Not a whole lot to discuss this week. The whole “concentration camp” this is obviously designed to provoke outrage, but somehow fails to do so, mostly because there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for them. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos. Here, we’ve got a situation where ovens for burning people alive are put into place on less than a week’s notice. Color us unconvinced.
In any case, there’s also the issue of whether it makes sense that the PhiCorp buildup could go unnoticed, even by the company’s own executives, for the twenty years or more that the show suggests is in view.
The answer is, unsurprisingly, “No.” Corporations exist, for the most part, to make a profit. There are people who are keenly interested in the profitability of every corporation, namely its shareholders, directors, etc. So the idea that a company can spend what must be significant amounts of money on projects that don’t wind up going anywhere because someone is manipulating “the system” is just implausible. It wouldn’t take very long for a shareholder to question where these large amounts of money are going and why they aren’t generating any kind of return on investment.
Sure, the corporate world can seem one vast, impenetrable morass of hidden transactions. But that’s not really the case. The fact that you don’t have any idea what’s going on probably just means that your paycheck doesn’t depend on you knowing what’s going on. But there are people whose paycheck does depend on knowing as much as possible about certain things, so corporate moves like this one are unlikely to go unnoticed for long. For example, people noticed that Goldman Sachs is manipulating the aluminum distribution network almost right away. We’re talking about a financial services company exploiting an arcane loophole in commodity exchange warehousing rules, and it was picked up on quickly. And just because something doesn’t make the news doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t have tabs on what’s going on.
The reason this is significant is because of what are known as shareholder derivative suits, wherein a shareholder who believes that management is allegedly harming the corporation can file suit against the directors of the corporation. Keeping tabs on what corporate boards are doing is a significant part of what investment services firms do, as they’re working for their clients, the shareholders, who will want to know why they aren’t getting the maximum return on their investment. Spending millions on bizarre stockpiling projects and mystery properties outside Beijing is exactly the sort of thing which attracts unpleasant attention.
And seriously now, the COO is one of the most powerful executives in a company. So if the COO of PhiCorp asks a PhiCorp employee what they’re doing and why, they’ll either tell him or he can fire people until he finds someone who will. If PhiCorp operations are so disorganized and opaque that a senior executive needs to bring in outside investigators to figure out what’s going on in his own damned company, the conclusion is not that the company is a ruthlessly efficient machine, but that it’s so hobbled by bureaucracy that the real miracle is that it’s even solvent.
This is a pretty common misunderstanding about the corporate world though, and probably why so many people fear corporations. They can seem these powerful, inscrutable monoliths, the operations and controllers of which are hidden from the public. The fact is that in most cases this simply isn’t true, but getting informed can be time-consuming and difficult, especially if one’s day job does not require it. But the reality is that a lot of this information is out there for the asking, if one knows where to look and who to ask.
What this episode didn’t have is much development of the actual plot, other than resolving what was always going to be a set of temporary perils in Wales and California. But we’re no closer to knowing what’s actually going on here than we were two weeks ago. Sigh.