University of Wisconsin history professor Nan Enstad discussed issues with corporate language that drive the market and economic theories, as well as an overview of the history of corporations at the Goodman Community Center Monday.
Enstad said words such as “innovation,” “entrepreneurial,” “disruptors,” “personal brand” and “job creators,” are part of a corporate language that can have a heavy influence within the market.
“Our ‘corporate imaginary’ is profoundly impoverished, disempowering, and feeds into a killing, right-wing agenda,” Enstad said.
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Enstad used James B. Duke, known as the Tobacco Tycoon from the late 1800s, as an example of the economic process of corporations, although she said his story is fabricated.
Economist Joseph Schumpeter created an economic theory called creative destruction, Enstad said. Creative destruction explains how capitalism works. She said Duke was claimed once to be the founder of the American tobacco company, and through creative destruction, this idea created a ripple effect through time.
“Once you disrupt the industry, very often you downsize,” Enstad said.
Enstad said industries are able to buy up smaller companies and get money from the stock exchange. This inflates the value of the company on the stock market and causes workers to lose their jobs, and eventually leads the corporations to expand across the globe.
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In a case between the American Tobacco Company and smaller corporations for economic rights in the 19th century, ATC argued using the 14th amendment that they were guaranteed corporal amendments.
Corporations were then viewed as a public business and part of society, Enstad said. She said, however, it monopolized the venues of resale.
“The corporation has a lot of public functions. Over the 20th century though, it’s continued to represent itself as an individual,” Enstad said.
That said, Enstad believes that following the 1890s, there was a massive shift in viewing corporations, from public to private entities. Now, Enstad said these corporations are represented by private entrepreneurs. However corporations mostly benefit from the work of the entrepreneurs.
Without a societal goal to be part of the public eye, Enstad said smaller businesses rose back up to the market in the 1890s.
“We’re working with a language that elevates the entrepreneur and conflates the entrepreneur with the corporation itself,” Enstad said.
Enstad discussed the ways people could revitalize the language of corporations.
She said no matter how indispensable workers and managers within a corporation are to its business, the workers are still the ones who make the values, but can suffer economically.
“I know we [people in a capitalistic society] are interested in building a more lively, energetic conversation and discourse about the economy and what we all do without caving into the language that continues to reward and exalt these entrepreneurs who are job creators,” Enstad said.