I saw two documentaries on BBC Four last night. One was on the subject of how the Dark Ages weren’t – and boy, how they weren’t!
The other was on the subject of the two Park Avenues to be found in New York:
740 Park Avenue – an exclusive apartment building in Manhattan – is currently home to more billionaires than any other building in the United States. Less than five miles to the north is another Park Avenue in the South Bronx, where almost 40 per cent live in poverty and life prospects are less promising for those stuck at the bottom of the American pile. As international attention focuses on the US elections, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney looks at inequality in the US through the prism of these two, near-adjacent places, to ask if America is still the land of opportunity.
“There’s always been a gap between the wealthiest in our society and everyone else, but in the last 30 years something changed: that gap became the Grand Canyon,” says Gibney. Through the story of the two Park Avenues, he argues that the extreme wealth of a few has been used to impose their ideas on the rest of America. By focusing on the residents of 740 Park, he asks questions about the influence of CEOs in Washington in return for tax policies that favour the ultra-rich. What chances do those at the bottom of the ladder have for upward mobility? Can someone who starts life on Park Avenue in the South Bronx end up living on Park Avenue in Manhattan?
Through archive and interviews with academics, political scientists, psychologists, former lobbyists and even a former doorman at 740 Park, Gibney’s film is a polemical look at the socio-economic political landscape of contemporary USA.
Whilst the former documentary left a wonderful taste in my mouth, the latter only served to savagely depress me. Mainly because it showed me exactly how the 740 Park Avenue dilemma is destroying our belief in what – in other circumstances – would clearly be seen as a tool for all our futures.
Human beings are social beings. More than anything, we love, and operate at our best when, working with masses of other people like ourselves; masses of people we can spark off; masses of people we can rub up against in productive cultural dissonance. In the light of such a reality, corporations would in any parallel universe we might inhabit be our very best and happy friends. As it is, their virtues have been terribly corrupted by their medieval and pyramidal structures – and by those who have managed to ensure there are only greasy poles to climb. Atop what could be innovative and civilisation-rescuing environments, we have the kind of immoral and stupidly selfish short-term grafters of capitalist idiocies such as those the 740 Park Avenue documentary describes.
But don’t take my word for it. Watch it on BBC iPlayer whilst you still can. And then you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The grand and massive virtues and potentials of corporate organisation at its very best – the ability of institutions with hundreds of thousands of workers to generate positive outcomes for a wider society – are all being destroyed by corrupting behaviours at the very highest levels. It’s not the idea of corporations that should terrify us: the future of humanity should, in fact, be corporate. No. It’s their implementation that is making our lives a real misery.
In my very humble opinion, it’s time we recovered corporations for our own – that is to say, humanity’s – rather longer-term purposes and needs.
I suppose the only question, really, is whether it’s now just too late.
Can we channel the corruption and save the body societal? Or is the corruption an inevitable consequence of what it is to be a corporation?
Personally, I don’t think so.
Personally, I think corporations – at their best – can be marvellous mechanisms to behold.
Personally, I hope it’ll be possible to rescue from their terrible terrible leaders the bodies of knowledge which corporate organisations everywhere – which is to say, ordinary people like you and me – strive to implement for the betterment of their teams, objectives, wider goals and – maybe – even moral imperatives.
Personally, I do believe the future of humanity could still be corporate.
But only if we resolve the 740 Park Avenue dilemma.
And Lord only knows how we might do that.