Corporations and the Culture of Death: Complete interview with Christopher Ferrara
LifeSiteNews (LSN): You talked about modern transnational corporations and how they, as “legal persons” have acquired enormous state-like powers, without the normal restrictions or duties either of flesh-and-blood people or states. You described them as having the characteristics of psychopaths and indicated that they have created an economic imperative for population control. Can you go into more detail about how the priorities of these modern transnational corporations have affected the life issues?
Christopher Ferrara: Perhaps it’s best to start by quoting Pope Francis, who, in May this year, spoke of a ‘new and at times virtual tyranny being established in the realm of the economy, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules. The will to power and of possession has become limitless’.
Now, this limitless will to power and possession is manifested in these relatively recently contrived entities, the multinational corporations, which have the rights of a legal person and a thing I have called ‘infinite scalability,’ in other words, they can replicate their activities all over the world on a gigantic scale. They can raise capital everywhere, operate without limitations. They have a limitless number of shareholders because they’re publicly held, and the result is this enormously powerful entity whose tentacles can reach everywhere.
Since it has legal personhood, it has the rights of a person, but it doesn’t have a soul or a body to save. So it has the rights of a person but none of the duties, or restrictions of a person.
University of British Columbia legal philosopher, Joel Bakan, has described the corporate personality in the terms of a psychopath. He consulted a leading expert on psychopathy who went over the checklist for human psychopaths, and agreed with him that the corporate personality exhibits the traits of a psychopath. Namely, [it is] singularly self-interested, lacking in empathy, irresponsible, manipulative, grandiose, unable to feel remorse, unable to accept responsibility for its actions, superficial in its relations with others and afflicted by a tendency to asocial behaviour.
“It doesn’t take a sociologist to see that through its promotion of social degradation, the contraceptive culture, the Culture of Death in general, has, in a psychopathic manner, destroyed a large part of our civilisation. And is more successful at doing this through the consumer mentality, through the marketplace, than government, which is something that people don’t really understand.”
LSN: We in the pro-life movement have identified the anti-life ideology, but usually focus on what governments do and what transnational non-governmental organisations like the UN and the EU do. But there has perhaps not yet been a serious critique of the influence of global corporatism both on the culture at large and on governments, in the push to control human population.
CF: Obviously first of all we’re dealing with the manufacture and distribution of contraceptives throughout the world. Major pharmaceutical companies have blanketed the world with contraceptive devices and pills.
But also, the modern corporate economy is based on the separation of the locus of production from the household and relatively recently in history has taken people out of their homes to these large centralised areas where they meet with a large group of strangers in work. In that type of economy, because there is also a separation from the ‘just wage’ doctrine, that both parties to the marriage must work. They both have to leave the home and both have to be available for work.
The corporation, therefore, has an interest in controlling the family, limiting its size because the size of the family imposes obligations that would compete with and interfere with work. And so, effectively contraception has become a civic virtue. People are frowned upon if they do not limit family size because this would limit the freedom of the family to go out in the marketplace and participate in economic transactions, especially the freedom of the woman, who has to liberate herself from the shackles of childbirth.
If she has a child, or two children, that’s considered enough. A standard question women get these days, who intend to have a large family, every time they have a child, is, ‘Is that it? Will there be any more? Would you like a tubal ligation? Would you like some instruction in contraception?’
It’s considered unseemly to have a large family today, because, unlike through the centuries of Christendom, today the woman’s role is in the marketplace, to have a job, to work in an office, to go to her duly appointed cubicle and insert herself into the corporate matrix. Then she can go home for a brief period of quality time, cook a meal, go to bed, get up and do it all over again the next day. Just like the men.
LSN: So this system sounds like it has an interest in eradicating the differences between men and women.
CF: Of course. You need a unisex production factor, and the woman is now precisely that. In the corporate economy people are production factors.
Radical libertarian thought reduces labour to a production factor, and it doesn’t matter whether that production factor happens to have male or female characteristics. This is precisely where Church teaching condemns the reduction of a human person to a factor of production, instead of someone who actually belongs to a family, and has a family to support.
The core teaching of the Church on that score insists upon precisely a family wage. But the modern corporate economy does not tolerate very well the family wage. Because a family wage would mean that the male, a husband, can come into a place of work, earn enough to support a family so the woman can stay at home.
But that is exactly what this corporate economy doesn’t permit; women must work. Pope Pius XI – and a long line of popes – wrote against this trend, calling it a ‘social tragedy,’ that a man cannot earn enough to support his household and the women must work.
LSN: In the pro-life movement, we associate our ideas with ‘conservatism’ and more and more this political position is associated, especially in the US, with uncritical support for this unrestricted capitalism. But in these times, the current form of transnational global capitalism is forcing people into an impossible situation in which they are increasingly dehumanised and the family is undermined, where it grows more and more difficult to live a traditional lifestyle. Do we need to create a new category, and remove ourselves from this libertarian stream of ‘conservatism’?
CF: There has been a dynamic, since roughly the mid-nineteenth century, especially in France with its mid-century revolutions, where there was established a false alternative between two poles of the political process. Between Socialism on the one hand and the party of order, whose raison d’être is to oppose Socialism. So the two alternatives are, essentially, a moderate conservatism, or the capitalist status quo, vs. Socialism.
The Church rejects this false alternative, and always has. It has always said that the proper mode of social organisation can be called neither capitalistic nor socialistic. John Paul II in particular was very chary of the word ‘capitalist’. He said, if we must call it that, it has certain advantages over socialism, but what the Church teaches is a different way.
Certainly it’s going to involve private property. The Church insists on the right of private property as fundamental to the existence of the family and to a just social order. There has to be property in order for people to live and work and exist.
The capitalist system, on the other hand, presents difficulties that don’t exist in a strictly Christian social order. In that system, there’s an aggregation of capital under the corporate form so that people are reduced to the status of, essentially, production factors. They go places outside the home to receive salaries. The family is no longer the locus of production and the danger is that people become captives of their jobs. They no longer have time to live a Christian life, centred around the household.
The Church, therefore, advocates, as the direct approach to the distribution of goods in society, a kind of distributed ownership. Leo [XIII], in [the encyclical] Rerum Novarum, encourages as much as possible this idea of a worker being allowed to earn a wage sufficient to create conditions in which he can some day become the owner of his own means of production.
LSN: But the capitalists insist that to pay a “family wage” that would enable all employees to support a family and own a home, would push prices up and do nothing but fuel inflation, pricing goods out of the reach of consumers.
CF: Well, that happens to be true because of the scale on which these corporate operations are conducted. Heinrich Pesch said that a good test of whether a corporation is dysfunctional is whether it is unable to pay a family wage. Because a man’s labour naturally tends to be sufficient for the sustenance of his family, in the proper circumstances.
But when he’s working for a multinational corporation where the bottom line is king, and salaries have to be kept at the lowest possible level, payment of a family wage is obviously not going to be possible. Especially when you’re dealing with a corporation like Walmart, whose ‘unbeatable prices’ happen to depend upon millions of Chinese wage slaves willing to work for a dollar a day. Under those circumstances, obviously you cannot pay a family wage.
Well, compare that corporation with Costco, which is the seventh largest retailer in America. Costco, after a certain period of time, I believe it’s two or three years, pays its sales associates something very close to a family wage, something like $40,000 a year, and pays 90 per cent of the worker’s medical expenses without a deduction from payroll.
So it is feasible. But you have to scale it down. What Costco shows is that it is possible to become the world’s seventh largest retailer and still pay a family wage. If you want to be the world’s largest retailer, if you want worldwide hegemony, you are going to need a 12,000-mile supply chain that ends with Chinese wage slaves.
The Chinese government helpfully provides a workforce that is ordered by the state not to produce more than one child. So that’s very important to Walmart’s success, that they have this vast supply of virtual wage slaves who are not permitted to have more than one child.
LSN: But you also spoke about the trend of these giant corporate entities starting to collapse under the weight of their own size.
CF: They are. Walmart, for example, has taken a turn for the worse recently. Costco’s example shows that it’s possible to have a very large firm, one of the top firms in the world, and pay a living wage. Its CEO, Jim Sinegal, imbued by his Dominican teachers with Catholic social teaching, said, ‘I’m not going to take a salary that’s more than ten times a line worker.’ For him, that’s about $350,000 a year. Whereas Walmart’s CEO, I believe, earns $25 million.
Is it necessary for anyone to earn $25 million a year? No. It isn’t. But certain radical libertarian thinkers insist that there’s no such thing as an underpaid employee. All wages are just because all wages are agreed-to. And there’s no such thing as an overpaid executive.
LSN: Because that’s the purpose of a corporation, to earn an unlimited amount of money for shareholders and CEOs…
CF: William Cavanaugh speaks of a ‘symbiosis of the state and the corporation. And he says that signals a collapse of the separation between politics and economics. For example, Obamacare: it’s a disaster, but what have we heard from the transnationals in opposition to Obamacare? I hear the sound of crickets chirping. They don’t care about Obamacare. As far as they’re concerned, it’s just a way of offloading onto the social service network more of the cost they’re unwilling to pay in the form of a just wage.
LSN: OK, so let’s talk practicalities. How do individuals extricate themselves from this snare of corporate control? The first thing I always tell people is, ‘Throw your TV out the window’. But that’s just the start.
CF: First, use the internet to help free yourself. The greatest invention of the modern economic megalopolis, the internet, may in fact be its undoing. Joel Mokyr, in a study of the growth of the internet and telecommuting, to decentralise production, predicts that we’re going to see a radical relocation of the locus of production to the household. A revolution that will rival the Industrial Revolution itself.
The idea of a Distributist reorganisation of economic life will actually be aided by the internet. Because people can do in their homes what they normally had to do in an office or factory.
The advantage we have in dealing with world corporate hegemony, and the mass economy it has created, is that it is not yet legally compulsory to patronise these megalithic corporations. There are ways to conduct one’s life, for example, without ever setting foot in Walmart. Believe it or not, there are places in the United States where it is possible to live without Walmart.
A Blueprint of ‘Practical Distributism’
Here are some suggestions, from a book I’ve written.
- First thing is to say goodbye to ‘big-box land’. You simply refuse to patronise the big box stores. Find another place to purchase your goods.
- If you can, create your own job. Telecommuting is making it possible to at least create the functional equivalent of one’s own job. Even if you’re an outsource for a corporation, you’re at least working from home.
- If you can’t create your own job, join with others to create cooperative or worker-owned businesses.
- Try to turn your part-time employment for wages, in to a consultancy. This will create some independence from the company you’re working with.
- Instead of putting all your financial eggs in one employment basket, keep your day job, but start developing multiple income streams with little things you can do. So when it comes time to leave that job, you’ll have enough income streams to keep you alive.
- Bank with a credit union, not a ‘big-box bank’.
- Don’t partake of corporation debt. Tear up your credit cards. If you don’t have one, don’t get one. You do not need them. I repeat, you do not need them. If you can’t afford something, do not buy it.
- Patronize, any way you can, any locally owned business. Whether it’s a hardware store, a microenterprise of some kind, a cooperative, a worker-owned business. Look for these businesses wherever they are, if you have to drive a few extra miles, or pay even a few extra dollars, do that. Re-prioritise your expenses. Maybe you don’t need cable TV.
- Avoid any sweatshop clothing or product, to the extent possible. How? You buy from flea markets and consignment shops. Learn to sew.
- Grow some of your own food, if you can’t grow all of it. Or else get together with neighbours and create a little neighbourhood garden, and all of you grow some of your food together.
- Homeschool your children.
- Avoid commodotised entertainment. Make your own entertainment. Have your children learn to play musical instruments. Tell stories. Read books. Have plays in your home.
- Start, in any way you can, moving towards alternative, non-centrally generated power. Look into solar panels or other innovative domestic power sources.
- Shop at flea markets, swap meets and garage sales. [Teach yourself to think of consumer items for their practical, functional value, rather than the prestige of the label.]
- Throw the TV out the window.
- Learn to cook real, whole, fresh foods and wean yourself and your children away from processed, packaged or fast foods that contribute to obesity and other diseases. Make your own bread.
- And here is possibly the most important way to detach yourself from the transnational, mega-corporate matrix: bring forth life abundantly, trusting in God. Large families have a dynamic that takes them out of this whole mad operation.
People with large families, of necessity, learn to trust in Providence. They pray to God, ‘We have eight kids. Momma can’t work. Send us the means of sustenance,’ and God will.
- Here’s another surprising one: breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in and of itself can bring down the corporate enterprise. Because if a woman has to breastfeed her child, either she can’t go to work, or the corporation will be forced to change to allow for breastfeeding mothers. And maybe from that will follow some flextime employment which is at least a chink in the corporate armour.
- The biggest suggestion of all: practise the theological virtues, faith, hope and charity; the cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. And self-discipline, respect, cooperation, responsibility, honesty, motivation, friendship, courage, non-violence … live a good life and you will eventually acquire the practice of virtue, and God will reward you for it.
It all basically involves living a decent, Christian life, centred around having many children and looking for a way to support the family in the home.