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corporations as organisms

June 15th, 2010 (02:13 am)

"But I'd also like to point out that large financial centers in certain cities around the planet are certainly going to kill millions of us by destroying our social safety networks in the name of their imaginary financial efficiency. You're a thousand times more likely to die because of what some urban banker did in 2008 than from what some Afghan-based terrorist did in 2001. "

-- Bruce Sterling interview

If we were to think of corporations as organisms, how could we describe the situation that Sterling is talking about?


Posted by: savanni (savanni)
Posted at: June 15th, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC)

In this context, a cancer.

But, like a cancer is an ordinary set of cells gone haywire, what we are describing is an ordinary set of companies gone haywire. Nothing intrinsically evil (consider... Drak.net, Flowtoys, Bookwoman, and Bookpeople)... just unable to control itself in a way that keeps its necessary market healthy.

Posted by: Will Warner (ww0308)
Posted at: June 15th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)

Also, it might be worth distinguishing between companies that provide a good or service like those you listed, or even a service like storing your cash securely until you want it, and companies that are in business to make loans and collect interest on them. Doubly so if they're solely in business to borrow money, then make loans with the borrowed money, and hope that it all comes out ahead in the end. I'm tempted to endorse a society and legal system where no one borrows money, which would probably require most people to rent houses and lease cars instead of buying them with loans, or rent apartments and ride trains, and require most businesses to start as tiny start-ups or outgrowths of other businesses. It would probably be less innovative, but less prone to financial panics and crashes.

Besides cancer, you might consider organisms that over-graze, over-populate, and then face mass starvation, such as locusts, or (I've heard, maybe) deer when the natural predators like wolves are driven extinct. Or the microorganisms that filled the atmosphere with oxygen as a waste product long, long ago, and destroyed all life that couldn't live in an oxygen atmosphere, including themselves. But any analogy between a complex process playing out in human social systems like corporations and governments on the one hand, and nature red in tooth and claw on the other, is going to be pretty strained.

I'm more interested in Bruce's next line: "Financiers live in small, panicky urban cloisters, severely detached from the rest of mankind. They are living today in rich-guy ghetto cults. They are truly dangerous to our well-being, and they are getting worse and more extremist, not better and more reasonable. You're not gonna realize this havoc till you see your elderly Mom coughing in an emergency ward, but she's going there for a reason." I really love this idea of his about how bankers are forming urban, male, insular, misogynist, misanthropic, hostile, highly politicized communities, very much like fundamentalist Muslim jihadi terrorist cells.

Posted by: savanni (savanni)
Posted at: June 15th, 2010 11:04 pm (UTC)

I recall from an old economics class the idea that money loaned out is essentially money printed. Or the economy expanded. Because, in essence, $100 stored at the bank and then loaned back out is $100 in two different people's hands. And while I sorta see that to be true, it feels unstable to me. House-of-cards-ish.

I'm intrigued by your idea of a loanless society. It's been done before, as many Christian-based religions for many centuries forbade the practice. I have no idea what the results would be given today, though.

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