TCS Daily

The Real "Psychopaths"

By Dominic Basulto - July 9, 2004 12:00 AM

Somewhere, Michael Moore must be smiling. Not only did his hyper-controversial film "Fahrenheit 9/11" generate more than its fair share of buzz when it opened, but also the film "The Corporation" -- a documentary expose of the evils of the modern corporation in which he guest-stars -- just opened in New York. The film played to full houses in Canada, and judging by the audience response at the New York premiere (cheers and yelps whenever Michael Moore appears onscreen), the film appears to be poised to do well in the U.S. as well. (The film expands to Washington, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia on July 16 before rolling out nationwide in August and September) Suffice it to say that the film features several interview clips with Michael Moore and extended riffs on the same theme -- the evils and ills of the modern world can be traced to the corporation's rise to prominence as the most dominant institution in the world.

The film goes beyond merely pointing out that corporations are responsible for polluting the environment, preying on unassuming consumers or exploiting workers -- it posits that these outrages and abuses are the direct result of the primary personality traits of the modern corporation. The film attempts to make the case that the modern corporation possesses all the personality traits of a "psychopath" intent on the pathological pursuit of profit and power. There's the "disregard for the well-being of others," of course, as well as "deceitfulness," and a host of other psychopathic traits. By reviewing, point-by-point, how the modern corporation possesses all the traits of a "psychopath," the film encourages the viewer to ask the logical question: what are we doing by letting these psychopaths run our country? The film ends, as might be expected, with a call-to-arms by Michael Moore.

The film, of course, overlooks the obvious: modern capitalism (and, by extrapolation, the modern corporation) is actually responsible for the greatest creation of wealth and the fastest rise in living standards in the history of the world. The 'invisible hand of the market,' as first postulated by Adam Smith, is still at work today. Tiny transactions, repeated billions of times each day, help to create a more prosperous society:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest... By directing that industry in such a manner as it produce what may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention... Promoting the interests of the society more effectively than when he really intends to promote it."

While the film focuses on the 'negative externalities' (unintended consequences for third parties) created by the corporation -- illness, pollution, habitat destruction -- the film overlooks all the 'positive externalities' created by the corporation -- open markets, higher living standards and more concern for personal freedoms in Third World nations. Moreover, the film ignores the fact that many corporations now have social responsibility and corporate sustainability programs that are meant to mitigate many of their supposed evils and increase the number of 'stakeholders' that they serve. However, the film explains away these social responsibility programs as nothing more than PR spin or as attempts to co-opt the political agenda of the Left.

It is already possible to see how the Left will attempt to use "The Corporation" as part of its political propaganda machine over the last remaining months of the presidential campaign. The Left, broadly defined, will attempt to tar the Bush Administration with the brush of Big Business. It will link the struggle for freedom and democracy in the Middle East with the narrow interests of oil companies and defense contractors. It will try to impose greater regulatory control over markets supposedly run amok. It will attempt to use issues such as the environment to chip away at the market prerogatives of major corporations.

In preparation for this next wave of propaganda attacks, the Bush Administration must be able to make the case, clearly and succinctly, of how its pro-business policies will lead to an improvement in living conditions for the average U.S. citizen. It will also need to show what steps it has taken to correct the corporate governance abuses of the past few years as well as outline how free trade policies and open markets lead to economic prosperity. If the Bush Administration is able to do so, then it will quickly become evident that the anti-business propagandists -- not corporations -- are the real "psychopaths."


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