For Douglas Rushkoff, author of Life, Inc.  How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back, a pervasive mindset of “Corporatism” exists in society today.  Rushkoff believes that after generations of Corporate encroachment into the lives of ordinary people, the world has become a corporation, in a sense, and now it is time to take it back.

The Core Problem: After generations of subjugation to corporatism, ordinary people have actually adopted a fully “corporatist” worldview.   With the rise of mass media, corporations have even been able to drive a deeper corporate mindset (or ethos) into the culture.  This mindset has (sadly) disconnected people from i) real commerce ii) other people iii) real choices iv) currency and v) value.

In short, instead of acting like people, we act like Corporations.

3 Main Stages of the Corporation as “Guardian of Humankind”:  According to Rushkoff, “the Corporation was born in the Renaissance, granted personhood in post-Civil War America, and then, in the twentieth century, branded as the benevolent guardian of humankind”.

So how do ordinary people (even people who work in Corporations) avoid becoming so disconnected?

I will get to Doug’s proposed solution(s) + other ideas in just a moment.

First, I need to say that Doug’s thoughts are thought provoking and, all to often, missing from American political, social, and economic discourse. In that context, I highly recommend the book.  Having said this, his critique is pretty strong and one-sided (one part of the story).  Corporations are responsible for thousands of innovations that have legitimately made all of our lives more convenient (more happy? I’m not so sure).  And, corporate size and scale has enabled mass distribution networks to supply us with these innovations.  So, while I admire Doug’s courage and thoughtfulness, I think he could have been a bit more balanced at times in the book.

The Answer:  Look Local & Re-connect: Rushkoff recommends that we should start “de-corporatizing” ourselves by thinking local.  By participating directly with our neighbors in community activities and using the Web, we can devise new ways to re-connect.  One of my favorite examples is where he points out how he helped a local organic cafe avoid going to a bank to raise money and instead generate cash through the creation of “Comfort Dollars”.  For every dollar spent on the card, the customer would receive $1.20 worth of credit.  If I buy a thousand dollar card, I get 1200 worth of food, a 20% rate of return.  As Rushkoff points out: The organic cafe owner gets the money he needs to renovate a lot cheaper than if he were borrowing it from a bank–he’s paying in food & labor in which he has ample supply.  Meanwhile, customers get more food for less money. Side Note: Check out the book Beyond Money if you are interested in the alternative currency topic area.

I enjoyed the interesting and thought provoking ideas on how to remove “Corporatism” from our mindsets.  I thought, however, that he could have gone a bit deeper here.  By only focusing 15-16 pages of a roughly 250 page book (my paperback version) on providing solutions (the last chapter), I felt like he might have missed an opportunity to provide more solutions and hope to the folks who actually work in Corporations (probably the most prone to catching “Corporatism”) and are interested in social/environmental rehabilitation.  Perhaps there will be a follow-up book?

A Future Alternative to Corporatism? A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about Prosumers and the impact they have on the economy (Alvin & Heidi Toffler estimate that the impact of Prosuming on the economy stretches to almost 50 Trillion USD).  As the Prosuming trend deepens and new technologies allow for Open Manufacturing / industrial demassification, smaller businesses and individuals will be able to to manufacture goods on demand in increasing proximity to consumers.  As Eric Hunting comments on Boing Boing, this could be the ultimate alternative to corporatism.

So what about the millions of people around the world who work in Corporations? For those that are interested in not falling prey to the Corporatist mindset (while still working in a Corporation)–if this can be done–I have provided a couple of thoughts on promoting social & environmental rehabilitation internally.  I am a believer that those who work in large companies can do great things for the community and for the world.

1.  Advocate internally for products that serve all consumers:  By using R&D scale to develop product innovations that serve lower income consumers, corporations can be a huge force for good in the developing world.  Authors like C.K. Prahalad have been advocating for products that serve the bottom of the Pyramid for some time now…the more advocates for social/enviro change speak up internally, the more corporate leadership will take note.

2.  Become an Corporatist Community Contributor: Corporations can provide great places for like-minded people to come together and contribute to the community effectively.  For example, I am part of a Community Charity Consulting group that helps non-profits and social businesses.  We take time during the working day to help local organizations.  I know we could be blamed for spreading corporatist ideas, however, we are providing good process and structured approaches to help to our charities succeed on the playing field today…

3. Ensure you Keep some $ local and experiment with interesting grassroots initiatives: We should probably all try & remember to shop at our local markets or go out of your way to spend some hard earned $ with local merchants even if it costs a bit more.  I recently saw an excellent initiative called the 3/50 project asking people to spend 50 dollars with 3 of their favorite local brick & mortar shops to help them survive through the tough downturn.

Rushkoff has raised some really interesting points in his new book…go have a read and let me know what you think. Has the world become a Corporation & has corporatism spread like a fungus?  Or, are we all just  individualistic & overly “me focused” in today’s world?

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