Friday, November 25, 2005

Waiting for the Next Revolution

The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea
Micklethwait, John, Wooldridge, Adrian (Joint Author)

"The Company" is a succinctly written modern library chronicles book, one of a series on various topics written in short bursting prose to pack as much detail into a small delivery system as possible, a possible foreshadowing of the future of books in an increasingly abbreviated view of the world and history in contemporary cultures.

However, "The Company" provides enough bibliographical material to allow fact and trail hounds to pick up the scent on other, perhaps more volumionous texts of similar content. Thankfully, there are still a fair number of authors out there who can treat the same material in more detailed literature, and deliver an attention expanding mind trip at the same time. Too bad they are always on back-order. Which explains why I am stuck hanging around for a history on Portuguese Empire.

The history of what the present knows as companies did not begin to actually transform trade or capital in the past on the scales known in the present without a full divorce between investment capital and associated liabilities. Limited liability corporations are not the only dramatic turn in business dealings to account for the explosive growth of trade, especially in Europe after the discovery of the New World; state sponsored acquisitions, territorial land claims, and sponsored explorations also played a role in corporate expansions.

In turns, Micklethwait and Wooldridge note the wide swaths cut through traditional business dealings through the efforts of the Florentines, the Venetians, the Medicis, the fattori, et al. But through the advent of full chartered companies the complexity of international mercantilism and corporatism exposed and exploited the benefits of empire; Hudson's Bay Company, East India Company, while British, represented only a portional entry in a dynamic and multinational effort to infuse European capitals and destinies with stock market capitalisations and speculations.

Semi-private organisations, sanctioned by their states, became so large, so powerful, so monopolistic in nature, that in many cases, popular consent and national interests were strong enough to renationalize many; even the precipitation of the Boston Tea Party is blamed upon British nationalizing interests. However, it is a fair comparison that many today might echo; governments have early wrestled with the perpetual balancing of public exchequer and private growth interests.

Joint-stock companies often provided the capital, labour, and organisational impetus to construct massive infrastructural projects; be it on the backs of slaves and slave-trading at the same time, many mineral and commodities markets could only deliver economies of scale through such industrial enterprises. It was only by the early 1800s that the prospect of regulation and law making became a serious proposition for companies. Commerical laws were being set to the tunes of corporations however. The essence and concept of limited liabilities only evolved following massive losses, charlatan and bogus stock offerings, the dot com crash comes to mind over the necessities of the time in law-making.

A century later, companies began to turn toward legitimizing the shareholder interests in a closer variation on today's models; entire railroad empires came and went, first through monopolistic tendencies risen and fallen, while their transportation increases faciltiated the growth of American industries, and the retainer of economies of scale never before seen, supplemented by increasingly variated supplier and consumer choices. However, the standardization of process and procedure extended through time and motion studies through a scientific management model which could not withstand growing socialist and unionist demands made by various levels of maunfacturing and consumer interests. Companies had to take a step back, and reform their labour policies.

"The Company" then turns to British, German, and Japanese corporate expansion in a similar period, which helps track the diversification of corporate labour interests and cultural specificity. Until the end of WW II, the UK remained a financial capital for the world, retaining an empire of trading blocks which was only superannuated due to its net losses in debt and equity swaps with US financiers to further the war efforts. At the same time, German engineering and industrial outputs were put to the same ulitmately destructive ends under the same patterns of financing; bankrupt and hobbled by Hoover and foreshadowed by Keynes, the entire machine was wrecked under insane leadership.

The Japanese economy developed highly skilled engineering in military technology, borrowing bankrupt enterprises from British owners following the losses of WW One and then not developing a quality goods export driven economy until after it had bludgeoned itself on the same American bankbook as the German and British Empires had done fully thirty years earlier. The overwhelming evidence of "The Company" illustrates that of all nations, the US was most adept at putting capital gains to work; however the chapter on corporate paradox details what befalls every corporate nation. Companies rise and fall, and for economically minded people, these are not just facinating, potential means of accruing wealth; they are a perpetual entertainment as no soap opera quite defines that the truth is stranger than fiction. The triumphs and failures of the world's companies are the stuff of titans.

"The Company" carries right on into the present and beyond into the growth of the MNCs who creepingly and relentlessly pursue growth in their proportional employment, indirect, and direct, of the vaster majorities of people of the earth. It is here that a conclusion can be made about who should read this book. Namely, anyone who thinks they already know enough about the world to entirely blame its ills on these behemouths. They are lumbering leviathans, and for the most part, those of us literate enough to read anyway, enjoy the excesses and luxuries they provide, increasingly.

"The Company" challenges the mistaken believe that as individuals in a post-modern world , we are in any way not influenced, or influencing, their patterns of growth, diminishment, rise and fall. Anyone who reads such a book, in such a manner, quickly realizes that "The Company" is more about each worker on the planet than not. It is not so far from reasoning, that "The Company" espouses "The World" as it has become.

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