When I checked in as a member of the media at the DNC I was given a bag filled with corporate shwag: a Gilette razor, a sample of Dunking Donuts coffee, even a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with a cartoon donkey on the front.Ralph Nader's right about one thing: neither major party candidate is talking about what is arguably the most important issue of our day: the rise of unfettered corporate power.Last night several friends and I saw The Corporation, a new documentary that examines the awesome might and frightening power of the modern corporation.The film is generally very good, though it's a touch long and oddly structured. The most important lesson I took away is that corporations aren't natural phenomena that simply evolved out of increasingly complex commerical interactions and business structures. They are contigent legal entities that have grown in power due to a set of specific court decisions, policies and pieces of legislation. Coporate power, even under capitalism, is not inevitable. As of now, due largely to the tremendous amount of corporate money in politics, a serious rethinking of the role of a corporation in our economy and society isn't likely. But that doesn't mean it's impossible.There are myriad democratic means by which corporations can be held to account, from protests, to publicity campaignsand boycotts, to legal action to revoking the corporate charter of reckless and destructive companies.As a petition to revoke Unocal's corporate charter puts it: In our democracy, corporations have no inherent right to exist. They exist by the permission of we the people acting through the legislature, the attorney general and the courts. Since we the people attach strings to the privilege of doing business in the corporate form (such as the condition that corporations actually obey the law!), when those conditions are violated we the people are perfectly free to yank those strings and pull the charters from offending companies
Christopher Hayes is the host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. He is an editor at large at the Nation and a former senior editor of In These Times.