In Iowa last week, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a statement similar and just as horrifying as “Soylent green is people!” An Iowa group affiliated with the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement asked Romney why he didn’t support raising taxes for large corporations, but rather favored taxing lower-and middle-class people. Romney replied, “Corporations are people, my friend.” He went on to say, “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?”
Yikes. Romney didn’t do well in the Ames Straw Polls in Iowa, either, and certainly didn’t improve his image as a cold-hearted businessman with this statement. But he was legally correct. Corporations are people in the legal sense. Since 1886, corporations have had the same rights and privileges as people under the law. Also, “everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people” is technically true—a corporation’s earnings do go to people.
But the subtext of that sentence should have been “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to rich people like me.” Giant corporations like the ones that Romney mentions are good for the big shareholders and the upper-level leaders, but are much worse for communities and lower-level employees than local businesses. For example, Wal-Mart only provides health insurance for 44% of its workers and has been criticized for using illegal labor.
In addition, there are hundreds of studies showing how much more effectively local businesses affect local economies than do mega-corporations. In Grand Rapids and San Francisco, for example, if consumers switched just 10 percent of their spending from chains to local businesses, the shift would generate $140 million and 1,600 new jobs in Grand Rapids and $192 million and 1,300 new jobs in San Francisco. In a SuperTarget versus local retailers study in New Orleans, SuperTarget returned only 16% of its proceeds into the local economy while local retailers returned 32%.
So get with it, Mitt. Lowering the taxes of the middle-class so that they can run their local businesses is going to help people more than supporting the rights of multinational corporations. Local people—like the people you distressed in Iowa—will hardly see a dime.
Regardless of the numbers, huge corporations are still saying the same thing that Romney is in the way that they market their business. They use an "individualistic" approach, saying that they have “real” people working for them and they “individualize” their products to appeal to each consumer. They try to pretend that they are the local businesses looking out for your best interests and the interests of your community. As we know, this is bullshit. But let’s look at the way that Romney’s “corporations as people” idea works in the realm of mega-corporations:
Amazon.com. Amazon.com led the trend in personalized searches, long before Google did it. If you bought this book, hey, you’ll probably like this book and this one and this one too! In fact, searches like this can be invasive, but people tend to think that their experience is being personalized. Mega-corporation Amazon.com knows me! In fact, searches like these are building profiles about you that may be harmless enough now, but who knows where the trend will go? Amazon.com is currently trying to knock independent booksellers out of operation with their Kindle versus the Independent bookseller ads.
Netflix. Netflix has the same business model as Amazon—if you watch one movie and give a lot of stars, they’ll recommend more movies “customized” for you. If you don’t like something, you’ll never be suggested to rent anything like it again. I don’t know about you, but all the analysis required to see just how my preferences make me like everyone else both creeps me out and saddens me. But it doesn’t mean this corporation is treating me like an individual.
Starbucks. Starbucks is an assembly line plain and simple. And while it’s possible for your local Starbucks barista to care about you, the chain does not. Starbucks shuts down little mom and pop places all over the world and internationally. Yes, they can serve a mean frappucinno, but Starbucks is one of the biggest homogenizing forces in American cities today, turning Cleveland into Cincinnati, New York into Seattle.
McDonald’s. McDonald’s now acts like it cares about you and your family. Their newest ad campaign is called “Changing Together” and it features happy families smiling and eating at McDonald’s. I think it’s the weirdest thing when people think that chains care about them. Don’t let chains take responsibility for your health or TV networks take control of what your kids watch. Bottom line, Mitt Romney, chains only care about people, their health and their money if it means earning another dollar.
Apple. Apple has built its brand by appealing to a specific type of consumer—the nerdy and brainy computer nerd that is too busy with important work to deal with viruses. I’m sure that there are plenty of PC users that are the same way, but that’s not the point. Apple literally made their corporation a person in their advertisements. Justin Long was Mac Guy, with cute, scruffy hair and a hoodie while the PC guy was the antithesis to anything cool in an ill-fitting tweed suit.