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on June 22, 2004
If you haven't read any other critiques of corporate power, this isn't a bad introduction. It covers the basics adequately (deregulation, privatization, monopolies, anti-unionism), but you have to wade through prose like "The language of responsibility -- rather than accountability or democracy -- reflects the depoliticizing of a movement that claims to speak for empowerment." For more experienced readers, I would recommend "The Corporation" by Joel Bakan.
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on November 11, 2002
The essence of the book is "corporations behave badly". I happen to agree but I don't need 339 pages to tell me this. I was hoping to learn something here. I was hoping for some history of how corporations developed. Nothing of the kind. Just a comparison to the gilded age (late 1800s) repeated throughout the book that is obvious to anyone who knows American history. Those liberals who love to read long winded tirades that support their point of view may enjoy this book. But if you aren't a liberal or if you are a liberal with a brain, this book will bore you to tears.
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on September 21, 2002
This is a book that shoud be read by anyone who is in the least bit interested in global economic affairs, sweatshop-labor, and flight of capital.
Charles Derber gives an excellent description of the history of corporations within the United States and elsewhere as well as timeline leading into what they have become. He advocates careful legislation, but more importantly - grassroots activism. His solutions include educated consumerism, socially-responsible investing, and cooperation of non-profits.
This book is an easy read that doesn't require an MBA to understand - it should be required reading for political economics courses.
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on May 30, 2002
Derber, a sociology professor at Boston College, gives us a noble, yet futile effort to bring change to our overbearing corporate culture. He does a commendable job of describing the historical role of corporations, starting with their charter as entities that are beholden to public scrutiny and will and with finite lifespan through the sea change of the Gilded Age where the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Goulds and others forced the country to accept corporations as private enterprises that also had the protection given to individuals. Much of Derber's best work is describing how this took place and what the ramifications have been through today.
He also does a decent job of describing how corporate power has been consolidated and is now so powerful that it holds an ever increasing dominance on public policy. With behemoths such as GM, GE, Disney, Microsoft and others holding vast amounts of power, Derber argues that government has become an unbalanced lackey of private enterprise and no longer is a trusted countervailing force to the private sector. As a prime example, Derber points to the merger activity in media companies which compelled the FCC to relax ownership constraints on media companies and has effective consolidated media power in the hands of very few companies. He rightly asks the question, how does this effect the quality and balance of news and information that the public receives and is this a threat to our political, economic freedoms.
He speaks of the corrupting power of contributions to political campaigns and how the legal fiction of the corporation as a person has allowed companies to wield undue influence in our political process. Derber does not make a significant distinction between Democrats and Republicans, arguing that both have become suckled to the corporate dollar, thereby diminishing their role as independent keepers of the public gate.
While Derber sees some silver lining in efforts by companies such as Ben & Jerry's, Tom's of Maine and others to practice corporate responsibility and bring a different set of values to corporate decision making, he believes these efforts will essentially fail to create fundamental change due to the divisive influence of financial markets, globalism and other pressures on companies to produce short-term profit for shareholders. Indeed, while Derber sees large financial institutions and money managers as potential harbingers of change due to their large ownership stake in companies, he doesn't think they will provide the type of change necessary to force companies to take into account, social, regional, environmental and other issues when making decisions.
Derber spends the final third of the book describing his antidote to this issue, however, while he consciously tries to evade sounding utopian and idealistic, that is exactly how he sounds. He puts his faith in a movement called 'positive populism' which looks to change their fundamental values while at the same time selling this idea to a skeptical public who may look upon it as threatening their own livelihood and security. He believes four separate movements can come together, labor, the 'third sector' of volunteer-based organizations associated with community, church, clubs, neighborhoods, etc., women's and civil rights movements and finally, environmental organizations. By demonstrating to all four their common goals and by shifting emphasis in labor from one of narrowly-defined interests to one of a broader social context, he believes they can be a powerful countervailing force to the corporate giant. While noble in theory, Derber gives very little direction on how this can happen. It seems he wills it to happen more than anything. As mentioned earlier, Derber has put his finger on a bedrock issue in today's world, but his solution has more to do with slinging arrows at Goliath.
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on June 21, 2000
Like another recent book, "Opposing The System" by Charles Reich, this effort by sociologist Charles Derber takes aim against the elitist and anti-democratic influence of contemporary multi-national corporations. Noting that corporations have so invaded the social, economic and political arenas of life in modern postindustrial societies that it is problematic for an individual to live a free and meaningful lifestyle without surrendering vital parts of his liberty and free choice to the whims and caprices of corporate policy. Thus, Derber claims, corporations have transformed the meaning of citizenship into a silent euphemism for corporate membership, and the society tends to identify loyalty to these organizations as a sort of patriotism (buy American).
This is an interesting and entertaining reading experience, and Derber's thesis is similar to and compatible with a number of other contemporary social critics like Reich, Neil Postman, Bill McKibben, and Kirkpatrick Sales. To the extent the rise of multinational corporation to a position of nearly exclusive domination of world markets with the new "global capitalism" (touted by politicians as the best thing since sliced bread) continues and endures, to that extent will our lives be increasingly influenced and characterized the kinds of choice these corporate entities view to be in their own narrowly conceived and fundamentally anti-democratic goals and objectives. Thus, to an ever-greater extent, these corporate entities are empowered at our expense to influence, manipulate, and even dictate the specific terms of social, economic and even political transactions within and without our borders.
Probably this single greatest recent example of this trend were the actions by the U.S Congress to ratify both the NAFTA and GATT trade treaties, whose main beneficiaries were multinational corporate entities. There was little or no meaningful national debate, And most Americans were so distracted by their petty personal pursuits of money, material goods, and the good life that they hardly paid any attention to all this happening under their noses. Rather than focusing on these issues, the national electronic media chose to cover other non-news events like the Michael Jackson child molestation charge, the OJ Simpson trial, the Louise Woodward trial, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, etc. Meanwhile, the corporations achieved their goals, and the future of American worker was sealed. All this transpired without any meaningful or informed public debate. And isn't it quite a coincidence that the electronic media in this country is owned, lock, stock, and barrel by several different multinational corporations.
The author offers an alternative by way of what he terms "positive populism", by which he then outlines an alternative approach to re-engaging the American public in a self-enlightened attempt to regain control of their lives and future through the available political process. This is an interesting, provocative, and often entertaining book, well written and well argued, and one which will engage the reader in a thoughtful process regarding the nature of our contemporary situation vis-à-vis the powers that be. I highly recommend it. Enjoy
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on April 28, 2000
What seduced me into buy Derber's book was opening page where he put forth the idea of a "corporate mystique" - a concept he derived from Friedan's "feminie mystique". He noted that American workers live with an impending sense of doom, but can't pinpoint the source of their trepidation.
Derber's book is easily read, and offers the reader very useful information. He goes through the history of the corporation and populist movements in America and also provides a nice analysis of corporate influence on people's lives, and, ultimately on democracy. What I like most about Corporation Nation is that Derber devoted the second half of the book to providing solutions and ways that the reader can become involved to influence change. Much of what Derber wrote in '98 about current populism is proving true - a grassroots movement is growing in America. The rise of union and community groups working together for change, as well as the strengthening of third parties, such as the Green Party, are examples of the increased consciousness and activity that Derber saw the seeds of when the book was written. I highly recommend this book to anyone who lives with that mysterious sense of impending doom.
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on August 2, 1999
Of the dozens of classes I took while attending Boston College, Prof Derber's classes were my favorite. His intelligence, compassion for society and his desire for justice were qualities that engaged and enlightened all whom attended his classes. These skills make Corporation Nation a book that is a pleasure to read not only for its informative analysis, but for its style and demeanor. Derber's work does not suffer from the tedious nature of most books written to inform rather than entertain. It may sound cheesy, but reading this was fun! And when I as finished, I was empowered with a benchmark set of standards from which to judge the corporate job market I was about to enter.
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on December 17, 1998
Professor Derber's book is one of the most profoundly important books I've ever read about the impact of corporations on all our lives. The book has awakened me to critical dimensions of corporate power and influence. Anyone who thinks that corporations are private entities only should read this work. Not only does it tell some important truths about corporate ascendancy in America, but it also offer real solutions to the problem. It is especially critical that those working for corporations understand how and why their jobs are in jeopardy.
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