How Corporatism Conquered the World,
and How We Can Take It Back
This didn't just happen.
In Life Inc., award-winning writer, documentary filmmaker, and scholar Douglas Rushkoff traces how corporations went from a convenient legal fiction to the dominant fact of contemporary life. Indeed as Rushkoff shows, most Americans have so willingly adopted the values of corporations that they're no longer even aware of it.
This fascinating journey reveals the roots of our debacle, from the late Middle Ages to today. From the founding of the chartered monopoly to the branding of the self; from the invention of central currency to the privatization of banking; from the birth of the modern, self-interested individual to his exploitation through the false ideal of the single-family home; from the Victorian Great Exhibition to the solipsism of MySpace; the corporation has infiltrated all aspects of our daily lives. Life Inc. exposes why we see our homes as investments rather than places to live, our 401k plans as the ultimate measure of success, and the Internet as just another place to do business.
Most of all, Life Inc. shows how the current financial crisis is actually an opportunity to reverse this 600-year-old trend, and to begin to create, invest and transact directly rather than outsourcing all this activity to institutions that exist solely for their own sakes.
Corporatism didn't evolve naturally. The landscape on which we are living – the operating system on which we are now running our social software – was invented by people, sold to us as a better way of life, supported by myths, and ultimately allowed to develop into a self-sustaining reality. It is a map that has replaced the territory.
Rushkoff illuminates both how we've become disconnected from our world, and how we can reconnect to our towns, to the value we can create, and mostly, to one another. As the speculative economy collapses under its own weight, Life Inc. shows us how to build a real and human-scaled society to take its place.
In Life Inc, Douglas Rushkoff presents the unnerving, unbelievable, but ultimately undeniable proof that our world has been overtaken by an absolutely artificial economy.
He shows how our most fundamental assumptions about money and commerce are actually false ones – artifacts of a 400-year-old plan by a waning aristocracy to maintain control of Western Europe. Although the architects of this corporatism have long since passed on, we still live in a landscape defined by their plans and have internalized their values as our own.
Taking on some of the biggest assumptions of our age, this is a book filled with dangerous ideas and rather unspeakable heresies:
- Money is not a part of nature, to be studied by a science like economics, but an invention with a specific purpose.
- Centralized currency is just one kind of money – one not intended to promote transactions but to promote the accumulation of capital by the wealthy.
- Banking is our society's biggest industry, and debt is our biggest product.
- Corporations were never intended to promote commerce, but to prevent it.
- The development of chartered corporations and centralized currency caused the plague; the economic devastation ended Europe's most prosperous centuries, and led to the deaths of half of its population.
- The more money we make, the more debt we have actually created.
Most importantly, Rushkoff shows how this moment of financial crisis is actually an opportunity to reinstate commerce and communities based in creating value for one another, rather than continuing to extract it for the benefit of institutions that no longer exist.
“There are few more important subjects in the West today than the corporaticization of public and personal space and few writers as well-suited to the subject as the always insightful and provocative Doug Rushkoff. A terrific contribution to an urgent debate.”
Naomi Wolf – author, The End of America
“This is a provocative and controversial historical look at the dark side of corporatist effects on our economy. Douglas Rushkoff explores the various ways, some you may never have considered, that innovation and commerce can be stunted by corporations. Whether or not you agree, you will find this book challenges some of our basic assumptions about how our economy works.”
Walter Isaacson – Aspen Institute, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe
"Handwringing over the state of the global economy? Think again. Douglas Rushkoff explains why this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remember what matters, and to rethink our economic system so it reinforces our human values. This book provides a profound and important call to action."
Tim O'Reilly – founder, O'Reilly Media
“This is an urgent book, essential reading about an important topic you've probably never considered before. Like all great books, it will open your eyes to a whole new way of thinking. I hope that everyone gets a chance to read it, before it's too late.”
Seth Godin – author, Tribes
“Read this book if you want to understand how the current economic meltdown started 400 years ago, how so much of what you consider to be a natural evolution of daily life was carefully designed to profit a few, and how corporatism has so colonized every part of life that most of us don't even recognize how our lives and fortunes are channeled and manipulated by it. Rushkoff is going to be attacked as a communist, but that gets his point wrong. Look at his references — he has meticulously documented his argument. I love that Rushkoff isn't afraid to think big — very big. He took on the media more than a decade ago. Then he took on Judaism. But now he's chosen a larger target — the corporation.”
Howard Rheingold – author, Smart Mobs
“fuck you, douglas rushkoff, for pissing me off and making me re-think everything. anyone who questions everything will have their everything re-questioned. this book is a painful read, and i loved it. gore ain't got nothing on this inconvenient truth. i couldn't put it down while i wanted to burn it, and i learned more from it than i learned in all of college. life inc's education is intense and puts you on a wild ride to seeing the world damn naked and disconnected. this book will either be burned or regarded a masterpiece. required reading for anyone who wants to really understand our world, our economy, our history, and our hope for the 21st century.”
Scott Heiferman - Meetup.com
Life Inc. The Book
Please support this work by purchasing Life Inc. from your favorite bookseller. If you can't afford it, you should be able to get it at your local library. If they don't have it, go to the information desk and ask for an "interlibrary loan." That's still free, and should only take a couple of days for them to locate the book.
I'm also making as many of the ideas available through movies, essays, articles, and talks. But a purchase really does help me, the book, and the spread of these strategies. It's both an exchange of value, and evidence to media and policymakers that people care.
Life Inc. The Movie
Life Inc. Press
Interview and Podcast
The Colbert Nation, guest appearance
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