Call it “corporateering”

Jamie Court is a California consumer activist and author

A person’s private medical and financial information is bought and sold by corporations without the person’s permission. Children are aggressively marketed to, without their parents’ consent, while in school. When a company makes a mistake, the burden is always on the individual to spend as much of his or her time fixing it as needed, without ever being reimbursed for the value of that lost time.

And then there are the larger ways corporations seek to control more than markets, such as an individual’s cultural freedoms. For example, we must give up our Seventh Amendment right to trial in favor of mandatory arbitration simply to have a bank account, buy a car or receive health coverage.

In statehouses and Congress, corporations have sponsored legislation to roll back our legal recourse to hold companies accountable, by limiting consumer lawsuits and the amount juries can grant in damages. Corporations have advanced their own legal freedoms and are currently suing to invalidate federal campaign-finance laws, under the theory that a corporation’s free-speech right allows it to spend unlimited money on politicians.

Our society often does not recognize that corporations have this cultural power. There isn’t even a word in the dictionary to describe the situation when corporations put their commercial gains over the rights of individuals, society or the culture.

My proposal for such a term is “corporateering,” as in “racketeering” or “electioneering.” The math of the corporateer is simple: Corporations are greater than individuals, and commerce is greater than culture.

Too often, such logic underlies a corporation’s dealings with individuals, the courts, the government, the media and other arms of culture, such as the arts, academia and science.

Recently, for example, Wells Fargo and Bank of America sued to invalidate local California ordinances requiring banks to ask the permission of customers before sharing their personal financial information. The reasoning: The banks’ right to commerce is greater than the individuals’ right to privacy. The same week, banks successfully sued to invalidate Santa Monica’s ban on excessive ATM fees. More corporateering!

Word of mouth is not everything, but it is what corporations fear most, and individuals own it. Call a “corporateer” what it is and name it by its brand. Then, maybe society can draw some lines in the sand that corporations will not be able to cross.