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The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power

by Joel Bakan

The post-9/11 chill that muted some critics of corporate business practices did nothing to stop professor Joel Bakan from pursuing his own thesis: that corporations are, by structure, nature, and law, pathological creatures with zero concern for the human and environmental damage they cause. Bakan brings to The Corporation the same insightful analysis featured in his Just Words, an exploration of how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has not translated into social equality in Canada.

Despite its deceptively short length – the book is also a tie-in to a documentary scheduled for release this year – The Corporation solidly illustrates how corporations have evolved from government creations that were supposed to assist the Crown to monoliths that seek to replace government. Bakan explains how corporations actually violate their own charters by showing concern for human rights and the environment, as anything that interferes with the bottom line is seen as harmful to dividend-seeking shareholders.

Bakan deals with corporate criminality on both an individual and societal level, showing how particular families and communities have been affected by disastrous head office decisions on pollution, workplace safety, and product choice. He presents the frightening logic behind corporate cost-benefit analysis, under which a car manufacturer is not only allowed, but legally obligated, to figure out whether the lawsuits resulting from a safety flaw would be less expensive than providing a safer vehicle.

The Corporation features numerous hot-button issues, from advertising aimed at children to the privatization of public institutions. Bakan does not presume to offer a 10-step guide to solving the problem of corporate control, but he does suggest that citizens must force government to restore its traditional role of regulator and mediator.

It would have been nice to see more Canadian content – Bakan specifically chose a U.S. focus – and some readers may be put off by the tendency to hammer home the same message of corporate pathology, but in our attention deficit culture, perhaps that’s not a bad thing.