Based on the book The New Corporation: How ‘Good’ Corporations are Bad for Business by Joel Bakan, this is a follow up to the 2003 doc, The New Corporation that probed the 21st century incarnation of the singular unit of capitalism: the legal corporation that enjoys all the advantages – and more – of the legal individual.
Saviours of the planet
Detailed and damning, Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott pick up from where they left, when their first – prescient – film identified the trends that were to be exposed in the global downturn of 2008 precipitated by the collapse of America’s toxic home loans.
In this timely update, they target the same cast of smug pantomime villains as before – the global corporate chiefs who, having effectively engineered the downturn and accelerated the global climate crisis, are now re-inventing themselves as the saviours of the planet, hiding in plain sight behind slick PR.
There’s Jamie Dimon, head of chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, America’s biggest bank, schmoozing at Davos as he smooth-talks the banks $100 million investment in regenerating Detroit – a city devastated by precisely the subprime lending that bank had championed a decade or so earlier.
The corporate mindset is exposed through straightforward interviews with a couple of top corporate CEOs (or in the case of BP, a former boss, John Browne, a ‘lord’ apparently) who pay glib lip-service to corporate responsibility as the filmmakers roll headlines detailing their guilt – and massive fines for failures to prevent fatal accidents or huge financial malfeasance – over their empty words.
If corporations were labelled psychotic in the first film, they are now defined as even more dangerous entities – chimerical beasts that seek to hide their true nature behind a façade of doing good.
If corporations were labelled psychotic in the first film, they are now defined as even more dangerous entities
The film follows a conventional pattern: first the charge sheet, then the impact of corporate criminality based upon a single-minded pursuit of shareholder profit over any other consideration, before finally (and with some relief) looking at the positive response from the beautiful and the damned 99% ridden roughshod over for too long by the venal 1%, as street protestors – the Occupy Wall Street-types – begging to seek elected office, to bring change to the heart of our beleaguered democracies.
The major focus of this latest siren call to social action is the degree to which the sick patient – the modern global corporation – is hiding its toxic symptoms behind «the use of seductiveness, charm, glibness, or ingratiation to achieve one’s aims».
As corporations continue their desperate search for shareholder value by increasingly pushing ever deeper into the commons and democratic social goods of public services such as clean water provision, education, healthcare, and all those other taxpayer funded services that no community can function without, the sequel seems ever more valuable a warning.
How many of us have heard of Bridge International Academies, which is seeking profit through the provision of privatised education in the third world, taught by «teachers» who simply work from a prepared, prescriptive, script they read from a table in front of their carefully uniformed, but often barefoot pupils in rural schools in sub-Saharan Africa. The heads of this dubious corporation – the beneficiary of investment by Bill Gates (that well-known philanthropist) and other huge corporate entities – trill on about how they are helping the poor children of the world, while extracting profit from the poorest.
There is something stomach-turning about these reptilian vultures clad in expensive silks and linens claiming to be doing mighty virtuous good while perpetuating a system that is driving global climate change, poverty, and oppression.
As the charge sheet lengthens, the film lists what it calls the New Corporate Playbook: ‘break laws that get in your way…’ ‘win at all costs’. The message that corporate greed is literally costing the earth becomes inescapable. Virtually every major bad news event – from the fire in London’s Grenfell Tower (deregulation allowed flammable cladding to be used, even though it was supposed to have fire-retardant properties) to the Covid pandemic (deforestation bringing new viruses into the human sphere; public health services long starved of taxpayer funds collapsing under the weight of the pandemic) etc etc – can be laid at the door of the corporate mindset that has so successfully infected and suborned governments worldwide.
This is a film to watch and be angered by, even as one can be encouraged by the success at the ballot box of the likes of Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Cola#u, who emerged from a vigorous anti-eviction movement in the post-2008 global downturn and mortgage crisis, and to fee the spur to action against the insouciant greed of those that are fiddling as the planet burns.
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