Review: Life Inc. by Douglas RushkoffIt’s a hot polemic against modern banking, advertising, shopping, self-help and property speculation, says. In Life Inc., award-winning writer, documentary filmmaker, and scholar Douglas Rushkoff traces how corporations went from being convenient legal fictions to. Now includes “The Life Inc. Guide to Reclaiming the Value You Create” In Life Inc , award-winning writer Douglas Rushkoff traces how corporations.
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Corporations were invented a few hundred years ago–created to increase the wealth and power of favored businessmen and the governments that favored them.
They have become such a universal feature of our economy that few people lkfe much thought to their origins–or how our economies are structured to suit them. But exactly that is the topic of Douglas Rushkoff’s new book. Rushkoff beings the book with an anecdote: After being mugged outside his apartment, he posted to a local internet forum so that his neighbors would be aware of what had happened.
Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back
His neighbor’s reaction, though, surprised him–how dare he post about such a thing in public? Didn’t he know such talk would lower property values? Property value, of course, is a pretty abstract concept. Unless you’re planning to sell or refinance your property, its market value should be of little interest–certainly of less interest than the presence of muggers working the sidewalk in front of your home.
And yet, Rushkoff’s neighbors clearly felt otherwise. They were thinking like corporations. Corporations are legally required to try to maximize their economic value.
A board of directors that didn’t do so would be failing in its fiduciary duty to the shareholders. People, of course, have no such legal obligation–and yet, as Rushkoff’s anecdote shows, people often behave in that way as well.
That’s the story that Life Inc. He talks about the earliest chartered corporations–monopolies licensed by the crown–and how they were designed to extract value from the periphery India, Asia, Africa, the Americas and bring it to the center. With a few exceptions, corporate charters no longer grant monopolies, but by now the whole structure of the economy is designed to favor corporate thinking and to facility its original purpose of drawing the value in to the center.
Over most of history, the things we think of as classical forms of money, such as gold and silver coins, were mostly used by governments and traders. They were used to finance long-distance trade, because they held their value–even when the trader was miles from home. Close to home, though, they didn’t see much use.
Peasants are largely self-sufficient, and most of what they can’t produce for themselves they can trade for locally.
Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back by Douglas Rushkoff
Even locally, though, some form of money is very handy–it’s easier than barter for all the reasons that people have always preferred money. Since gold and silver were largely monopolized for governments and international trade, throughout the middle ages local money in various forms was very important.
Instead of being backed by gold or silver, local money was generally backed by agricultural products such as grain or tobacco. In practice, local money produces a very different result from centralized money.
Since agricultural products deteriorate with age, there’s no good reason to hoard money. The smart thing to do is to spend it on some productive asset–land, buildings, livestock, tools–or at least on something that can be made more valuable with labor.
The result of people following that rushloff is thriving local businesses, producing goods with local materials, fully ic the local labor. In fact, according to Rushkoff, the period of the middle ages when local money circulated side-by-side with centralized money brought Europe to a peak of affluence it had not seen since the Roman empire, and would not see again until the industrial revolution.
It was in this period that the great cathedrals were built–among other reasons as productive assets: There are many good bits to the book. I particularly liked a couple of great examples of the same thing I was talking about in my article that described modern corporations as specialized venture capital firms. He talks about being hired as a consultant by a company that called itself a major American television manufacturer–except that the TVs were vouglas to Korean manufacturers, the design to a design firm in San Francisco, the marketing to a New York agency, and fulfillment and delivery to a major shipping company.
During the famous dog-food-poisoning crisis ofworried consumers called their dog-food companies for information. Were the brands getting their chow from the plant in China responsible for the tainted food?
Many of the companies couldn’t answer the question. They had outsourced their outsourcing to another company in China that hadn’t yet unc who had gotten which food. The American companies didn’t even do their own outsourcing. The core of the book is this analysis: The economic structures that worked so well for extracting wealth from rusbkoff colonies and bringing it to the capitals of Europe are still at the heart of modern corporate structure and modern economies.
And, because they were designed to draw wealth from the center, they continue to have that effect. And, since the rules were designed to favor corporations over ordinary people, people come in second unless they act like corporations. The thing is, people aren’t corporations. When they try to complete on those terms, they lose. The ones who do it better than others might come out ahead of their neighbors, but they still lose to the corporations. There are always two parts to a book like this.
First, there’s the analysis of the problem. Rushkoff has done well here. He lays out the case that there is a problem, and offers a compelling analysis that the economy is structured in such a way that only corporations can win.
The second is to propose solutions. Many people ilfe suggested that the solution is simply for people to out-corporate the corporations. After all, corporations are made up of people, and when you get to the bottom of it, people do all the work anyway. Rushkoff says this won’t work–when we try, we will always end up competing with one another:.
Instead of working with one another to create value for our communities, we work against one another to help corporations extract money from our communities. The solution, Rushkoff says, is to reconnect locally in our own communities.
When we move local interactions outside the realm of the money economy –when we interact with one another as friends and neighbors–we deny the corporations the opportunity to extract value. The psychological hurdle to cross is the inability to accept that ten thousand dollars of one’s time spent making a local school better will create more value than thirty thousand dollars of one’s money spent on a private school.
The money guarantees a great education for our own kid, the time improves the school for everyone’s kids. Still plagued by internalized competition and self-interest, most of us are not quite ready to chose the better path, or to convince our neighbors to join us in the effort.
Book review: Life Inc.
The best bits of the book are the stories about the history of corporations and the history of money–which is sad when it’s a description of the problem but happy when it’s examples of ways things can work better.
The stories of present-day efforts to return to interacting with one another as people rather than as corporate-style economic rushkiff are not quite as compelling–largely because their very nature is to inv local to a specific time and place and circumstance.
They can serve as examples–even as models–but unlike deciding to act as a purely self-interested individual which an individual can just dointeracting like people requires that others do the same. As I say, the analysis is compelling–and the recommendations are compelling as well, even if it’s a bit daunting to see a path to following them. The book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to know how the economy got to be the way it is, and how we might do better: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links.
A world gone mad
But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors. Wise Bread is a rushkofc in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon. I imagine that the essentials of a fulfilled life, like friendship, companionship and love, cannot be well served by commercial efforts.
The commercial solution to safe neighborhoods – alarm systems, security cameras, gated communities – are not as effective as a community of caring people. Credit Cards Personal Finance. By Philip Brewer on 7 July 2 comments. Cover of Life Inc. Consumer AffairsFinancial NewsGeneral Tipsbook reviewbookscorporatecorporate culturedouglas rushkoffeconomicsEconomylarge corporationsmonetary historymoneyreviewreviewsrushkoff. The Corporation click my link pife take you to their site. Definitely a good movie.