Writing the mega-corporation realistically

Paul Raven @ 22-04-2009

corporate headquartersJason Stoddard has gotten tired of stories and novels featuring shadowy and nefarious mega-corporations seeking to enslave the globe, and with good reason – it’s just not a realistic or logical thing for a corporation to do, and it’s becoming a modern iteration of the moustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash villain cliché. [image by victoriapeckham]

A corporation doesn’t care if you’re living in a 300 square foot studio apartment or a 6000 square foot McMansion. They don’t want to wipe out the McMansion dwellers, or elevate the studio apartment owners. They only care about one thing: that you buy their stuff.

For everything they do, they’ll have justification. There’s no hidden business plan with a top-line mission statement of “Destroying Civilization As We Know It.”

But there will be hundreds or thousands of decisions, all based on maximizing profit. Substituting cheaper ingredients: maximize profit. Use low-income countries for labor: maximizing profit. Driving smaller competitors out of business: ensuring growth, which maximizes profit. Extending credit to anyone: maximizes profit.

If they can make a bigger profit selling you a “green” condo and a Prius rather than a McMansion and an Escalade, that’s exactly what they’ll do. If they think they’ll make an even larger profit renting you an apartment and leasing you a bike, that’s what they’ll do.

While we’re on the subject of capitalist economics, ethics and prosperity, here’s Matt Ridley at Wired UK explaining why robber barons always end up on top – it’s because they find ways to make things cheaper for you, the consumer:

It’s still happening today. Wal-Mart, Aldi and Ryanair won their market shares by ruthlessly charging us viciously lower prices. And here lies a cause for optimism in the midst of this recession. Even though jobs are being lost, houses repossessed and firms bankrupted, the underlying deflation caused by innovation is still going on – indeed, on the web, it’s accelerating. All over the internet, people are dreaming up ways of making things available to you more cheaply, more conveniently, more copiously and more quickly. That is what will cause prosperity to return one day.

That’s a brave op-ed, given the current econo-political climate, but I suspect he’s at least half right. However, I was somewhat amused to note that Ridley’s masthead note says he was a non-executive chairman for Northern Rock for three years; make of that what you will. 😉

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5 Responses to “Writing the mega-corporation realistically”

  1. Fredosphere says:

    Which evil, mustachioed corporate mastermind paid you to write this?

  2. Paul Raven says:

    You’ll never find out, Fred –NEVER! Muah-hah-hah!

  3. Martin McGrath says:

    Isn’t the problem with Ridley’s optimism that it’s great to be on one side of the WalMart equation where they “ruthlessly charging us viciously lower prices” for everything but the problem is that most of us also live on the other side of that fence where as part of the chain of production the corollory of lower prices in shops is lower pay for what we create. You can’t have WalMart profits without poverty for producers. And you can’t have Ryanair profits without Ryanair style treatment of employees.

  4. jon says:

    I would find Stoddard’s piece easier to believe if history wasn’t riddled with monopolistic practices, enslavement of primary producers and laborers, addiction of consumers, and maltreatment of poverty-stricken factory workers. Evil megacorps have always been with us in reality, they just weren’t as mega. I still wouldn’t be surprised to come back to Earth 500 years from now and find a Weyland-Yutani or OCP somewhere.

  5. khannea says:

    I don’t have an especially big income. I will not very likely ever have one; I am a bit older, I am disabled, and I have a spotty credit, employment and education history. By resumee is one big black hole of nothing. I have been in income control most my life, and I have been involved with far left unionist organizations. So, ask me that same question again – just how benevolent can I expect megacorporations to be? I say – these entities no longer have to actively construct death camps and incinerators to exterminate me. If we do nothing, in a few decades this happens all by itself.