Joel Bakan is professor of law at the University of British Columbia, and an internationally renowned legal scholar and commentator. A former Rhodes Scholar and law clerk to Chief Justice Brian Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada, Bakan has law degrees from Oxford, Dalhousie, and Harvard.
His critically acclaimed book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004), electrified readers around the world (it was published in over 20 languages), and became a bestseller in several countries. Bakan wrote and co-created (with Mark Achbar) a feature documentary film, The Corporation, based on the book’s ideas and directed by Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The film won numerous awards, including best foreign documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, and was a critical and box office success.
The New Corporation, a sequel to that film, is based on Bakan’s book of the same name and directed by Bakan and Jennifer Abbott. Bakan’s scholarly work includes Just Words: Constitutional Rights and Social Wrongs (1997), as well as textbooks, edited collections, and numerous articles in leading legal and social science journals. His award-winning book, Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children (2012), has been translated into several languages. A recipient of awards for both writing and teaching, Bakan has worked on landmark legal cases and government policy, and serves regularly as a public speaker and media commentator. Also a professional jazz guitarist, Bakan lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife Rebecca Jenkins who sings the song.
Alternatively watch the podcast while an artist creates a picture inspired by the same conversation.
A CHANGE IS COMING - LYRICS:
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution
Was meant to free slaves from persecution
But corporations shouted hey we're persons too
We want the constitution's rights for all we do
And now they have the same rights as me
But they don't eat they don't breathe, why do they need liberty?
Especially when you see they have
The psychology of a psychopath, oh boy
I see a change is coming
The people have had enough
I see a change is coming
It's time that we call their bluff
We know what the fight will be
We gotta reclaim democracy, hey yeah
These psychopaths have built a toxic world
They feel no guilt, remorse zero empathy, no no
Because climate change, social inequality
Destroyed the earth corrupt democracy, mmm mmm
And too high a sense of their own self-worth
I'm surprised they don't boast of having a virgin birth, yea yeah
I feel a change is coming
The people have had enough
I feel a change is coming
It's time that we call their bluff
You know what the fight will be
We gotta reclaim democracy, hey yeah
Create the world we want to see
We know what the fight will be
Jack: Well, I just want to say how excited I am to speak to you because with this Podsongs, project, I'm interviewing many different people, many different issues, but after watching the corporation and the new corporation reading I realized there's only one issue and that's this the corporations.
So how did you come up with this? Because you had this Eureka moment that it's like corporations have the same rights as people, but if they were, if they did a personality test, what kind of personality do they have in their psychopaths? So that's kind of a, that's a Eureka moment that people grabs people.
So how did you come up with that?
Joel: Yeah. So I'm a I'm a law professor by trade. That's my day job. So I study the corporation as, as a legal institution and indeed corporations don't exist in nature. They, they, they're purely created by government, by legislatures, by courts and by law. And what the law does is two things. Well, it does a number of things, but the two things that are important for us here are number one, it's says that corporations are to be treated by the law as though they were persons.
So this, this is quite a common understanding that we all know about corporate personhood and all that. But the second thing they say is that corporations and their directors and their managers. Always have to act in their own self interest. They're not allowed to make decisions for the sake of other people or the environment or social justice or any of that.
They always. Act in their own self interest and what the law means by their own self-interest is value for their shareholders. So they always have to make money for their shareholders. That is their legal obligation. That is their legal imperative. I had done psychology as a, an undergraduate. And so when I was sitting in my corporate law class at law school and, and thinking, this is very interesting that the law has created this artificial person.
And then it's imbued it with a personality that says it's only allowed to act in its own self interest, right? If that were a real person it would be a psychopath that that is the definition of a psychopath. So that was kind of the germ of the idea. And then I played out that?
idea in the first book and.
Which came out in 2003, 2004. And then I returned to that idea most recently in my new book and film the new corporation. And the basic idea there is that over the years, corporations have become more powerful, more Jane dress larger. They've taken more control of our society. They've reached more habit.
The havoc, the issues that we looked at in the early two thousands have all gotten worse, whether it's inequality or climate justice, pollution, worker exploitation, all of that. And, and in 2011, the American psychiatric association added a new criteria to it. Psychopath checklist, which was. And so at the same time that corporation have been causing more trouble in the world.
They've also tried to tell us that they've become better, that they are sustainable, that they are socially responsible. And so the penny dropped for me there that really, this is just a psychopath finding its charm and trying to seduce us to let it take power over us.
Jack: Wow, because the first documentary, I mean, it was sent, was it 17 years ago? Something like that.
Joel: Yeah, it was a long time ago.
Jack: Yeah. And it was a success. I mean, it really hit home. The, the P the people in power, really, it touched a nerve. No, and they, and it also galvanized the grassroots. So people started asking corporations to behave better and that it filtered up to the CEO.
So it was a success, but now you have to make this unfortunate sequel, which,
Joel: No, that's absolutely right. I mean, I think in some ways we, we were part of the cause of the problem that we now address in this
that, you know, and, and it really, it was really interesting because after the first film and book came out, I was getting a lot of calls from people in the business world.
And I thought that they would be wanting to yell at me and say, well, You.
call them psychopaths, you know, are pissed off at you. But instead, what they, what they did is they said you called a psychopath. Thank you. Thank you for, you know, letting us know that we haven't been good. We know because we've seen all the people in the streets of London and Prague and Seattle, that sort of anti-globalization protests.
We know that there's a problem. We're getting the message and your film kind of consolidated the message for us. So thank you for diagnosing us. We now have the. And we're now going to fix things. And so you see around 2005, like almost just a year after the first film, a book come out that there's this massive course, correction with big international companies, multinational companies saying we're going to be a hundred percent sustainable recycling renewable energy.
You know, we're, we're gonna, we're gonna put out less waste. We're gonna use less water, fewer resources. We're going to be good to society. We're going to promote a quality. And so that is the new corporation that the title is referring to. It's a, it's a very explicit and very self-conscious course reset.
The problem is that despite all of that, the actual institutional nature of the corporation didn't change at all. And, and that under this guise of this kind of new goodness corporations became even more adept. At gaining more power at pushing for privatization of pushing, for deregulation, at pushing for more tax cuts and pushing for more impunity and more power.
So, so I run a sickly or maybe not, ironically, maybe hypocritically is the better way to look at it. This embracing of goodness actually amplified the degree to which they could do bad.
Jack: Because the subtitle of the book is good. How good corporations are bad for democracy?
Joel: Right. Which is exactly that.
Jack: So when people, perhaps a lot of conspiracy theories, people say I know just pick one, but it's, it's actually the system working properly. This is what they're supposed to do.
Joel: Yes, I'm I'm not a fan at all of conspiracy theories. I think that in addition to conspiracy theories sort of paralyzing us because they sort of, they leave no room for us to act as citizens because, you know, there were five people in a smoky room, a dark smokey room plotting the course of the world, and we're never going to be able to get at them.
So I think that's one problem with, with conspiracy theories. But the other problem with conspiracy theories is that they presume a level of organizational ability among human beings that I don't think exists. They presume that those five people in the dark smoky room, that one of them isn't going to blow the whistle or see some other advantage.
It presumes a kind of degree of cooperating and evilness that I think human beings just aren't capable of. Fortunately aren't capable of, I mean, you see evil regimes, but they always fall apart because there are people within them who, who, who find them to be wrong and do something about them or blow the whistle or whatever.
So, yeah, you're absolutely right. My critique is not at all about conspiracy. It's about a system that in effect we've all been complicit in creating corporate capitalism. And when it is working properly, What it is supposed to do.
I mean, the word capitalism, I think is important because what it suggests is that the entire system is supposed to be oriented to the production of capital and capital.
Isn't just money lying around you know, as contemporary economist, Karl Marx you know Adam Smith, all others recognized is the difference between the investment that you make, whether as a worker, your investment of labor or your investment of money as a capitalist. And, and what's produced out of that is the kind of extra that surplus value as Marx talked about it.
That's what capital is. So. And, and so that is basically profit and growth and all of those things. So capitalism is a system that is entire teleology. Its entire goal is to make that is to produce capital. And so if that system is working properly, It will produce as much capital as it possibly can. And in order to create capital, you need to do what you know, Schumpeter called creative destruction.
You need to dig things out of the ground in order to get at the gold, you need to destroy the environment to get at the goals. You need to harvest things from the land. You need to take land and turn it into agriculture. You need to take water from streams. So you need to take, take, take, you literally need to extract and you need to extract labor from individuals.
So that's how you create capital. And, and when that system is working well, it's built in that. It will be destroying, it will be exploiting. It will be harming in the name of creating capital. And when you put corporations into that capitalism doesn't mean. Corporations Adam Smith's conception of capitalism did not have major corporations that had the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.
But when you put corporations into that, you put a very powerful legal tool into sort of massively magnifying the capital production process. And when it's working properly, it is not paying attention to social and environmental goals. It's producing capital. So the best we can hope for from the system is that in its pursuit of capital, it may throw a few crumbs to the peasants.
It may, you know, respect environmental and social values a little bit never in ways that will cause it not to be able to create capital, but a little bit on the way to making capital so that the peasants don't write.
Jack: Yeah. I was in another song that I wrote about the tragedy of the commons and
Jack: Yeah. Nature is worth more dead than alive and that's probably the,
Joel: So do you sing as well,
Joel: but can you think of a song
Jack: Sure nature's worth more dead than alive. It's a race to cut down the trees before somebody else does.
Joel: right on.
Jack: Yeah. But your, your wife's going to sing this song. Is that right, Rebecca?
Joel: Rebecca. That is, that is the plan. Rebecca?
is a I'll introduce her now, but she'll come and introduce herself later. She's a Canadian film and TV actress, but also a well-known singer who I, I play jazz guitar and and we have an act together and we make albums and they're up on Spotify and things like that.
So, Yeah. she was part of, I, I mean, In Canada, there was this very fertile scene that produced people like, you know, Joni Mitchell, or we're sort of around the edges, Neil young Leonard Cohen, all of these sort of great Canadian acts. And there was this ferment in Toronto called the queen street scene which had bands like the parachute club and its sort of anthemic rise up, which is an activist song.
And Jane Seaberry another artist from that time who toured England recently actually, and the UK and, and Rebecca sang with, with those bands and was part of that whole scene back in the day, but she's, and she also made a film called by blues back in the late 1980s where she played a jazz singer.
And so did her own singing in that. So yeah, so, so that'll be
Jack: voice. Yeah, maybe we could do it. I haven't done a jazz song. We do an all different styles of music. So we've
Joel: you play jazz,
Jack: it's just, it's all about the it's about the rhythm. Isn't it. So
Joel: Yeah. If you send, if you send a song, we can, we can justify it for you.
Jack: fantastic. That'd be great. I haven't had it. I've had a guest play an instrument on the song before, but never but never full production like this. We can do.
Joel: Yeah. What we can do is we can, We can record it. We do.
a lot of duo work with me, sort of on my jazz guitar and her singing. And we can record it for you and in a nice way and
Jack: Fantastic. So how do you, how do you go from, was it, did Rebecca help? How did you go from being a law professor to, I mean, I can understand writing a book, but how did you go to making a documentary and it's fantastically put together and you're not, you're not like Michael Moore. Who's, you know, walking around.
You're not the front man. You you're invisible in the.
Jack: I mean, yeah, it's kind of you stitch it together so well. So how did you, how did you do that?
Joel: So, so for the first film I was the writer. And it was directed by Jennifer Abbott and mark Akhbar and edited by Jennifer Abbott. So my job there was in terms of the stitching together was to provide sort of the broad framework of the ideas and, and the argument. And it was really Jennifer's editing that stitched it together.
So well in the second film I played a more active role because I was not only writer, but I was also director and and directed with Jennifer Abbott. She was my co-director. But so she came on a bit later. We'd already done some of the shooting of the film. And I spent basically a year sitting in the edit suite with Peter ROIC, who is a brilliant, brilliant film director and piecing together this film.
And it, it was a great challenge. Yeah, because partly because while we were after we had thought we had finished the film, the COVID crisis hit and we felt we needed to incorporate that into the film and so that at a time, and, and then when we thought we'd finished the film again the black lives matter protest in the wake of George Floyd's brutal police killing hip.
And we felt, again, we had to open up, we had locked the film, we had to unlock it. And so we locked it twice and due to the way events unfolded, we had to unlock it. so that's why it took a year. And again, it was really a combination of having a very sort of strong. Thesis and argument and thinking about how I mean, as a lawyer, I kind of think about how do I, how do I put the witness's testimony together to create the case? And this was effectively a prostitution of the corporation. And so, so it was really a question of lining. The the different sort of witnesses and the various stories and telling them in a way that that really nailed the point down while Peter, the editor was, was sort of making sure that the visual and the Sonic and the emotional and Jennifer, my co-director that the the, the sort of filmic elements were really, really working.
So it was a great combination of of sort of research and writing and storytelling that I could bring to the table. And, and then the more filmic sound and graphics, and just images and emotional cadence that Peter and John could bring to the table. And, you know, the result is I think a pretty watchable film on a very heady set of ideas.
Jack: Because I heard it. You heard, you described it as a zombie movie that you inspires, that you start off with, you know, the suburbs and everything's okay. And then.
Joel: No, absolutely. I mean, it, it was, you know, I am a film buff even though not a filmmaker by trade and I've always loved the narrative arc of zombie movies because they're, they're incredibly hopeful. And and, and this film are sort of really Wow.
To model on that because zombie seems to be the right metaphor for this idea that the corporation is good now.
That it's just, it's, it's, it's fake. It's not real. And So yeah, you start out in the bucolic suburban town with, you know, the paper boy throwing the paper onto the porch and you know, all those kind of actually really American images of, of the bucolic, small town with the white picket fence and the big porch and all of that.
And, and everybody's happy. And Joe is at the barber shop and, you know, the candlestick maker and the butcher, the baker are all happy in this town and it seems totally bucolic. And for us in this film, that was Davos. That was the world economic forum meeting. In, in the film where everybody's like, oh, corporations are great and the world is good and we're going to save it.
And you know that the whole corporate social responsibility, we should feel happy and good. And this is a nice town that we're in. And then in the zombie film, the second act, it turns out that that barber Joe is actually a flesh eating zombie who's masquerading as a human being as are a lot of the other people in the town.
And the zombies reveal who they really are, you know, their, their skin comes off. And the nasty business of being a zombie comes out and, and, and they wreak havoc and they kill people and they destroy the town. And so that's the second doc. And you get to the point of absolute despair where it seems like there's no hope.
And that's what happens in our film too. And then the third day. Is, you know, you find there's this group huddling in the basement of a church of human beings who have managed to escape the zombies. And they're like, you know, they're hiding out and they start talking and they think, they say, you know, what, if we pulled together collectively, if we organize our collective power, we can, you know, we can push back, we can beat the zombies back and we can win.
And they do that. They, they organize, they go out there, they fight. And that's our third act in the film where we see kind of democracy coming back and trying to contain the corporate beast. And it's likened, zombie films are like some zombie films are film. It's left, uncertain, it's left with a lot of inspiration, but we don't know who wins in the end.
We know that there's a huge, inspiring movement to, for the people to win. Over corporations, but we're left hanging a little
Joel: We're left with hope and inspiration, but not a final answer.
Jack: So they key was to go in to get to to Davos. I mean, how did that, how was that? I heard you got you. Is it cloud Schwab? You.
Klaus Schwab is, is the person who, I mean, most people sort of, not everybody knows what the album says. So suffice it to say it is a town in Switzerland where every year. Yeah, it's beautiful. It's a ski resort and lovely, lovely place. And it is the site every year, except for this year because of COVID.
But every year from about 1971 for a massive meeting, the sort of meeting of all meetings of the global elite, meaning not just the heads of corporate and finance, but the heads of government. I mean, prime minister's president in 2018, Donald Trump was there. The prime minister of my country was, was there the prime minister of your country?
Was there, you know, it was, it was just a massive it's a massive elite meeting and it happens every year and it is the kind of party of the year for the global elite and civil society groups are there to trade union movements, environmental movements, all that. So they all come together. And as I sketch out in my book and say, The basic idea is an idea that comes from the founder and still current head of this whole thing of the world economic forum and the Davos meeting.
And that's an economist named Klaus Schwab a German Swiss economist named Klaus Schwab. And he's been doing this for 40 years. We, and, and what's interesting about. To me, is that it really is the it is the sort of symbol of this idea. I'm talking about, it's all about how corporations are going to save the world, how corporations are going to become better citizens in the world.
It's like, that is the theme. And it follows from Klaus Schwab's idea back in the 1970s of what he called stakeholder capitalism, the idea that capitalism shouldn't just serve capital, but it should serve the environment and workers and the people and society. That was his idea. And that idea is very much the animating idea of this entire new corporation movement, which, you know, inclusive capitalism, connected capitalism, created capitalism, green capitalism, social, like all of these modified capitalisms are kind of variations of cloud Schwab's original life.
So we apply for media credentials to get into Davos. And we're told, I mean, it was one of the quickest responses we got from anybody where it was like, no, you can't come in. We don't give media credentials to documentary crews only to broadcast media outfits. So if you're CNN and you want to do a piece fine, but not some independent production from Canada.
So, so that was a, you know, a bit of a problem. So I thought, Okay.
well, genuinely would like to talk to Klaus Schwab because he is the kind of godfather of this new corporation movement. And so so I approached him through his world economic forum office and said, genuinely, I want to talk to you, about stakeholder cup.
Jack: seen your previous film?
Joel: And he had, and, and he had seen the film, he had read the book. I mean, he's, you know, very, I mean, that film in book were kind of trigger for anybody in the space. Cause it was the criticism out there of the corporation. And So people like him would, would watch that film and read that book and they would say, okay, yeah, backends.
Right. And we're now solving that problem. And I think he would have seen it that way. And, and I came to him with an open mind and said, I want to talk to you, like, are you solving the problem? You know, it wasn't in any way dishonest. And he seemed intrigued enough and he invited us to New York for an interview.
And so we jumped on a plane with a crew and went and interviewed him. And after the interview I said, you know, you're the head of this whole Davos thing. Surely you could. Invite us, even though your media people have said no, cause I would really like to follow up on this conversation and see you in the water in which you
Joel: Yeah. Yeah. And he's like, okay. And off we went to Davos.
Jack: And what was it like? Because know, these people
Jack: they, they believe as no.
Joel: They believe, they believe. And to me that is both the most hopeful and dangerous thing. It's helpful in the sense that it's a beautiful thing that as human beings, we, whether we're cloud Schwab or whether we're Jamie diamond or whether we're John Brown, the former head of British petroleum and some of the people who are in the film, bill gates, it's a beautiful thing that we.
Strive to be good and to do good. There's just something really good about that. That is human beings. We feel the need to do that. And so when people really believe they are doing that to me, that's helpful, but that's better than people intentionally manipulating and deceiving us to believe they're doing good.
When in fact they know they're doing harm, these people believe they're doing good and don't think they're doing harm. They believe that their vision of a better society is our best hope. The only problem with their vision is it has no place for democracy and I'll return to that in a moment, but, but they're sincere in their beliefs.
That it's a better vision. That is also what makes it so dangerous because if they were just faking. If they truly didn't believe that they were doing good, then it would be much easier to push back against it. Then you just lift the veil and what you see as the zombie underneath them. It's like, okay, you know, that's obvious, like you're not fooling us anymore, but in a way, there is no veil because they're caught in their own mythology.
So they really believe they're doing good. I don't, I have, I believe bill gates is very dangerous. I think he has way too much power in the world. And he has a vision of the world that is radically undemocratic and unjust, but I believe he believes he's doing. I think he's probably a pretty nice guy.
And and I think that's the same for all these guys. I don't think they're, they're sort of fire-breathing you know, nasty people, you know, there's a film out there in a book out there called assholes, and I don't know if you've seen it. It might be another, another interview for you. I can imagine an interesting song with
Jack: Wow. That's a song. Title is taken care of. Yeah.
Joel: Exactly. But the thesis of this book and film in the name of the author is escaping me now. And I apologize for that. But the thesis is that there are people who are just assholes and that the world is in trouble because they have too much power. And, and I, I just, I just don't agree with that. I think the problem is much deeper and more profound and problematic than that, because it was just a question of people being assholes.
You know, that that's fairly easy to deal with you, you, you know, you put yourself on guard for assholes, you make sure that the ship doesn't float to the top and and you deal with that. But the problems as I think we show in the film and book are much more deep, deeply structured. So I want to make one more point.
I know I'm talking a lot, but I said before, This new vision of the world, the new corporation vision has no place for democracy. And that's a very, I realize a very strong claim and there's a point in the film and in the book where I think the point that point lands, and it's a point where I'm in Davos and I'm interviewing Richard Edelman.
Richard Edelman is the guru of. all gurus in the business world. He has a company called Edelman and they consult with all major corporations and governments too. And they. Talk about where the world is going, what is happening? You know, they really have cornered that sort of business guru market, and they do public relations and all of that.
So if you just Google them and you'll see, they're huge and they're in every, Yeah.
they're in every city. They have an office in my city of Vancouver and London, you know, they're, they're all over the place. They're kind of like McKinsey and company in terms of which is another business consulting firms.
So these are kind of the firms that that businesses rely upon to, to help set their course. That's so, so Richard Edelman is the guy who started this and the brains behind it. And I ran into him in the town square in Davos, and I had my camera operator with me and I stuck a microphone in his face up.
Would you do an interview? This is what we're doing, you know, blah, blah, blah. And he's like, I'm sure. And so I wanted to tease out a little bit what his belief. About corporations. And basically you told me we're at a point now where corporations are becoming good actors, where social responsibility is no longer, just some kind of peripheral thing, but is becoming a core commitment of companies.
And as they become good actors, he said they can fill the void left by retreating governments, which he could have added are in retreat because big business has been pushing them into retreat for 40 years through lobbying. But I just added that in my own head. He didn't say it. So they're going to fill the void left by retreating governments because they're good actors now.
And so I said to him, well, there's a bit of a problem with that. And that is whatever else you say about corporations, even if they're the most benevolent institutions in the world, they're not. They don't represent anybody except for their shareholders. They don't, they're not accountable to anybody.
They're not responsible to anybody. This whole notion of democracy that we've developed over the last two centuries just doesn't touch them at all, except in their relationships with their shareholders. But shareholders, aren't citizens. They're a small group of people wealthy enough to invest. So, so he said to me, this and this for me is when the penny really dropped.
After I said that, he said, you know, I'm not much of a, and it's in the film. And the book said, I'm not much of a believer in political citizenship. I believe in the power of the marketplace. And I was like, boom cop, right there. There it is. Corporations are good. They can fulfill, they can take over the job of.
governing from government and political citizenship, AKA democracy.
Is now in the rear view mirror and markets and corporations are to take the mantle where the mantle of governing society, that why good corporations are bad for democracy it's because that ideology inevitably is part of the push for corporations to become better.
Jack: So city corporations that have all these rights as individuals, but they get lots of fines as you've said in your, but how did they, have they ever been dismantled?
Joel: So it's a really interesting question. Because I mean, one of the really interesting things that we always need to keep in mind is that corporations were not created by God. They're not part of nature they're created by governments. And so that, that means two things. One is when you hear all this stuff, About free markets.
You have to understand that is absolute bullshit. Nobody wants a market to be free because a market can exist without a massive infusion of government power. Where do we get property rights from there? They're not written in the fabric of the universe. Property rights are created by the courts. They're enforced by the courts by police, by military.
Where do we get contract rights from the same thing? Where do we get corporations from, from the pens of the drafters of legislation from corporate registries that are part of the state. So the entire market system, the entire corporate system is created by government and the state. So the idea that, you know, markets are about not having the state is, is absolutely absurd.
And anybody who's honest and intelligent in the realm of economics, politics, law, anywhere else. That you cannot Have markets and corporations without a massive intrusion of the state. So when people say we don't like government, we want free or markets, Margaret Thatcher, you know, that whole idea or prime minister Johnson, you know, whoever Ronald Reagan, I mean, these are the sort of the rogues gallery of this view.
When they say, you know, government's the problem we need free or markets, all of that, that is absolutely oxymoronic because without massive involvement of the state and government, you could not have,
a so-called free market system. So what people are asking for when they say we don't want government is they're saying we don't want government to restrict.
Th the other things that government does. So government creates property rights and enforces property rights. We want government to do that, but we don't want government to impose environmental restrictions on how those property rights are exercised, or we don't want government to tax us. We don't want government do those things.
So it's not about government or no government. It's about how government does what it does. And, and so the whole idea of free market is absolute myth and, and it's a dangerousness. So that's one notion that comes from this idea that you know, from your question, can government dismantle a corporation?
What implication of government making corporations is that the notion of free marks is ridiculous. A second notion is that if government make corporations, they can unmake corporations. And, and so, but they don't typically they do in some.
Jack: Have they ever have,
Joel: Yes. Yes, they, they have in some very usually it's if a company is a small company that has gone bankrupt or has not paid off its creditors in some way, typically a very small company, it will unincorporated so that you can go through a judicial proceeding.
Joel: never a big company. No though that is, that is possible. And some people say that's what needs to be done, but I, I'm not sure it solves the problem. It, it goes, I don't want to go down this rabbit hole too much, but there's a real intricate relationship between big companies capitalism as it exists today that we can't separate the two.
We can't just say we're going to make these big corporations disappear and everything will be fine. Um,
Jack: just as a headline, you know, if you'd Exxon was always one of the worst actors.
Joel: You know, the problem is, and the reason courts don't do it is because the implications would just be, so, I mean, even Enron wasn't decertified, it was fined it's leaders went to jail, all of that, but it continued to exist as a corporate entity. And part of the reason for that is that if you evaporate the corporation, then you also no longer have an entity that those who have been harmed by the consumer. So it, and run a good case that you actually needed a corporate entity to continue to exist in order to fulfill the legal liabilities that it had created. And, and you can spin that logic out further that if you sort of destroy your corporation, All of the pensioners whose pensions owned shares in that corporation will suddenly lose their money.
So because the tentacles of these large corporations are so broad it's just that the implications of getting rid of a corporation, the workers would be out of work. The pensioners would be out of pensions. It just to unwind a big company like that, suddenly through some kind of a judicial order would just be too consequential for too many people who were really at fault for what the company was
Jack: seems they want the best of both worlds. Cause they're always lobbying for lower taxes, but then when they want to bail out, they go to the government and then the they're too big to fail now.
Joel: Absolutely. And that is, that is the problem with our system. And it underlines the point we were talking about before, you know, not only do they rely on government to create them, not only do they rely on government to create markets that are advantageous to them, but then when within that system, they fail, they rely on government to bail them out.
It is an but, but it goes back to the point we were talking about that. If your system sees the main goal is creating capital, then it's always going to be intervening in ways that ensure that creation of capital is not interrupted.
Jack: a business owner.
Joel: And that's capitalism.
Jack: a business ever own a business owner ever come to you and says, I was thinking of incorporating, I saw read your work. And I realized what a terrible mistake it would be. I'm just going to stay a private company.
Joel: Well, here's the thing. I mean, no, and, and I mean, you know, you can look at people who might have done that. And I think of a sort of British Dutch company named Unilever which was run by a CEO named Paul Polman for many years, who was at the forefront of this corporate social responsibility movement.
And there's a small company.
from Vermont in the United States called Ben and Jerry's and Ben and Jerry's make ice cream. And most people are probably familiar and Ben and Jerry's are all about sort of ecology and environment and social justice and all of that. They sold to Unilever. I mean, so, you know, I mean, they were a private company and. Yeah. if not, if, if they didn't sort of think about it and you know, they, they got probably hundreds of
millions of dollars if maybe tens of millions. Yeah. I mean, I think there are many, many examples, especially in the high tech space of companies that seem to be very socially minded selling out to apple and Microsoft
Jack: the biggest company that we'd all know that is not a corporation.
Joel: So, so let me just be a little, let me be a bit of a law professor here. There are no companies that are not corporations because by definition, where you're setting in England, when we talk about a company, we mean, we mean an entity that's been incorporated. So, but there's this and, and no large enterprise can operate in the economy without being incorporated.
They need. Basically in order to assume legal obligations and in order to have legal rights. So even, even the company that made my film is a tiny, tiny company that was created just to make the film grand street productions. And we had no choice, but to incorporate because nobody would give us investment money, including public entities, government agencies, that fund films, they wouldn't give us money.
Unless we were incorporated because they needed a legal entity to be able to Sue if things didn't work out and I, as a creator on the film want to be incorporated. So if things go sideways investors can't come after my house and my, my bicycle, you know? So, so. There is a place for incorporation, but the real issue is what is the largest company that is not publicly traded.
That that's the real dividing line, because if you are a company that is private, you can decide how you want to balance profit and social values. It's up to you. you. have No shareholders, so you don't have any fiduciary obligation. And there are some companies there's a company based in the United States called Cargill, C a.
R G I L L, which is a huge food company that is not publicly traded.
And, you know, there are various examples in tech of companies that got quite large before they go public. And what, where these companies differ from a publicly traded company is that they actually can make decisions. They're free to make decisions about how they balance business values with other values.
The truth is though that most of those companies operate very similarly to publicly traded companies in terms of prioritizing
Jack: a great example of a ethically, the most ethical company in the world.
And you know, I mean, Patagonia, arguably is a fairly ethical company. It's not publicly traded It's an example that's often used, but at the same time, you know, they run into problems to Mount mountain equipment co-op is a big company, but it's a cooperative, which was recently bought out by a private equity firm.
And private equity firms are another piece of this. And that is, there are firms that are not public. But they have vast pools of capital and, and they've been buying up a lot of companies. And So technically those companies are not publicly traded, but the private equity firms run on a very profit driven basis.
So, you know, and that gets back to the point we were making about capitalism. That when you, have large companies be the publicly traded or not operating in a capitalist system for them to get financing. in other words, take, you could have a company with the, greatest ideals in the world. Let's say Patagonia, but Patagonia needs to get financing.
You know, no company can operate without, so it goes to the bank and the bank looks at its business fund and the bank will not give a credit unless its business plan is one that comports with making a return. And so even though now it doesn't have its shareholders looking over its shoulder. It has a for-profit bank
Joel: at shoulder.
And, and so, so
Joel: that as long as we're in the system where everything is oriented towards the creation of capital it's going to be very hard to escape that imperative.
Jack: you, in the, in your work, you said the democracy, that is the solution. And we should have, we should apply out, use our rights as citizens to curtail these corporations. How can we do that?
So, I mean, I think what we, as citizens need to understand is, is that we have power to address the kinds of issues of corporations, having too much power of markets being too pervasive and too influential of corporate values, being too much the values that we're supposed to all serve, that we can do something about this.
I, I don't necessarily believe we shouldn't have markets in society. I don't necessarily believe we shouldn't have corporations in society. What I do believe is that both of those need to be seen as tools, not as ends in themselves, but they need to be seen as public policy tools. Corporations were inventing. In order to finance railroads in Britain the modern corporation, because for the first time with the steam engine, there was a possibility of creating large, large enterprise. It was no longer just a Milan on the river floss, but You could create these massive steamship enterprises, factories, railroads.
And so you now had a need for large pools of capital to create those. And it was that need that was met by creating the corporate form. That's why government created a, it's basically a financing tool that enables you to go out to millions or hundreds of millions of people and get a little bit of money from each of them shareholders.
And you do that by legally. Breaking the link between ownership and management. And so I don't want to, again, I don't want to go down that rabbit hole, but suffice to say that the corporation is a very powerful tool for financing large scale enterprise. In our current world, given technology, we're likely going to have large projects, whether it's airlines or, or computer companies or whatever.
We're likely to be operating at a fairly large scale. And corporations are a fairly good way to to raise finance for that. And markets are a fairly good way to organize production in society, but again, they have to be seen as means to the end of providing a good society. There is such a thing as society, and we want it to have equality.
We want human rights to be respected. We want climate change to be addressed. Those have to be the ends. And the means we can use markets and corporations as public policy tools for helping us achieve those dents. And it's democratic government that have to be mediating all those competing interests, not a non-democratic companies or authoritarian governments or whatever.
So the, the suggestion at the end of the film and book is that we try to re re understand, recreate what democracy is to really build in a robust commitment to social and environmental values to see democratic government being very much twinned and, and symbiotic. Movement for a more just society for an environmentally more sound society.
And so we look at examples at the end of the film of, of those kinds of, of movements, but I think it is really re democratizing democracy. And sort of the idea in the film, we start with the occupy movement and the idea of the films we need to do more than occupied the streets. We actually need to occupy democracy.
In fact, that's a democracy is supposed to be is government occupied by the people. So that's what we need to get, get to. I was going to say, get back to, but we were never
Jack: on a local level or national.
Joel: I mean, I think it has to happen at all levels, but we do sort of talk about it in the film as and we look at some local politicians in the film and we talk about what, what one commentator talks about as the urban Renaissance, which is this movement of progressive government and local authorities sort of getting elected.
And, and, and so the idea as one sort of progressive city councilor in Seattle, Shauna, Silwan talks about it as is that you can start at the local because it's doable. And, and then, you know, work higher, but, you know, I think people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn you know, try to weather ultimately.
Much success, but, but I think tried to move in a direction that was different. And in opposition to the kind of neoliberal ideas we've had for 40 years. And I would say, I mean, I say not totally successfully, but I think some of what is happening now in the United States with the Biden administration is very much connected to the energy that was created with the Sanders move with people like AOC and whatnot.
And the hope is that, you know, that sense that this pandemic has brought us, that we really aren't. And crisis and, and, and moving from just a pandemic and thinking about climate on all these things and in a positive way, thinking we really need collective solutions, public solutions. We can't rely on corporations to get us out of this.
You have, they may play, play a role. They may, you know, help create vaccines and things like that. But ultimately the policy, the ideas, the leadership has to come from our Democrat governments, and there are some fairly encouraging signs that
Jack: Yeah. Yeah. Cause I mean, we think we w when we think of things is we can't imagine things changing. Can we, but I mean, in my lifetime, I remember Thatcher and, you know, campaigning for privatizing and how it was much more efficient and, you know, selling off everything. And, but then in your first form, you talk about how, how it used, how fire at fire engines, for example, Used to be in the, in the private sector.
So if you had a plaque on your wall from that like health insurance in America, now you could get the fire engine to
Jack: So, we can, we, there is the power to change these things and bring them back into the public sector and reform the system that it's not, it's not just because the corporations are winning now.
It doesn't mean that it has to stay like that now.
Joel: You're absolutely right. And I think that is it's a fight. It's a struggle, but that is, it's a, it's a struggle that I think can be one. And let me introduce you. It's 10 45
Jack: Hello, Rebecca. Hello? Pleased to meet you.
Joel: Good to meet you too.
Joel: It sounds like such a fun
Jack: oh, thank you. Well, we have, it's a very challenging.
Joel: So I'm just listening through the ear. What was
Jack: challenging idea. I mean, to make a documentary was difficult enough. I mean, took him a year, but I think this song take me longer.
Joel: Good luck. And you two want to talk at all about
what the song might
Jack: Yeah. Yeah. also
Jack: what it was like too, has it been difficult to live with Joel over this past? Have you seen much of him?
Joel: Actually I I've actually, no, he's always, he's actually always around.
Jack: I thought was in the editing suite, you know, locked away.
Joel: Well, it wasn't the, oh yeah, no, that's true. During the making of so bad. I don't know whether that's good or not. Wasn't so bad. No, it was all Right.
I'm very, I'm very good at disciplining myself, not to work all the time and to work efficiently when I am working.
And I, I really, Rebecca was just an absolute inspiration support could not have made the film written the book. She edited the book. She has a real your for, for language and writing. So she edited the book and was constantly giving me input on the cuts of the film. And so, Yeah, I'm just absolutely indebted. No,
Jack: from when your partner is doing something, I'm sure it's the same when you're in a movie that, that your partner learns so much kind of osmosis now, especially when you read it in the
Joel: Yeah, it's, it's really true. And honestly, it's not hard to edit Joel's work. It really isn't. He he does so many drafts first. He just works it and works it until it's to a place where really it's not that hard to it.
Jack: So have you, what have you, are you more of an activist now? If you, are you energized more than you were before?
Joel: I'd say, I'd say particularly after this last book. Yeah. I mean, laying out because it just lays out so broadly and the, the big, the huge, the big ideas. And I mean the first book too, but yeah, it just deepens it just ones one's understanding of it. And that's what when you understand that's, that's what activates
Jack: we've all drunk. The Kool-Aid no, I mean, your friends must also think the same, like cause they're very persuasive, the arguments of, of corporations and sustainability, the language they use. I mean, it's what we've all adopted as well now.
Joel: This is very true. It's very true. Oh yeah. It is
Jack: They commented as well.
Joel: friends and family like it like it and see it as, as a revelation. I mean, I think it's because we all do find these ideas so compelling, which is a very positive thing. It's a very positive thing. And I say this in the book more explicitly than in the film, it's a very positive thing that people are drawn to this.
Even though it's missing. It's very positive that people are drawn to it Because they're the urine, you know? So they're looking for the right. They're, they're looking, they're following the wrong star, their reasons for following it are rights. If, if they're sort of drawn into the idea that corporations are going to serve up these values, they the, to read my book or watch the film.
But but the fact they're drawn into them is a beautiful
thing, Is a much better thing than if
Jack: all these ideas like heard that littering was even an invented by companies and, and the whole re recite, recycling that to, to act, to let you
say externalize the costs, because that's what they're doing. So you don't even know it. It's not labeled as Kool-Aid, you know, it's incredible, you know?
Joel: no, exactly. Yeah. So, I mean, I'm just hoping this project and your song and Rebecca singing of it will, you know, we'll set
Jack: Well, I think, I
Jack: was wrong to say that a song is going to do it. I think we need to do a whole album.
All right. Well, I'll get to thinking about a song and, you guys can jazz it up. All right. Nice to meet you. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. All right. Thank You Bye-bye.