AS debate about the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement offers an opportunity for myth-making by corporations and those who are their ideological bedfellows, we need to talk about corporations, their role in our politics and their effect on society and on democracy.

The TPP is the product of corporate lawyers converting "trade" to the protectionism sought by corporations for extended patent protections for films and pharmaceuticals at the expense of environmental regulation and worker protections.

The multi-national corporations, with their expanding power and loyalty to none but to profit, pose a threat to democracy and to the balance of planetary life.

It is the position of Pope Francis.


In his two encyclicals, Evangeli Gaudium and Laudato Si, he explicitly links bare-knuckle capitalism with ecological catastrophe and growing economic inequality.

Along with the role of relentless profit-seeking as an end in itself, is the ultimate threat posed by the combination of global warming and planetary plundering and economic inequality to the continuation of democratic government.

Basic to democracy is an informed electorate. Some corporations - tobacco and fossil fuel industries, for example - have done their best to provide disinformation and to sow doubt about the scientific consensus on the harms caused by their products.

The efforts of tobacco companies to sow deliberate confusion over the harm of their products is now well established through litigation.

Likewise, Exxon is now under investigation, as their own scientists had evidence of atmospheric damage from emissions while the industry funded climate change deniers.

No one enjoys paying taxes, but taxes are necessary if government is to perform its functions of providing for the common well-being. Taxes should be fairly levied and everyone pay their fair share.

When corporations or wealthy individuals hide their assets to shield them from taxation (cf Panama Papers) the burden of making up the shortfall is laid upon the ordinary taxpayer.

A total of 358 of the 500 largest United States-based multi-national corporations have off-shored US$2.1 trillion of profits.

Those profits, if brought back to the US, would generate US$620 billion ($900 billion) in taxes - that would pay for a lot of jobs repairing America's crumbling infrastructure; salaries for a lot of teachers and firemen; or alleviate the high costs of tertiary education.

Clearly not all corporations are such bad citizens - some have been beneficial in terms of innovation and creating technology. They function well as long as they are competitive but, alas, corporations have the inherent drive toward monopoly with attendant destructiveness.

The six members of the Walton family, owners of Walmart, have combined assets of US$144.7 billion ($211 billion), more than the combined wealth of the lower 42 per cent of Americans.

Walmart's workers are paid such low wages that they must supplement income with food stamps and Medicaid - which other taxpayers pay for.

Walmart's history puts the lie to the myth of corporations creating jobs. Jobs are created mostly by small local businesses.

In almost every instance in which Walmart has moved into a community, smaller retailers have been driven out and with them their suppliers - and the pool of local jobs has dried up.

Beyond the disinformation campaigns, the tax avoidance and evasion, the hollowing-out of communities and the contribution to wealth disparities is the political power exerted.

In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons and that money equals speech. They spend unlimited funds to influence elections. The Koch brothers, owners of fossil fuel companies, have pledged to spend a billion dollars in 2016 to elect candidates of whom they approve.

Corporations are not necessarily good neighbours; they may not be good for your health or your pocketbook and certainly not for your job, which they will outsource to countries with lower labour standards.

The large multi-national corporations who negotiated the TPP have a track record. Those who advocate our getting into that shark tank need to have better reasons than simply throwing out bumper-sticker words "trade" and "jobs".