[sbinews] Corpo - Nation

  • From: sbistcbangalore@xxxxxxxx
  • To: sbinews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 13 Dec 2003 07:59:31 +0500

The corpo-nation

On May, 1937, when John D Rockefeller, Sr (JDR), the founder of Standard Oil, 
died at the age of 98, he was the wealthiest man in human history if you did 
the numbers right. And the corporation he founded was the largest in human 
history till it was broken up after a protracted anti-trust investigation in 
1911. In 1910, for example, JDR’s net worth was worth 2.5% of US GDP, about 
$250 billion in today’s money. He could have bought out half of India this 
year. Today, it is hard to find individuals like Rockefeller, Sr — business 
leadership is more professional and decentralised — but it is easier to find 
companies that make  more money than even  nations. For example, Wal-Mart, the 
world’s biggest company, can buy out Sweden with one year’s turnover, General 
Motors can pick up Denmark or Indonesia at a snap, ExxonMobil makes more money 
than Thailand , Portugal or Ireland do. Given that, the history and activities 
of companies get unusually little attention in media or curricu
la. Textbook history is still focused on activities of states, the rise and 
fall of great dynasties and powers, on social and economic history. The 
corporation — its history and activities, and what we can learn from them — are 
glossed over by canonical history writing. 

This silence can’t be attributed to a lack of interesting events or 
personalities. The story of JDR and Standard Oil, as told by Ron Chernow in his 
masterful 1998 biography Titan, is as engrossing as a thriller and it tells us 
more about the rise of robber-baron capitalism and its transformation to 
mainstream than a dozen dry textbooks ever would. Through the 20th century, 
historians have turned economic history into a subject for serious study, yet 
corporate history remains neglected, a backwater where mediocre ‘case studies’ 
and shallow ‘lessons from the masters’ stuff masquerade as the real thing. 
Today, corporations rival states in creating wealth, knowledge and jobs, outdo 
most governments in efficiency and are recognised as centres of power and 
influence. It is time that curricula adapt to what we have recognised for long. 

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