryland state senator.
MoveToAmend.org's home page says:
"We the corporations"
On January 21, 2010, with its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections and run our government. Human beings are people; corporations are legal fictions. The Supreme Court is misguided in principle, and wrong on the law. In a democracy, the people rule.
We Move to Amend.
We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:
• Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
• Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.
• Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate "preemption" actions by global, national, and state governments.
And FreeSpeechForPeople.org's home page has similar language, ending with:
Free speech is for people -- not corporations.
While amending the Constitution would make clear for all times that "in a democracy, the people rule" and that "free speech is for people, not corporations", this strategy will be a huge uphill battle (description of what's involved here) with no guarantee of success.
I say "no guarantee of success," because this is a fight the corporate take-over of our country on their own turf strategy.
Imagine this: A nation-wide coalition of "people" takes on a nation-wide coalition of "corporations" on the political field of battle. Who do you think is going to win?
Yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a movement of the people that won. So, maybe the people in these coalitions believe they can find another such person... or the "mass movement" equivalent of the weapon David used to defeat Goliath. And, of course, "outlawing dangerous behavior" is very American. Our history is filled with instances when laws designed to make society better were passed. I still remember President Nixon signing the Bill creating the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.
But amending the Constitution is a very different process. Even with President Nixon's support, the Equal Rights Amendment failed.
So, here's my question. Is this huge expenditure of time, energy, and resources -- with no guarantee of success -- the best strategy available?
I know it's the strategy we're most familiar with. But is it the best?
I respectfully submit that it's not.
There's a better way.
Solution Two: Transform The Field Of Battle Through Innovation
To see this better way, you literally have to step outside the life-as-war mindset we spend so much of our lives in. You have to look at the world through new eyes.
Life-as-war is, of course, what most of us see in the news every day. Politics is a battlefield. Reality TV shows -- ranging from business to love -- consist of numerous "stab people in the back" moments. And, of course, America is at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even in "Avatar," we see differences being settled almost exclusively by fighting.
Stepping outside this mindset won't be easy. But it is essential, because the mindset you're stepping into is that of the Business Entrepreneur. And it's a very different place.
Warriors think "The way to do away with something is to kill it."
Business Entrepreneurs think "The way to do away with something is to replace it with something better."
It's Marketplace Evolution Thinking, not Battlefield Thinking. And it works.
The proof? Most of you have been buying "new and improved" versions of things for years. And there have been times when the improvement represented a real break from the past, because the improvement was something that had never existed before. I'm speaking about cars replacing horses. The invention of the airplane and the telephone, the radio and television. VHS tapes, DVD, and Blue-Ray. Solar power. And of course, computers, the internet, cell phones, and smart phones.
Each of these and many more -- including improvements in the world of services, like Express Mail -- have displaced other products and services because they did something new or better than what already was.
And as a result -- through a largely creative rather than overtly destructive process -- new consumer landscapes replaced old.
I am not saying there was never a contest for the hearts and minds of the buying public. There certainly were. But it was not an overtly "good vs evil" contest. It was an "old vs new" contest. And in the most technologically advanced of these contests, it was generally something that worked better and used fewer materials that was replacing something that worked less well and used more materials. (Communications satellites replacing trans-Atlantic cables comes to mind.)
Okay. Now that I've got you thinking from a Marketplace Evolution perspective, here's the strategy:
While those "evil" corporations planning to take over our country are making their plans, "we the people" will use the power of consumer dollars to transform those "evil" corporations into "good" corporations. We will do that by changing the value system underlying the choices all corporations make.
We will shift the corporate world from a "make as much profit as possible, even if it means people get hurt and Mother Nature gets trashed" set of values to a "make as much profit as possible, as long as no people get hurt and Mother Nature is treated as a partner" set of values.
I know. You are thinking, "WTF??? You expect me to create some sort of values-changing movement just by how I shop??? Are you out of your mind???"
The answer is No. And that's because the movement to change the corporate world's values already exists. You've just never heard of it. Even though some of the largest corporations on Earth -- such as Microsoft, Nike, and G.E. -- are part of it, this movement almost never receives any attention by the media.
In fact, a lot of people have never heard of it, including people in the media, such as Mark Shields and David Brooks. In talking about the Supreme Court's decision on last Friday's PBS Newshour, here's the exchange they had with Jim Lehrer:
JIM LEHRER: Why do you assume that people will use it in evil ways, the money?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don't find corporations, historically, in this country to have been altruistic agents.
JIM LEHRER: David?
DAVID BROOKS: I think they are altruistic when they make great products. I happen to like my iPod and all that kind of stuff.
MARK SHIELDS: I am talking about public policy.
DAVID BROOKS: No, I agree.
MARK SHIELDS: Public policy.
DAVID BROOKS: They try to stifle competition.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: That is what businessmen do.
MARK SHIELDS: And they -- and they are not -- and they don't take a wide perspective. They don't take -- I didn't see them -- did you see the corporations really pushing for the civil rights acts? I mean, did you see them pushing for Americans With Disabilities Act? I missed that, I guess.
Neither of them know about the movement -- now some 17 years old in its most organized formulation -- to have corporations all over the world shift to a new set of values. It's the Corporate Social Responsibility movement. And it's supported in the USA primarily by Business for Social Responsibility. But there's also strong participation by US-based corporations in The UN Global Compact. BSR started in 1993. The Global Compact started in 2000.
Two of the early proponents of the movement were ice cream entrepreneurs, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. I heard Ben speak at a conference in 1991, and he changed my belief in what a business CEO's objectives could be forever. However, from that politically left-leaning beginning (Ben & Jerry having been hippies in the 1960's), the CSR movement has gone completely mainstream.
Some of this was motivated by fear, as corporations worried (rightly so) that the value of their brands would go down if their customers discovered they were paying too little in wages in overseas' factories or polluting the environment. Other corporations were motivated by the recognition that employees would get more done if they felt the values of the corporation they worked for matched their own, high ethical standards. For a more detailed overview of the movement, go here.
I have three reasons for raising this strategic option:
First: All the commentary I've seen treats this Supreme Court ruling as if it's a threat to our democracy because the entire corporate sector is out for only its own benefits. Corporations being concerned about the good of the country (or world) as a whole? From listening to the mainstream media, you'd never know they exist.
So, this "truism" that all corporations are "evil" isn't true!
Some corporations are very good to their employees and the environment (one of the best is Interface Carpet) and some are not. But an increasingly large number of global corporations want to be good to both and are involved in efforts where they can learn how to be better and better every year. That's right. They want to learn so they can change for the better!
The UN Global Compact's programs are explicitly based on this Learning Organization model. You can see the USA-based members of The Global Compact here.
The list includes Alcoa, Campbell Soups, HP, JC Penny, Ford, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola.
Second: The more consumers learn about the Corporate Social Responsibility movement, the more they can use their economic power to support this shift in fundamental values. Think your economic power isn't enough to make a difference? As part of an economic movement -- the Marketplace Evolution strategy I am recommending -- it will be.
How many of you know that the investment decisions made by both individuals and larger investment groups did a lot to bring Apartheid in South Africa to an end? That's how powerful economic spending and investment choices can be.
Not satisfied just knowing this movement exists? I don't blame you.
Here's what one group of CSR participants are doing later this week. They are holding a conference at Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Streets (right in the heart of Capitalism) to discuss changing the values underlying capitalism. I will be participating in this conference.
Not enough? Here's the CSR conference The Financial Times has organized -- also in NYC -- for March 24th.
The theme: Investing in a Sustainable Future. The opening panel will discuss the merging of the socially responsible actions of corporations with the socially responsible investing community. The panelists will be:
• Hye-Won Choi, Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Governance , TIAA-CREF
• Marc Fox, Executive Director, GS SUSTAIN, Goldman Sachs & Co.
• Mindy Lubber, President, Ceres Director, Investor Network on Climate Risk
• Karen Morris, Vice President & Chief Innovation Officer, Chartis Insurance
• Damon A. Slivers, Director of Policy and Special Counsel , AFL-CIO
That's right. Goldman Sachs and the AFL-CIO on the same panel. And that's just the first panel of the day. I will be participating in this conference as well.
Want to see where this movement is specifically addressing The Supreme Court's ruling? Glad you asked!
This Press Release is dated January 25, 2010 and comes from the World Economic Forum in Davos:
I highly recommend you read this Press Release, which includes a link for downloading the report upon which this new, breakthrough initiative is based.
To those concerned about The Supreme Court's recent decision, this call for Corporate Citizenship efforts to expand to include strengthening public governance frameworks and institutions could be seen as an ethical, values-based counter to any activities in which "evil corporations" here in America might engage.
While the report does not mention any nations by name, the potential for this initiative to lead (with proper planning) to the CSR movement working to fixing the broken governance system within the USA is -- I believe -- indisputable. Rather than lobbying for the US government to serve only its "special" interests, this initiative calls for corporations to -- essentially -- lobby the US government to serve the interests of society-as-a-whole. I see the Press Release mentions the commitment by US-based firms -- including Microsoft, Nike, and Coca-Cola and the big four accounting firms -- to this global initiative.
Still not satisfied? Think the language from Davos isn't specific enough? Okay. Here's my final evidence that some corporate leaders are on our side:
Friday, January 22nd, 2010 -- 3:28 pm
By Sahil Kapur
WASHINGTON -- Forty-one business leaders have co-signed letters sent to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress voicing their opposition to Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that frees corporations to spend unlimited amounts on influencing elections.
"Is there a difference between campaign contributions and bribery?" said Alan Hassenfeld, chairman of Hasbro, Inc, who co-signed the letter.
"It is long past the time to stop requiring that our elected officials moonlight as telemarketers raising money for their re-election campaigns rather then devoting all their time to solving the problems before this nation," he said.
The letter read: "As business leaders, we believe the current political fundraising system is already broken. The Supreme Court decision further exacerbates this problem."
Signatories include current and former high-ranking corporate executives of enterprises such as Playboy Enterprises, MetLife, Ben & Jerry's, and Delta Airlines, among others.
They appeared partly motivated by a desire to be left alone. "Many of us individually are on the receiving end of solicitation phone calls from members of Congress," the letter read.
"Congress needs to spend its time working on the leading issues of the day, from reviving our economy to addressing our nation's energy crisis to reforming the healthcare system," it continued, arguing that Congress must be "swayed by the merits of policy without regard to the interests of campaign contributors."
The executives urged Congress to embrace public financing as the best way forward, endorsing the Fair Elections Now Act, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. John Larson (D-CT).
"With a strong public financing system in place, candidates will be not be consigned to a system in which constant fundraising creates conflicts of interest and leaves Members little time to do the job they were elected to do."
The effort was organized by a coalition of consumer advocacy groups, including Common Cause, U.S. PIRG, Brennan Center for Justice, Change Congress, Democracy Matters, Public Campaign and Public Citizen -- all of whom support public financing of elections.
Read their letters to the House and Senate here - http://www.fairelectionsnow.org/businessleaders )
The executives echo the criticisms of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who blasted the ruling Thursday in an interview with Raw Story, saying without campaign finance reform, "you can kiss your country goodbye."
Grayson has already introduced six bills that seek to reverse the consequences of the ruling.
So, there you have it. I will admit that not every required detail is in place for this strategic option to start being executed today. Some of the leaders need to return from Davos first.
But in a world where fighting with businesses head-to-head is the only option I hear being discussed, I think the option of building support for a movement that consists of forward-thinking CEO's, is already global, has been under development for 17 years, and has just announced that (a) It Supports Having Global Governance Frameworks and Institutions around the world that work and (b) has come out directly against the Supreme Court's decision deserves our immediate support!
In a society where the history of Marketplace Innovation is that the Old gets replaced with the New and Improved, we have been handed the basic tools for replacing the old values that make corporations "evil" with the new values that will make corporations "good".
If we use these tools to our fullest advantage, we will be contesting for the future control of our country not on the business world's life-as-war turf but on our own turf as consumers. We will drain the "evil" corporations of their power, as we support the "good" corporations in getting stronger (and the "evil" corporations in going from "evil" to "good").
In such a future, The United Corporate States of America won't be any different than the vision we have of a sustainable, "we, the people"-driven United States of America. That's because - with corporate values that are just as sustainability-oriented as the best we can imagine having as individuals - corporations will evolve into what they were initially meant to be: groups of people engaged in providing goods or services that serve the public interest and who make a profit because "we the people" know that society is benefiting from the goods or services they are offering.
As I mentioned at the beginning, here is Keith Olbermann's Special Comment. But it's followed by legendary management theorist and systems thinker W. Edwards Deming. I've included this video so you can hear him outline what happens when you shift the rewards that underlie capitalism from externally-motivated, competitive rewards to internally-motivated, cooperative rewards.
February 2nd Update:
"Funny thing, the initiative that you refer to was actually released two years ago at Davos...but of course remains every bit as relevant now (if not more so) than it did then."
As I said to him in my reply, the lesson here for me is: Be careful to check **when** the top response in a Google search actually took place!
I apologize for making this mistake. The January 25th date of the press release was so close to the day I did my search - and the topic so timely - that I missed that the year wasn't 2010.
Having said that, I am now going to research what has come of this initiative in the last two years. I'll let you know what I find out.
The saving grace is that - as Aron said - it's a very timely initiative even two years after it was launched. A relationship between the business world and the world's governments (including the government of The United States of America) that is based on what is best for us all rather than just the "rich and powerful" is absolutely an idea whose time has come!
Follow Steven G. Brant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SteveBrant