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The Post Corporate World
by David Korten
Kumarian Press, West Hartford, CT, 1999
reviewed by A.V. Avadhuta

Review of David Kortens The Post Corporate World. The book offers a critique of global capitalism and sketches alternatives to the present economic system. 

   In his previous book, When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten called attention to the damaging environmental and social consequences of contemporary capitalism. His present offering is a prescription for the ills that affect the global economic system.

Korten likens capitalism to cancer, or a "defective genetic coding … that causes individual enterprises to seek their own unlimited growth without regard to the consequences for society." While the proponents of capitalism talk about democracy and free markets, in reality the present form of capitalism concentrates power in the hands of a few and the activities of the mammoth corporations actually undermine the ‘market’s efficient social function.’ He concludes, "those who are rejoicing at the triumph of capitalism are rejoicing at the triumph of the few over the many."

Korten’s solution is not phrased in the language of the political left. Rather, he calls for a system of economic democracy, which he says would have pleased Adam Smith, the intellectual father of capitalism. The heart of Korten’s proposition—‘Stakeholder Ownership’—places "the rights and power of ownership of productive assets in the hands of actual people who have more than solely a financial interest or stake in their long-term viability." That is, instead of huge enterprises controlled by absentee owners (stockholders), Korten envisions human-scale enterprises in which the workers are the owners. For activities that require a larger scale of organization he points to present networks of small-scaled organizations that work cooperatively. "Large scale needs can be met through the self-coordinated efforts of individually-owned small scale firms without subordinating them to global capital."

When it comes to future visions of society, the big question is "how to get from here to there?" Korten offers a program that concentrates on "restoring the rights of living persons." Current law considers corporations as legal ‘persons.’ But Korten says that in order to "restore human rights and dignity we must establish clearly the principle that human rights reside solely in living persons." Thus he calls for an end to the "legal fiction of corporate personhood", the establishment of an international agreement regulating international corporations and finance, the elimination of corporate welfare (the vast subsidies and favorable policies which corporations now enjoy), restoring money’s role as a medium of exchange by reforming the speculative money and banking system of today and the promotion of economic democracy (stakeholder ownership).

Although this program is stated in conservative terms, it would, as Korten admits, "require a frontal assault" on the present economic system. He is optimistic that such a huge task could be accomplished in a natural and, it would appear from his description, peaceful process. Korten points to the research of Paul Ray and others whose surveys show that there is a growing body of people in the USA who favor holistic, environmental and socially just solutions to contemporary problems. Korten believes that this new group of ‘transmodern Cultural Creatives’ will bring about large-scale socio-economic changes. This section, in a way reminds me of the 1970 book The Greening of America, which looked forward to a near future (now?) when people of a higher consciousness (‘Consciousness III’) would live in a post-modern utopia.

While it is possible that a future change in mass consciousness may favor the economic and social program that Korten has outlined, the process of actually replacing the current system with something else will meet with fierce resistance from the establishment. However, despite this underestimation of the implementation difficulties, Korten’s book remains a clearly stated program for a much-needed transformation of the economic landscape of the 21st century.