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Joel Bakan's book is a brilliantly argued account of the corporation's pathological pursuit of profit and power. An eminent law professor and legal theorist, Bakan contends that the corporation is created by law to function much like a psychopathic personality whose destructive behavior, if left unchecked, leads to scandal and ruin.
In the most revolutionary assessment of the corporation as a legal and economic institution since Peter Drucker's early works, Bakan backs his premise with the following claims:
- The corporation's legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own economic self-interest, regardless of the harmful consequences it might cause to others - a concept endorsed by no less a luminary than the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.
- The corporation's unbridled self-interest victimizes individuals, society, and, when it goes awry, even shareholders and can cause corporations to self-destruct, as recent Wall Street scandals reveal.
- While corporate social responsibility in some instances does much good, it is often merely a token gesture, serving to mask the corporation's true character.
- Governments have abdicated much of their control over the corporation, despite its flawed character, by freeing it from legal constraints through deregulation and by granting it ever greater authority over society through privatization.
Despite the structural failings found in the corporation, Bakan believes change is possible and outlines a far-reaching program of concrete, pragmatic, and realistic reforms through legal regulation and democratic control.
Backed by extensive research, The Corporation draws on in-depth interviews with such wide-ranging figures as CEO Hank McKinnell of Pfizer, Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman, business guru Peter Drucker, and critic Noam Chomsky of MIT.
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Excellent, with a few rough edges
This is an excellent exploration of the corporation and its role in society - how we came to be where we are, some of the consequences of this and where we might go from here. It is critical of the corporation and the consequences of the way it has been constructed, but not polemically so - he simply argues that they were originally meant to be for the public good and along the way have stopped doing that and thus in need of reform. The core argument is very compelling and extremely well laid out. I feel some of this is pretty unarguable - large corporations so regularly wreak awful environmental and societal damage that it can’t just be a few bad apples - but note some of the other reviews see it as polemical. I was convinced - and I do academic research in this field - and its changed my perception of the area. His section listening the various court judgements against GE, then the worlds largest corporation, over the previous decade is just jaw-dropping and makes his case as out the problems so strongly. The author is an academic and all his points are very well backed up with interviews and evidence, but this is all worn lightly and it is pretty easy listen and not dense at all. This is the kind of book i wish more academics wrote - authoritative but engaging. The rough edges are that a few sections feel dated with all the references to the Bush administration and so on, and there are editing errors. The beginning of a few chapters is missing. I also have the physical book and can see that chapter 3 is missing the first few pages (including the bit where they say ‘Chapter 3’!) And starts in the middle of an anecdote. I mean, there’s enough repetition so you get the argument, but these jumps are odd.