The Corporate Person Without a Country: AIG Spits in America's Eye, Again
Robert Benmosche is a veteran of the corporate wars and the insurance industry's greed-fest. The former MetLife exec is now the new CEO of the beleaguered AIG, and recently he held an employee town hall to introduce himself to the troops.
I've been through a number of such affairs, and one thing about them is certain: they are carefully scripted and rehearsed events. "Questions" from employees are carefully screened and filtered for their fit with the scripted Message. Corporations know damned well that some reporter from Bloomberg or Marketwatch will inevitably obtain login credentials (usually, via an inside connection with an employee, to a WebEx or similar platform) and listen in. Therefore, they go in knowing that they are delivering a very public message.
So last week, Robert Benmosche decided to take an aggressive, blame-the-US-government rant to his employees, that, in classic Alice-in-Wonderland fashion, shifted blame from AIG to America. "It's not your fault, it's theirs," he told the AIG faithful, and on the topic of the company's debt to the nation, he added, "if they want out so badly, they should never have come in in the first place."
One natural question that arises from this brand of corporate bloviation is, "why do these corporations and their executives, who have been made unimaginably wealthy thanks to America, seem so anxious to smear our country with both their rhetoric and action?" It's an especially good question to ask in the era of offshoring, outsourcing, and domestic downsizing as we approach 10% unemployment.
The answer, actually, has been under our noses for many years. What follows, incidentally, also explains why poets and visionaries deserve a voice in our nation's discourse; for I now offer a quote from the American poet, Robert Bly's 1996 book, The Sibling Society:
Some of the feeling of abandonment goes back to the economic fact that the transnational corporations are abandoning the United States. A vice-president of Colgate-Palmolive observed: 'The United States does not have an automatic call on our resources. There is no mindset that puts this country first.'.. The president of NCR Corporation told The New York Times: 'I was asked the other day about United States competitiveness, and I replied that I don't think about it at all.'
As Bly goes on to point out in this chapter ("Benjamin Franklin's Pig"), this attitude applies to all nations: corporations feel as numb about European nations, Asian nations, and especially so-called "developing nations." To a corporation, a nation is merely a place where profit may be made; beyond that, every nation is valueless, meaningless. The corporation, being a legal "person" under U.S. law, is now the ultimate "Man Without a Country," for it equally rejects them all. Bly shows us both the reason and the result of this cold reality: "business has effectively become our government, and now rules American life on all levels." And remember, this was written over a decade ago; the only revision I would make to that statement is that corporations now rule the world on all levels.
Thus, Robert Benmosche's insult-laden tirade against the government and the taxpayers that pulled his company out of the grave is not strange or the least bit distinctive. He is merely reflecting the general consciousness that rules his universe. This is about much more than mere "Arrogance, Insolence, Greed" (AIG) -- for the moral weakness and depravity of conscience that drive this attitude are themselves driven by the power that we allow them. When you effectively rule the world, you owe no nation or region of it the least portion of loyalty, gratitude, or any other human feeling.
We will give Robert Bly the poet the final word on this phenomenon of corporate monarchy, which is so tragic for nearly every person living on this earth. This is also from The Sibling Society, a poem from "Poems for the Ascension of J.P. Morgan":
Accountants hover over the earth like helicopters, Dropping bits of paper engraved with Hegel's name. Badgers carry the papers on their fur To their den, where the entire family dies in the night.