Corporation Nation

Sociologist Derber calls for 'positive populism' to counter what he sees as big business' unchecked power

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

At a time when Wal-Mart's annual revenues outstrip those of 161 countries and Bill Gates' personal wealth is greater than that of 100 million Americans combined, Prof. Charles Derber (Sociology) warns, average citizens are losing control of their lives to a corporate ascendancy unmatched since the Gilded Age of the 19th century.

"The gigantic mergers of recent months only confirm the growing trend that is changing the face of American life in the last years of this century," said Derber. "The unchecked power of corporations is altering the way we work, earn, buy, sell, think - the very way we live."

Prof. Charles Derber (Sociology)--"The powers of average Americans are being transferred to vast, unaccountable corporations. Downsizing is rampant. Our lines of communication, our news and entertainment, our jobs, and our savings by the trillions are controlled by a handful of global conglomerates."
In his forthcoming book, Corporation Nation: How Corporations Are Taking Over Our Lives and What We Can Do About It, Derber offers a guide for a "positive populism" he says would help Americans declare independence from the corporate leviathan. He urges the rewriting of corporate charters to empower workers and consumers, heightened individual activism on consumer and workplace issues, and other remedies Derber says would "keep corporations healthy while making them more accountable to the people."

Derber argues a renewed populist movement is necessary to counterbalance a growing concentration of power in the hands of big business, which he sees eroding popular democracy.

"The powers of average Americans are being transferred to vast, unaccountable corporations," said Derber. "Downsizing is rampant. Our lines of communication, our news and entertainment, our jobs, and our savings by the trillions are controlled by a handful of global conglomerates.

"Every day, million-dollar CEOs make billion-dollar decisions with little concern for the people whose lives hang in the balance. The result is an American workforce stripped of its financial and emotional security, ever more anxiously dependent on the whim of the corporation."

It doesn't have to be that way, argues Derber, whose "positive populist" agenda offers what he calls a "high-road strategy for corporations" that views employees and the greater public as stakeholders in the commercial enterprise who should be represented in the decision-making process.

"An important part of accountability is giving voice to unrepresented groups," said Derber. "The best way to ensure the success of a company is to ensure that everyone who has a stake in the prosperity of that company has a say."

Other reforms suggested by Derber include tax incentives to encourage corporations to voluntarily comply with environmental standards; reducing excessively wide gaps in pay between CEOs and workers by raising basic wages and the voluntary adoption of ceilings on executive salaries; and curtailing "corporate welfare" in the form of various large subsidies given by government to big business.

The book's epilogue features a list of 20 things the average citizen can do in the cause of positive populism, from patronizing local mom-and-pop businesses to becoming active in grassroots community groups or workplace councils.

"Participation," said Derber, "is the mantra of positive populism."

Citizens need to stand up for their rights, Derber claims, because corporations are taking away individual liberties and establishing new ones of their own.

"These may be as simple as your right to go to the bathroom at work or to keep your e-mail private," he explained, "or as complex as the corporations' new right to give billions of dollars to political candidates as a form of First Amendment speech."

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