During the last five years, Wal-Mart became the Microsoft of the retail industry. Their position grew so dominant as to earn the ire of everyone else. Claims of anti-competitive practices, and corporate abuse began to rise. Just like when Bill Gates’ empire had succeeded in practically owning the desktop PC market, people took notice of the giant.
Yet Wal-Mart has taken this opportunity to show why Walton’s Mart stays on top. Their strategy managers chose to move into the growing green movement. What greater way to soothe, placate and even adopt its greatest critics? Many of course will scoff, claiming that this is just another corporate move to manipulate and buy people. Others though will be much more understanding.
As I often tell my clients, it is easier to maintain and heal one’s arms and legs rather than to cutoff and grow new ones! In this same way, the corporation offers an incredible way of uniting and organizing human endeavors. The term incorporate comes from the Latin root, incorporatus, “to unite in body.” What could be better than a flexible entity based upon unifying logical principles rather than divisive national, religious, and ethnic ones?
Opponents of corporations often state that they are evil entities with all the rights of individuals yet none of the responsibilities. These same individuals regularly state that government is the cure for the abuses and depredations of multi-national behemoths. Yet governments have infinite lifespans as well. What are the key differences between a corporation and a government?
These are the questions which our planet’s social systems will wrestle with over the next twenty years of consolidation. Witness the many social movements which incorporate into nonprofits and “green” firms. As an example, Wal-Mart has gone even further than governments to start a program to measure carbon emissions. For seven product lines “from DVDs to vacuum cleaners and beer.” (Birchall and Harvey, 2007)
Look how quickly the corporate entity has adapted to the environment of changing consumer tastes. It takes government decades to move its unmotivated bureaucracy. Part of the reason is that governments seek stability while corporations seek change. Although, this distinction is in no way definitive. In actuality, large controlling monopolies seek stability and rigidity, while competitive players seek change.
Thus, governments, which hold total monopolies on legal systems, authorized use of force, and taxation, seek to maintain the status quo. While most corporations on the other hand, constantly jockey for new positions, trying to take power or become more efficient. What incentive is there for government to reduce its size and increase efficiency and productivity?
I posit that great political thinkers, social scientists, financiers and diplomats will spend a great many hours over the next five years studying and writing about how to balance the competitive forces raging across our planet. The increased integration of global markets coupled with the dominance of corporations generates a new volatility, as the recent credit upheaval illustrates. Ironically, quasi-governmental agencies performed the stabilization roles.
Central banks are public-private entities that manage the stability of the financial system. They are neither wholly governmental nor totally private. Expect these joint-ventures to grow as governments decrease in power. Some governments react to these changes with totalitarianism, while others expanded social service nets. Hybrid entities will emerge as the intermediaries in many Western Democracies.
Our world grows ever closer together. In this same way, our allegiances are set to cross national, and governmental boundaries. Corporations are the vehicle through which we will implement much of social policy. Look for many “greener” movements to sprout and grow. Some claim that corporations behave like individuals with predatory antisocial instincts. Yet these are the character of only a select few firms run by individuals of similar mindsets. A firm reflects its leadership.
Nonetheless, as a caveat, I do not believe that governments will disappear, only that they will become infrastructure based organizations. Their main purposes will be to create and maintain the playing field of international relations, legal systems, and physical infrastructure such as roads, telecommunications et cetera. Libertarians of the world unite, for Atlas is about to shrug.
Birchall, Johnathan and Harvey, Fiona (2007). “Wal-Mart maps our grand plan to go Greener,” Financial Times, September 24, 2007
Incorporate. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved September 25, 2007, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/incorporate