The Super Immunity of Our Fabulously Wealthy Corporate Dictators

Jerri-Lynn here. I don’t always agree with everything he says. And, I have quibbles with the following piece – but I will leave those issues to readers to suss out i the comments. That being said, I always have time for Ralph Nader.

By Ralph Nader. Originally published at Common Dreams

Ever since the heads of East India Trading Company (1600) and Hudson Bay Company (1670), were incorporated by English Royal charters, there have been corporate dictators. Their range and actions, have varied widely however. Today’s new corporate dictators shatter past restraints.

John D. Rockefeller ruled the Standard Oil Company monopoly until the trust busters from Washington broke up its giant price-fixing and predatory practices into several companies.

Andrew Carnegie was the ruler of the giant Carnegie Steel Company (which became U.S. Steel Corporation). Carnegie violently broke up strikes, such as the 1892 Homestead strike, before he left the company to be a major philanthropist building libraries and universities.

In the post-World War II years, the CEOs of General Motors and Ford had immense power but still had to contend with a strong United Auto Workers union and later with jolting consumer advocacy leading to federal safety and emissions regulation.

Today’s corporate dictators are like no others, with unparalleled wealth towering over that held by Rockefeller and Carnegie (adjusted for inflation).

Consider the sheer unchallenged power of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook (Meta), Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the wannabe CEO of a going-private Twitter, Elon Musk, (unless the sinking Tesla stock ends the debt-deep acquisition price), and Sergey Brin and Larry Page still in control of Google. Despite recent stirrings, there are no companywide unions at these companies and the prospect for such is still in the distant future.

These CEOs snap their fingers and their patsy Boards of Directors sign off on huge optimally priced stock options and other goodies. These CEOs don’t have to worry about their shareholders because like Zuckerberg, with a large portion of the shares, they have rigged their even larger control of voting shares giving them an unassailable shareholder majority.

They are hauled before Congressional Committees, appearing humble and afterwards they must be breaking open the champagne. Because after the public posturing by the lawmakers, no effective regulation is ever enacted. Antitrust action year after year doesn’t materialize, other than some weak consent decrees against Facebook which for a decade it violated while paying laughable civil fines.

No corporate monopolist comes close these days to being prosecuted for jail time. Under both the Democratic and Republican Parties, the Department of Justice cuts sweetheart ‘deferred prosecution agreements’ (See: Corporate Crime Reporter: with the corporate entity and lets off the bosses. Boeing, after its two criminal 737 MAX crashes, is the latest example (See: Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing by Peter Robison, November 30, 2021).

The dictatorship over consumers is most unprecedented. Whereas the old dictatorial bosses—pre-unions—had control over worker’s lives at the workplace, today’s corporate dictators can ply their power 24/7. They can get into the minds of people to addict them and have their personal lives invaded and their personal information offered for sale all over the globe. The old bosses used child labor until the early 20th century, but then kids were largely off limits.

Today’s dollar dictators have fused children’s hands with their iPhones and incarcerated them in their vast gluttonous, nasty, violent Internet world to which they become addicted. For six to ten hours a day, their screen time has become their lifetime – families begone!

Not only do these bosses’ avaricious clutches have no “quit time,” the little ones are now being lured into the Metaverse Gulag equipped with three-dimensional goggles to distance themselves further from daily reality.

Millions of parents are at their wit’s end, trying to recover their children from their screens and their video games at all hours and their digital fantasy worlds.  Although there have been dozens of expose’ books, documentaries and newly formed citizen groups focusing on these corporate child molesters, the hijacking of little America by these Internet Barons continues unabated.

Suing these commercial dictators for whom enough is never enough has gone nowhere. Judges don’t recognize offered causes of action. Moreover, under a special exception (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) from federal communications law, media like Twitter and Facebook are largely immune from suits no matter how violent, defamatory, and false the anonymous hate messages traversing their corporate portals.

The contrast between the old and new corporate dictators is that the latter use, for free, your personal data for a fantastically profitable sale. The profit margins flowing from turning free “products” into big time cash are so high as to stun old-time economists who are used to margins under 10%, not over 50%.

Perhaps a bottom line in the differences between the old and new corporate dictators is twofold. Year after year, there is no number two really challenging their tight controls, no Avis to take on Hertz, as the old phrase went.

Second, the workers in these old industries felt and knew the oppressors or dictators ruling them. They were deep in this corporate reality. They could organize themselves because they knew their co-workers and this proximity gave birth to the union movements that led to fair labor standards and other regulations protecting workers (still much to be done here).

How do the users organize to overcome transaction costs (as with Facebook, Google and Twitter) when they never see each other? It’s a one-way gold mine ether out there. When several years ago, Facebook users formed a group for enhanced bargaining, Facebook sued for trademark infringement and blocked that nascent effort.

As long as Silicon Valley behemoths continue to rule Washington D.C. and State Capitals, get ready for more refinements of commercial tyranny.

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  1. digi_owl

    I do wonder how long these corporate behemoths can survive, once nobody can afford the physical products that their services advertise for because everyone is up to their eyebrows in debt.

    Rockefeller and Carnegie, for all their faults, still plied in physical goods.

    1. c_heale

      And I wonder how long Amazon retail will survive without goods from China… because that looks like the way the Biden Administration is heading…

      1. Doc

        Frankly, the world would be better offer without all the cheap plastic crap from China. Not to give Biden any credit, but the US needs to become less dependent on cheap labor and goods. The sooner we can get ourselves out of the world oil market the better. We only have ourselves to blame for the current inflation because the thread bare supply chains couldn’t handle the rapid “end” to covid. Not to mention over a 1M people died. Their labor produced something. We need to focus on producing things we need – clean energy, quality food, and sustainable housing.

        1. The Historian

          To be honest, we don’t just import cheap plastic crap from China.

          And, unfortunately, we’ve gotten ourselves in a position where we have to buy from China because we gave up on making that stuff ourselves. To start making things like power generation equipment and machinery will take a massive infux of capital. Can you see Bezos or Musk or Buffett or any of the others willing to forgo profits for that?

          I’d like to blame Covid for inflation, but it is hard to do that when you realize that corporate profits rose 53.9 % during this time.

          1. Valerie Long Tweedie

            I’ve heard this reasoning around “Free Trade” and the costs to American jobs from the get go. People say, “You can’t put the genie back into the bottle.” or “Those jobs are gone for good.” I have always wondered if those who have an interest in keeping the system broken and dependent on cheap, foreign labor keep this idea going. I think we actually can bring jobs back – but we can’t rely on private investment. The government needs to use all that money they are spending on forever wars and build factories – starting with making affordable solar panels. I know the ultra rich will kick up a stink. But the truth is, I don’t see any alternative other than ending up in a war with China. I think that the real challenge is getting 3.5% of the population engaged and willing to protest and act – and the rest of the population lending their moral support.

          1. JEHR

            I wish we could quit putting the older people in a category like “cost economy.” That denigrates the lives of old people and is not necessary. The old still pay their dues until physically incapable and still belong to the “productive economy.” All citizens are productive in their own way whether they are young or old. We do not want to put the aged on an ice floe to get rid of them.

        2. sharonsj

          It’s not only the cheap plastic crap, it’s everything else that’s manufactured in China. There is no quality control and corporations want appliances that are deliberately built to fail. I must have gone through half a dozen portable heaters that, if I’m lucky, can make it through one Winter. There’s the silk blouse where all the buttons fell off the first time I wore it. There’s the new microwave I returned because it would turn itself on in the middle of the night. And the grill my cat knocked over; it still worked but one leg broke off and I was told by the seller that NO replacement parts are available (also told that by the propane company that examined two of my heaters). That’s why I try to buy everything second hand so I won’t lose so much money.

        3. Valerie Long Tweedie

          I agree, Doc. My husband was studying in South Africa at the time of the sanctions against Aparteid. He said that SA became quite self sufficient and went back to making the things they needed, and growing the food they needed, to support their population. During the transition to self-sufficiency, people did without. I’m sure it was much harder for those living in the townships but he was a student living on a bursary so he didn’t have much money either. I’ve never agreed with “free” trade because it exploits the workers in the poorer countries and takes jobs away from our own working class. I would prefer to pay twice as much for technology and machinery and gadgets and have less. Furthermore, I find it troubling that all that fossil fuel is being wasted transporting cheap, poor quality crap to our shores.

        4. bernie

          As i see it, the genius’s in control, have just not figured out a way, after decades, to COMPETE with the low cost of labor.

          Not clear that China is offering inferior quality. In fact, they seem to produce anything we can, at comparable quality, since we construct the specs on it.

      2. Mikel

        Enough global destabilization is being created to begin more auditions for roles held by China.

  2. Objective Ace

    Today’s corporate dictators are like no others, with unparalleled wealth towering over that held by Rockefeller and Carnegie (adjusted for inflation).

    Just pointing out that John D. Rockefeller had over one half of a percent of the nation’s entire wealth at one time. Bezos has around .002 percent depending on what numbers you use. I’m not exactly sure how to rectify these two facts. Maybe dont trust the inflation numbers or at least that the inflation numbers dont tell us what we think theyre telling us.. what with hedonic adjustments and everything

    1. John Zelnicker

      Objective Ace – You’re comparing apples and oranges.

      The comparison made by Nader is about the total wealth of the individuals involved.

      The comparison you are making is about wealth as a percentage of the nation’s total wealth. The total wealth of the US is far higher than it was in the 1890’s, so any individual will have a lower percentage of the total.

      Two different measures. (I don’t trust inflation measures either, but that’s not relevant here.)

  3. Questa Nota

    Didn’t the DC/MIC/SV* axis give us LifeLog, rebranded as Facebook?

    *Silicon Valley

  4. Mildred Montana

    >”Boeing, after its two criminal 737 MAX crashes, is the latest example [of bosses being let off].”

    Boeing announced on May 5 that it is moving its corporate headquarters to Arlington, Virginia. “The company—which generated more than half its total 2021 revenue from military sales—also has its new headquarters closer to top Pentagon officials in Washington, D.C., 𝘮𝘢𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘪𝘵 𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘪𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘰 𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘨𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘯𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘰𝘧𝘧𝘪𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭𝘴 𝘰𝘯 𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘤𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘥𝘦𝘧𝘦𝘯𝘴𝘦 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘮𝘴.” [italics mine]

    What to do, when you’re a company that can’t make planes that fly? Why, make military stuff that doesn’t work! After all, it’s the Pentagon, nobody will care, and the subsidies are unbelievable.

    When one is in need of pork, it’s best to be close to the pigs.

  5. Art_DogCT

    I have no major disagreements with Mr. Nader’s analysis above. I would share some personal experience of the man.

    As I have come to know him, living in his home town and working with him on a variety of local projects, he often has interesting ideas. But, by The Many and Several, keep that man away from any organizing role. ‘Clueless’ would be kind. This town is scattered with unfinished Nader projects, because when a micromanager boss loses interest and goes on to the next shiny thing, the now unshiny thing sits forlorn.

    Over the decades there have accumulated more than one jilted enthusiasm, including a 4-story 1880 brick industrial building smack dab on one corner of the main intersection in town. In the early 1980’s it was going to be renovated for use as a ‘business incubation center’. Then, it was going to house Nader’s American Museum of Tort Law (since opened in 2015 in another building about a mile west on Main Street). Rehabbing the building to code for almost any use was and is too expensive without significant government underwriting (for all that the family trusts could likely fund a project out-of-pocket), but Mr. Nader also refuses to sell the property. Or, perhaps, he simply hasn’t been offered enough, or the potential buyer was unacceptable for some other reason.

    In 2023 it will be 40 years since the building came into Nader’s control, most if not all of that time exempted from inclusion in the town’s Grand List. Connecticut has a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes program that somewhat offsets the loss of revenue from tax-exempt 501c3 non-profit-, State-, and Federally-owned property. While not nothing as far as our municipal budget is concerned, it is a minor fraction of what the town would collect otherwise. To many in this area that building is a constant goad, and emblematic of a man seen locally as a whole lotta hat, no cattle. With the right wing hating on him since the 60s for interfering with bidness, and the ‘centrist’ Dem “left” wing hating on him since they officially blame him for spoiling things in Al Gore vs. Bush the Lesser in Florida, add in the baggage of growing up in a small town and it’s not surprising that while he may have admirers in town, he has remarkably few friends.

    I will say it’s very interesting living in a town where memories of a celebrity in high school are still vivid.

    1. orlbucfan

      I’m one of those Floridians who was around during the jeb! vs. Gore debacle in 2000. Hate to say it but Nader was anything but heroic. Gore couldn’t even carry TN in that POTUS nightmare. He also had a jerk VP in Joe Lieberman. However, Nader’s people begged him to get out of the race. He was already a millionaire, and had a snowball’s chance in h3ll of winning. Nope, he refused. Gore was a coward who actually won, but he was afraid of the Bush Crime Family. So, he capitulated. The rest is history, unfortunately.

      1. Soredemos

        Instead of blaming Nader, how about focus on all the Florida Democrats who voted for Bush.

        1. Arizona Slim

          ISTR reading that 90,000 Floridians voted for Nader, but 200,000 Florida Democrats voted for Bush.

        2. GramSci

          Or how about blaming all those Democrats who voted for Gore? I didn’t have the option, but micro-manager or not, the lesser evil (Gore) is still evil.

        3. Jeff

          Gore couldn’t hold serve in his home state. The people that knew him best didn’t want him.

      2. Oh

        If that good for nothing Gore had gooten out of the race, Ralph would’ve won the race.

  6. JTMcPhee

    I have occasionally stuck the following link up here, as it is something to remember when discussing corporate power:

    It used to be required, for a corporation to continue to exist “legally,” which even under Delaware law is still the pretension, it had to demonstrate periodically that it provided some cognizable “public benefit” and served a public purpose. One of the many triumphs of the looters over the rest of us was obliterating those notions.

    As people become more aware of how the deathless monsters, kept alive by the soul-sellers who run them, are killing is all, have killed so many of us for “profit” that benefits only the looters, maybe it’s time to reinstate the corporate death penalty and revoke their purely legal existence.

    I know, so much easier said than done. But the precedent is there.

  7. Maritimer

    Interesting that Nader would use the term “immunity” but not address the Elephant In The Room. Namely, does anyone believe that the Elite and their minions have been injected, once, twice and boosted +++….? Did they really swallow that Kovid Koolaid intended for the hoi polloi? Only their medical records know for sure.

    1. Yves Smith

      This is thread-jacking, a violation of our written site Policies. One more like this and you will be blacklisted. We have a prominent warning every day at the top of Links and we mean every word.

  8. Susan the other

    We could form a giant corporation of workers and users. Sign over all our rights to privacy, good wages, and low prices and whatever else to this corporation, giving it the power to sue the giant manufacturers and broadcasters. If it’s a corporate thing – if the power lies in the incorporation of smaller powers into one big monster – then the numbers have it. That might well be called sovereignty in a less gaslighted population. Is there a law preventing the incorporation of mutual defense?

  9. Anonymous

    Pick up the June 2022 issue of Mother Jones. Articles are all about Private Equity Corporations, how they function across industries, and how they are ruining lives in the USA. Great reporting.

  10. Sue inSoCal

    Yes, it’s a great issue. “Smash and Grab Economy.” A thorough investigation of how PE is buying up everything they can get their hands on with no speed bumps in their way whatsoever. Imho, it’s more sheer criminality, but who’s stopping it? Medicine practiced without a license, no antitrust, buying up skilled nursing, because tout le monde knows there’s no money in that! (sarc) It’s unbelievable, but it works for the guys at the top. Fyi, here’s a link:

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