Monday, April 26, 2010

Corporate Citizen

Synonyms: Feeloader, leech

Category: Euphemism

Definition: Euphemistic phrase used in certain attempts to legitimize manipulation of public institutions by private monied interests. This phrase has been in use more or less constantly since the mid 20th-century, but has become especially prominent lately as the nation attempts to put in place regulatory measures needed to prevent future economic decline from corporate malfeasance, such as deceptive marketing practices1, reckless speculation within the banking sector2, or general corporate irresponsibility with regard to worker safety3 and the moral hazard inherent in being "too big to fail"4.

The description of a corporation as a 'citizen' gains some of its currency through a legal fiction known as 'corporate personality'--the notion that a body of persons formally committing resources to acheive some objective in accordance with state law may, through the actions of their chosen officers, enter that corporation into legally enforceable transactions, much as a natural born person may.5

With the down-to-earth realism and suspicion of unaccountable tyrannies that Americans like to ascribe to their forbears, earlier generations placed important limits on the scope of corporate activities. No dobut they would have appreciated common sense appeal of the legal dictum "Corporations have neither bodies to be punished nor souls to be condemned; they therefore do as they like."6

Generally, early charters granting existence to business corporations were required to specificity the exact purpose for which they were organized and that the corporate existence must expire upon the acheivement of that purpose or a date certain.7 However, increasing technological advances in the post- Civl War United States resulted in seductive economies of scale and fantastic personal fortunes which mitigated against adequate public oversight. Gradually, state legislation became less restrictive to the point where charters need only state in very imprecise terms the purposes for the corporation has been organized, and perpetual existence is now largely presumed. Corporations have, in effect, been given an undying existence.8

But immortality is not the only super-human power claimed. Recently they have assumed unlimited political speech as well9. However, though many of these cases remain highly controversial among legal scholars and public policy analysts 10, it seems that the general American public can barely conceive of the time when such extraordinary privileges were not automatically assumed corporate perrogatives.

Use of the term "corporate citizen", therefore, has become a traditional strategem in to put a benign human face on amoral corporate policies which would otherwise be seen for what they truly are--impersonal programmes designed solely to provide controlling shareholders with increasingly large, near-term profits.11 By describing the corporate entity as a 'citizen', it ironically claims a type of moral virtue that was originally associated with the heroic self-sacrifice of pious individuals for the benefit of the wider community in which they lived. The civic mythology of early Rome held out the general Cinncinatus as just such a noble example. He is said to have humbly relinquished dictatorial powers upon the conclusion of Rome's war against the Aequians, Sabinians and Volscians in the 5th century B.C.E.

But the actions of such antique heros are pretty far indeed from contemporary corporate behaviour. Shocking though they should be, the examples of recent corporate behaviour discussed in footnotes 1-4 are merely specific incidents, picked more or less at random from a vast pool of such occurrences, to illustrate much larger, more pernicious trends. However, given the current debates about financial responsibility measures before the Congress, two further examples merit inclusion:

1.) Since 1965, when the United States was the undisputed leader of the Free World, and even after John F. Kennedy's historic 1963 tax reforms, the financial contribution to costs of governance decreased from 21.8% to 14.4% in 2007 13, even as the size and influence of this same corporate sector increased at an astonishing rate.14

2.) Corporate lobbyists currently both oppose public oversight of its most risky derivatives instruments and refuse to contribute to the cost of administering corporate insolvency. 15

Etymology: Uncertain, probably dates from early 20th century


1 Goldman Sachs charged with deceiving customers regarding risk of certain securities sold

2 Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, UBS, JP Morgan Chase assumed vast, unhedged risks in the Magnetar scandal

3 Concerns about the safety record of the company employing 29 miners who died in recent tragedy



6 Traditionally attibuted to Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow (1730-1806)

7 For example, even as late as 1895 the state of Missouri declared in State v Payne that, " . . . general legislation, is unfavorable to the unlimited duration of purely business corporations, and all doubts in corporate charters will be resolved against an intention to grant perpetual existence."

8 The U.S. Supreme Court precedent typically cited for allowing perpetual corporate existence is 1819's Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward. However, the specific subject matter of that case (i.e., interpretation of the charter of an educational organization granted by a British monarch before U.S. independence) precluded ready application to the business corporation. In fact, perpetual existence was given only gradually, on a state by state basis through legislative acts. In reality the main import of the Dartmouth case was probably its reinforcement of the presumption that validly established contracts inviolable. Also note that the court's conclusion that Dartmouth College did have a perpetual existence was very controversial at the time. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as responding that such presumptions as perpetual corporate existence " . . . suppose that . . . the earth belongs to the dead, and not the living." (Letter from Jefferson to New Hampshire Governor Plumer, quoted at footnote 4, page 230, Chapter V, volume IV, "The Life of John Marshall", by Albert Jeremiah Beveridge

9 U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010's Citizens United v Federal Election Commission invalidated limits on corporate political spending

10 Center for Responsive Politics; former Supreme Court Justice O'Connor's comments; Harvard's Journal of Law and Technology's consideration of unlimited corporate advertising spending and coordination strategies

11 In fact, due to the wide diversity of enterprises in which corporate conglomerates typically engage today, from traditional manufacturing and distribution to financing and even speculative trading in exotic instruments, and the insistence of capital markets on measuring indices hourly and daily, increasing short-term profits seems to be the only coherent objective the large multinational corporation can articulate.


13 , Office of Management and Budget Table 2.2

14 See discussion of increasing significance of the large corporation within the "business community" at

15; Note that in a further irony, these same shills and lobbyists blatantly mischaracterize the insolvency fund provisions as "bailout funding".

Monday, April 5, 2010

Business Community

Synonyms: Entrepreneurs, The "Holy" 18

Categories: Euphemism, Rationalisation

Definition: The term "business community" is a term often used by political pundits or the advocates of corporate influence in order to put an acceptable face on their ideology of plutocratic patronage. By misidentifying the "business community" at large with the sympathetic figure of the lone, poorly capitalized entrepreneur risking everything on his American Dream, these unscrupulous actors promote policies which actually undermine the interests of the true small entrepeneur and, in effect, pervert some of our most cherished ideals like "competition" and "free enterprise".

We should have every sympathy for the struggle of the independent small business person, and do everything we can to make sure that we as a society provide as level playing field as possible. That is the American way. But that requires us first to truly understand the power dynamic currently prevailing in the real "business community".

"Where Will The Jobs Come From?" is a recent economic survey of the employment environment published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a $2 billion organization whose mission is to promote entrepreneurship.1 While the report clearly emphasizes the importance of the small start-up to innovation, the report also notes that, as of 2006, the traditional wisdom that about half of all employment comes from small businesses is somewhat misleading. Misleading because what it fails to say is that larger businesses (traditionally defined as companies with 500 or more employers), employ the other half of the American workforce and comprise only 0.3% of all employer firms. 2

Figures within the Kauffman report seem to reflect that power of a relative handful of large firms is increasing at a disproportionate rate. While comprising a mere 0.3% of all emloyer firms in 2006, they accounted for approximately 22 percent of net job creation in 2007.3

The significance of this trend seems magnified when one considers that, according to Kauffman's reckoning, " . . . most young firms will tend to be small; very few grow to enormous size in their first three years of existence, "4 and that, ". . . roughly a third close by their second year in existence, while half will make it to age five."5 The obvious implication: the long-term job creation effect of small firms is very likely ephemeral in comparison to the effect of the large firms.

Yet even this analysis may understate the out-sized impact of these very few powerful firms. Kauffman does not present a specific estimate, but does generally acknowledge the skewing effect of large firm power on data.6 It is unclear how, if at all, it has reflected the direct control of small subsidiary companies within larger corporate groups in this dataset.7

The nature and extent of indirect control exerted by larger firms over small firms in their day-to-day dealings is the subject of many different analyses, although it is given only the most cursory treatment within the present Kauffman report. Estimates vary widely and the sophistication of methodology required to fully analyze even a small sample of them would be well beyond the scope I have set for this definition. But there can be little doubt that the influence of these large firms is out of all proportion to their number. It strains credulity to believe that there would be a properly level playing field in an analogous population of 6,000 persons where a mere 18 of them control at least half of the available resources.8

How robust could the principle of 'one person one vote' really be in a nation where the wealthiest 0.3% control at least as many resources of the other 99.7%? Those numbers seem much more characteristic of a banana republic than the world's great democracy. In such an environment, is it realistic to suppose that there could be truly free enterprise or that an individual can have a meaningful 'vote with his dollar'?

Etymology: Precise origin unknown. Variation of a persistent rhetorical schema whereby patricians attempt to manipulate populist themes (e.g., the aristocratic military dictator Julius Caesar's leadership of the populares party).

1 ;

2, Table 1
3 ibid, Figure 5

4 ibid, Page 6

5 ibid, Page 5

6 ibid, Page 11

7 ibid, Page 10

8 This seems to actually be the case in the U.S. with regard to employment. The 0.3% of employer firms discussed by Kauffman at the linked within fn2 totalled ~18,000--out of a grand total of ~6,022,000. Additional supporting data from "us_6digitnaics_2006.xls" at , top row indicating total number of employer firms.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Synonyms: Private, Chattel

Classification: Euphemism, moral rationalization

Definition: Adjective used to describe items over which the exclusive right to use and dispose are legally vested in a self-selected individual or group of individuals.

The principle of private ownership is one of the concepts most central to the ideology of info speak. In its abstract, theoretical sense, it is also one of the least controversial ideas. But from a very narrow construction of that principle flow the flawed but powerful dynamic of patronage and the dubious conflation of wealth with moral virtue.

For at least thirty years it has not been possible to hold a serious discussion about the nature and extent of private ownership as a promoter of the public good. Experiments with various Marx-inspired philosophies in the 20th century have led to a stable consensus that a state's generalized opposition to the private holding of property, even when promoted sincerely and not merely used as a ruse to dupe a gullible populace, always heralds the advent of an incompetent kleptocracy. The strength of this consensus has given the principle of private ownership a kind of priviledged status that effectively short circuits any serious discussions to better define its extent and limits as a promoter of the public good.

Until March 29th, that is, when Justice Sweet of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a ruling denying several patents to Myriad Genetics, Inc. over naturally occurring genes involved in the development of certain types of breast and ovarian cancers.

The Association for Molecular Pathology (a non-profit promoting genetic medicine) initiated the suit as plaintiff to deny these patents and was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation.

The defendant, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, had earlier granted the disputed patents to Myriad Genetics, Inc., a privately owned biotechnology company which had developed several products based on the patents to obtain a practical monopoly over the market for certain types of cancer screening.

The primary judicial grounds for invalidating these patents was their inherent unconstitutionality, holding that under the First Amendment (i.e., "Free Speech") and the Fourteenth Amendment (i.e., guarantee to "Life, Liberty,Pursuit of Happiness"), it is not possible to grant patents over " . . . products of nature, laws of nature and/or natural processes, and abstract ideas or basic human knowledge or thought."

Numerous supporting briefs were submitted by third parties elaborating their consideration of the consequences of granting or denying patents over such naturally occurring genes. Not surprisingly, those filed in support of Myriad's patents tended to emphasize the advantage of exclusive rights over the genes when attracting investment for biotechnology firms. Briefs against the patents asserted that the monopoly resulting from such patents actually stifles innovation by making competitors' research too expensive and places the cost of life-saving treatments out of reach of many women, effectively denying them their basic human rights.

Groups submitting briefs included the American Medical Association and March of Dimes in opposition to the patents and the Boston Patent Law Association in support.

Though there will almost certainly be a lengthy series of further appeals, it nonetheless marks a turning point in the debate of private property in this country. The Myriad case is the most serious challenge to private ownership over the genetic code of living organisms since the controversial 1980 case Diamond v Chakrabarty.

The subject of Diamond v Chakrabarty, however, was the genetic code of a bacterium which had been significantly altered by the party claiming the patent, whereas Myriad seeks to hold exclusive rights over an unaltered human gene.

As referenced within the court's opinion, a Dr. Fiona Murray has estimated that to date approximately 20% of the genome in every human being--you and me--is currently held under exclusive patent. And I'm fairly certain that none of those patents are held in my name.

So while the final disposition of this controversy may be far off, many important ideas have received a new lease on life; and the idea that private ownership is an absolute moral good, that it always and necessarily guarantees economic progress now seems to be open for serious debate. Maybe others will be encouraged to articulate more complete notions of the public good or better distinguish between wealth and virtue or even work on some non-sectarian notion of a sacred space, out of the reach of the venal or profane.

Etymology: French proriƩtaire < Latin proprietarius

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fear Fatigue

Synonyms: Unknown

Category: State of population affect

Definition: Not a stock phrase used by info speak as such. Rather, an assessment of the conduciveness of psychological forces within a given audience to the techniques and strategies of info speak. In a model I call the Receiptivity Continuum, it is the point at which continued use of info speak tactics begins to yield diminishing results.

The primary general strategy underlying info speak's numerous specific tactics is the appeal to audience fear. From the point of view of sparking prompt action, it is a very effective strategy. Fear may be the single strongest human emotion, the one provoking the most immediate and least ambirguous reaction -- fight or flight. Secondary strategies such as fragmentation, ambiguity and incoherence serve to intensify the effect and enhance the audience's identification with the speaker.

However, there are serious drawbacks related to the exploitation of fear. Firstly, since fear prompts immediate action, persons acting under its influence are not likely to make considered calculations of long-term implications. Each hastily undertaken action is therefore likely to result in both unforeseen negative consequences and reduce his or her capacity for the prolonged rational thought required to address the situation.

Secondly, in the context of public discourse, an audience's inducement to fear by a speaker is predicated on that speaker's ability to provide relief. A programme of prolonged provocation will, over time, gradually reduce the audience's faith in the speaker's ability to do so, if not cast doubt on his or good intention itself.

The eventual result will be a kind of flame out, a point in time at which a critical mass of individuals are simply no longer willing or able to sustain continued fear. This I term the point of "Fear Fatigue".

It is usually not possible to definitively identify the specific point in time of Fear Fatigue's inception or completion, since it is a group phenomenum. It normally takes place over a protracted period. While the specific trajectory of the flame out will vary among individuals, the overall result is certainly a reduced or even extinguished support for the speaker, his or her specific programme and its underlying ideology and conceptual framework.

Inquiries into the nature and history of Fear Fatigue have led some to posit a theoretical alternative state called the "Joy Inflection"--a point at which discourse is driven by more positive emotions like love or mutual respect.

Etymology: Name of a 1980's pop band from Manchester, England.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sytem of Perverse Incentives


Categories: Paradigm descriptor

Definition: An analytical account of the institutional dynamic underlying information age culture rather than an example of info speak itself. A system of perversive incentives is an arrangement where the actual incentives of participants are designed to undermine the aims which they obstensibly serve.

Individual examples are numerous, but the most striking in current headlines at time of this writing may be those related to recent developments in Lehman Brothers bankruptcy proceedings.

In brief, the primary alleged accounting irregularities were a series of transactions intended to mislead financial statement users into believing that certain Lehman assets had been sold at favorable market conditions. In substance, however, the assets had not been so disposed. Lehman appears to have previously agreed to repurchase the assets in question after the date of the financial statements. Therefore such assets should have been included in that company's financial statements--along with the corresponding changes in market value. In this case, serious losses.

A regrettable series of events, no doubt about it. But the particular implication which I wish to explore under the heading "System of Perverse Incentives" lies deep within the subtext of the reply of Lehman's original hired auditors. The following is a response from a spokesman of the auditing firm, as quoted by the marketwatch story link above.

". . . . Our last audit of the Company was for the fiscal year ending November 30, 2007. Our opinion indicated that Lehman's financial statements for that year were fairly presented in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and we remain of that view."

On the surface this appears to be an entirely unremarkable statement, as I suspect the spokesman intended. It ostensibly makes no claim other than that the auditor's work product attested to Lehman's fulfillment of the technical letter of the law.

Let us not scorn to ask, "How would an auditor's work product come to make such an attestation?" A host of simple and technically correct but superficial answers spring immediately to mind: "As a standard part of their audit work product"; "In accordance with regulatory and professional association standards (S.E.C., G.A.A.S., et alia)"; so on and so forth. True though these answers may be , as far as they go, they ultimately serve the standard info speak strategems of partial truth and fragmentation. They prevent an appropriate comprehension of the system's gestalt.

The more complete truth, I suspect is a "System of Perverse Incentives", the framework of which begins to come into view when we consider the following elementary, unspoken mundane facts:

1.) The ostensible goal of audits of publicly traded entities is protect the nation against counterfeiting. The securities of such entities form a significant component of the money supply, as defined by M3. No nation will indulge the sustained infringement of its national sovereignty by individuals for their private gain.

2.) Auditors, however, are hired by the Company's board of directors, and not by any governmental authority.

3.) It is in the shared interest of both management and the board of directors to present positive financial results to capital markets.

4.) The business model of auditing firms makes them dependant upon the patronage of the companies whom they audit.

5.) As currently structured, satisfaction of regulatory requirements by auditors does no more than allow them entry into the auditing market. True competitive advantage lies in the auditing firm's management of public perception according to the info speak paradigm. There is no real advantage for one firm to be "more compliant" than its competitors. Under the strictures of a resource optimization theory, "minimum compliance" is the most rational choice.

While the urgent short-term interests of completing the legal proceedings related to Lehman's bankruptcy cannot be reasonably expected to address this systemic perversity, it is definitely in society's long-term interest to take this sober look at what it has made of itself. Can we imagine a more virtuous set of incentives?

Etymology: Unknown

* Readers, please feel free to submit synonyms from your own experience to expand the discussion!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Point of View

Synonyms: Values; Morals; Beliefs

Categories: Ideological identifier

Definition: Constellation of normative judgments supported by an ideological faction. Used to subtextually indicate a level of moral commitment and superiority supposedly absent from others outside the reference group.

Similar to other info speak catch phrases, this one employs a combination of imprecision, which renders it almost meaningless when interpreted at face value, with a mendacious dishonesty. What does it mean to have values? How are those values acted upon in difficult, real-world situations? Isn't it rather dangerously naive to rely entirely on a fixed 'point of view' in a three dimensional world? Perhaps it is this inflexibility which sometimes gives the discourse of 'values' speakers a flat, two-dimensional quality.

The real purpose of 'point of view' or 'values' speakers is most often to short-circuit debate and quickly build a critical mass of popular support. The contest for logical integrity of the argument is abandoned altother in exchange for political advantage. In a very ironic manner, by using such terms, the speaker indicates that he or she does not believe his audience intelligent or sophisticated enough to be able to evaluate his propositions on their merit. Often very effective.

Etymology: Twenty-first century revision of "Si Deus pro nobis quis Contra nos?" ("If God is for us, who can be against?")--Romans 8:31.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Risk Management

Synonyms: Stop loss policy; structured finance

Categories: Euphemism, obscuritanism

Definition: Vague term ostensibly referring to a programme of activities promoting some good. Not inherently incorrect, just imprecise. Use of such terms are frequent examples of the ironic manner in which info speak misleads. Presented as plain, straightforward terms for uncontroversial practises to which there could be no reasonable objection, they are, however, many times couched within pleas for an audience to act against its own interest. For example, the unspoken subtext accompanying 'risk management' is usually the words 'for me'. Any consequences beyond the speaker's immediate circle--more than likely including the audience-- are deemed irrelevant.

What users of such terms require is the audience's uncritical identification with the speaker. Availing him or herself of the normal presumption that a speaker intends to promote some common interest held with the audience, the speaker employs positive-sounding but ambiguous terms to elicit approval to his or her proposals. Over time and a series of similarly vague proposals and implied approvals, a relationship dynamic is established in which it becomes increasingly difficult to raise effective objections.

Even in scenarios in which there is a clear and objective difference between the interest group represented by a speaker (e.g., insurance company executive) and that of the audience (e.g., policy holders), there is often a wider, more profound ideological identification that prevents effective objection. Although it seems obvious that an insurance company makes more profit on a policy where no claims are paid, a situation that would hardly satisfy a policy holder, such conflicts are rarely acknowledged.

Two a priori assumptions of the current culture aid and abet these strategies of misidentification. Firstly, the idea that the optimization of outcomes by each individual will always lead to the optimal outcome for the whole, which legitimizes aggressive behaviour. Worse than merely ignoring the waste of resources that could be more efficiently pooled together, it attempts to convert selfishness from a private vice into a public virtue. Secondly, the conflation of wealth and power with moral virtue, which has progressed to such an extent that to posit any distinction will almost certainly result in a barrage of charges ranging from naivete to stupidity to insanity to gross immorality.

Etymology: Unknown

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Synonyms: Mark of The Beast; stigmata; "bad mahalo"; apostatcy

Categories: In-group status identifier

Definition: Palpable aura of depravity thought to announce the presence of an unbeliever to members of a belief community, as in, "I'd stay clear of that fellow--he has something of the Kavorka about him". To have Kavorka about onesself means essentially to be excluded, outlawed, a free target for all manner of abuse.

"Kavorka" as such is rarely uttered aloud, as it is the strongest possible moral condemnation that can be conceived. A person using this word prematurely assumes for him or herself the role of ultimate arbiter of belonging within the group, thereby subjecting him or her own self to heightened scrutiny--a bitter irony indeed. Rather, the presence of Kavorka is communicated subtlely through avoidant behaviour by high-status members toward the target, eventually filtering down through the ranks as the signals become unmistakeable. It is only after the lowest tier of an organization's members become confidant of their superiors' signals that the dread term may be uttered aloud--and then only in whispers.

While the extreme consequence of the Kavorka sanction is clear to even the most casual observer, the infraction giving rise to the sanction may not always appear to be correspondingly severe. It could be as blatant as expressing public doubt of a superior's assertion, or it could be the mere perceived failure to concur with sufficient enthusiasm.

This strange variation seems to do primarily with the highly fragile nature of the information-based economy. In an environment where outcomes are measured in short-term increments like hours and days rather than months and years, and the only thing one has to offer is one's credibility, control of the audience's immediate field of perception is paramount, and little deviation from message can be tolerated.

Etymology. Ironically adapted from "Kavorka" as used in the "Conversion" episode of the popular 1990's sitcom "Seinfeld". Literal definition in that episode was "animal lure"--an aura of highly charged sexual attractiveness.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Do you know who I am?"

Synonyms: "Have you ever worked for a powerful client before?"; "Let me tell you how things work in the big leagues . . . ."
Categories: Evasion, veiled threat.
Definition: "Do you know who I am?" is a phrase often uttered by a defensive underling of a tyrannical boss when trying to deflect away from his/her boss or ogranization the unwelcome scrutiny of an outsider. Implicit in the appeal to the power or prestige of his/her identity is a veiled threat to the interlocutor as well as the recognition that there may not be a legitimate objective reason to avoid the scrutiny. Which is precisely why this phrase is much more often uttered by relatively low-status individuals; truely high-status individuals will usually have a strong enough command of the domain of inquiry to derail scrutiny by 'helpfully' pointing out alternate avenues of inquiry that may be 'more productive' or 'more efficient'.
Etymology: Derived from "You can't talk to your parent that way!". Informs the interlocutor that he or she has violated a fundamental norm of the relationship and that, relative to the utterer, the interlocutor is a mere child with neither the position or understanding to question the utterer or evaluate any response.

Submission and editorial policy of the Dyslexinomicon

The core of entries to the Dyslexinomicon have been gathered during my many years of field observation.

Due to the need to make each entry as broadly applicable to a general audience as possible, most entries represent the distillation of the observations of numerous, unrelated individuals. Given the sometimes sensitive nature of the communications involved, efforts have been made to strip all entries of information which may specifically identify individuals. No reference to specific individuals, living or dead, should therefore be inferred.

Although I am more than pleased to receive and acknowledge feedback and submissions from interested blog readers and colleagues, and efforts will be made to accomodate reasonable differences of opinion within the scope of this project, all final editorial decisions will be made by myself, without right of appeal.

Subject to the policy articulated above, submissions and feedback may be directed to me at: