by Roland Watson
January 1997

1. Corruption is endemic.

2. It has existed throughout the ages and derives from certain aspects of human nature - our selfishness and greed.

3. It has been, and remains, one of the major impediments to the development of a civilized society.

4. The founders of the United States recognized this, and designed what is still probably the best system of checks and balances to prevent it.

5. This is the three department system of our government, the executive, legislative and judicial branches, all with oversight and control over each other.

6. What the framers of the Constitution did not foresee, though, was the development of two powerful new institutional forces: the mass media and the corporation.

7. The rise of the media has changed society fundamentally. Through behavioral manipulation, it has altered the very nature of the public. The media has purposely, intently, one might even say obsessively, tried to change our behavior, beginning with finding ways to persuade us to buy it and what it advertises. Media behavioral manipulation begins with advertising.

Another outcome of this process is that it has changed the system of representative democracy from a sober discussion of government issues, and an unbiased evaluation of candidate character and principle, to a beauty contest, a contest that the media rigs so its preferred candidates win. (Politicians do whatever is necessary to win this contest, not what is right and proper for the people they serve.)

The media has also subverted our sense of decency, and our energy. We no longer care enough to do the right thing.

8. Rousseau commented that the nature of the relationship between an individual and his or her government is essentially one of a social contract. I, as the individual, agree to give up certain liberties - in exchange for certain benefits, the foremost of which is protection. The basic purpose of a government is to protect its citizens.

9. From the individual's perspective this is generally not a problem. For instance, what need have I for the liberty to commit violent crime. This is a freedom with which I can dispense.

10. What has happened is that the government has overstepped its mandate. The social contract is unbelievably skewed. The concept of protection has been expanded to include every possible concern, and the government now has the right to intrude into our lives in an untold number of ways.

11. And it is not just the government. All manner of social institutions attempt to control our lives. Schools, religions, the military, the media, and businesses, both as employers and marketers, they all want us to think and act in a certain way.

12. Which brings us to corporations - corporations are the most effective institution yet evolved to oppress the individual, the most perfect vehicle yet invented by men to exercise power over others and pursue raw ambition and greed.

This is why they are supplanting all of the others, making them obsolete.

13. Why is this? Because corporations have “limited liability.” This is the crucial phrase: limited liability. In theory, it means that the stockholders of a corporation cannot be held responsible for its obligations, in excess of their holding, but in practice it means much, much more.

14. Corporations do not have to pay for the costs of their actions:

- When they brainwash people to buy their products, they are not held responsible.
- When they destroy the environment, they are not held responsible.
- When their employees suffer work or life-threatening illnesses or accidents, they are not held responsible.
- When they institute mass layoffs and destroy the lives of their employees, and their employees' families and communities, they are not held responsible.
- Furthermore, when they commit out-and-out crimes, they are subject only to the smallest of fines and white-collar penalties.

15. Corporations have no morals, no fundamental ethical premise. They exist only to earn profits, and their executives exist only to preserve their jobs and make as much money as possible.

16. Okay, certain nations have developed recourse to some of the above problems, such as active environmental protection and worker compensation. But it is an ongoing battle, one that will never lapse.

17. This is because the checks and balances no longer work. Corporations control the media and, in many cases, the government. The government is unwilling to regulate corporations effectively, to make them pay these costs (which also suffer from the problem that they are difficult to calculate). The government should redirect itself and concentrate on policing inappropriate corporate behavior, not on further eroding the rights of the individual.

18. The best solution, of course, would be for the corporations to police themselves, to act responsibly and not incur these costs. Unfortunately, the investment community, the worldwide network of funds - capital - that are available for business development, rewards them when they do, and in this regard, the issue of “ethical investing,” Wall Street is totally unregulated. It is a vicious cycle.

19. Corporations have also co-opted all forms of popular dissent. Any voice that rises to challenge them is quickly extinguished through lawsuits and other means, or bought off.

20. Which brings us to Burma (where real popular dissent continues to survive). Certain corporations, recognizing that it is more difficult to earn profits in nations that have civilized safeguards, seek business in countries where such safeguards do not exist. These corporations have no conscience. They will take advantage of any such profit-making environment, regardless of the ethical issues involved.

21. Indeed, the worse the environment, the better the profit opportunity. In such an environment, NO costs have to be paid. In Burma (and also China and Nigeria), foreign corporations are partners with a murderous military dictatorship. They work hand-in-hand with criminals who actively repress their citizens. No actions, including mass murder, summary execution, torture, rape and slavery, are enough to turn them away when there is a large profit to be earned.

22. These corporations must be stopped. They must learn that there is a cost, a large cost, to their actions. The peaceful solution is through lobbying and boycott. You should refuse to buy the products (anything labeled “Made in Myanmar”), and stock, of these corporations. Send letters to their CEOs and Boards of Directors telling them so, saying that you will not do business with murderers and that you are encouraging your friends and everyone else that you know to do the same.

23. It is also an excellent idea to work to enact selective purchasing agreements, which enable municipalities and other organizations to ban business contractors that have operations or sales in Burma. These have already been implemented by many communities, and universities, around the country, and are having a strong effect.

24. If there was ever a case for applying economic sanctions to a nation, the type of sanctions that were so instrumental in defeating apartheid in South Africa, that case is Burma. You should write to the President, your congressperson, and other elected officials demanding that they rebuff the corporations, reject the policy of constructive engagement, and institute sanctions against Slorc. Lastly, and even though it may already be too late, another critical action is to persuade government officials to keep pressure on ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, not to admit Burma as a member.

25. In summary, if we are going to change the world for the better, YOU have to act. Please lobby the following members of the government:

- President Clinton, The White House, Washington, D.C., 20500
- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Washington, D.C., 20520
- Your congressperson, The United States House of Representatives, Washington, D.C, 20515
- Your senators, The United States Senate, Washington, D.C., 20510

© Roland O. Watson 2001-3