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Civic Empowerment in an Age of Corporate Greed

Edward C. Lorenz

Publication Year: 2012

A thought-provoking investigation of an urgent issue facing American communities today, Edward C. Lorenz’s book examines the intersection of corporate irresponsibility and civic engagement. At the heart of this case study is a group of firms responsible for seven of the most contaminated Superfund sites in the United States, the largest food contamination accident in U.S. history, stunning stock and financial manipulations, and a massive shift of jobs off shore. In the face of these egregious environmental, employee, and investor abuses, several communities impacted by these firms organized to confront and combat failures in corporate and bureaucratic leadership, winning notable victories over major financiers, lobbyists, and indifferent or ineffective government agencies. A critical analysis of public and private leadership, business and economic ethics, and civic life, this book concludes with a stirring blueprint for other communities facing similarly overwhelming opposition.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-

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Preface

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pp. vii-x

In the summer of 1990, when I had lived for only a year in Alma, Michigan, I attended a seminar at MIT on the “Myth and Reality of American Decline.” On the first morning, the leader, Richard Vallely, asked each of us to introduce ourselves. Since I had sat in the front right of the...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-19

While innumerable historic examples exist of abuse of individual power and excessive self-interest, early twenty-first century global financial crises illustrate that such abuses can impact large numbers of people and communities. Individual excess transitioned into a fundamental...

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Chapter 1: Corporate Leadership Problems

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pp. 21-57

On December 29, 1999, Fruit of the Loom, the underwear giant, filed for bankruptcy protection in Wilmington, Delaware. What had gone wrong to turn the owner of one of the world’s best-known icons, the Fruit of the Loom trademark...

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Chapter 2: New Corporations and New Regulations

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pp. 59-84

On June 14, 1965, the Chicago and North Western Railroad (C&NW), headed by Ben Heineman, confirmed rumors of the previous month, announcing that it was buying Velsicol Chemical from the Regenstein family.1 Velsicol now joined the same type of corporate...

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Chapter 3: Disempowering Communities

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pp. 85-110

If Velsicol’s sole problem in the 1970s had been the one in St. Louis, Michigan, the firm might be seen as the unfortunate victim of an accident. If the deals that shut the St. Louis plant were the only ones signed by the firm, Northwest Industries might have been regarded as a model...

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Chapter 4: New Management

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pp. 111-132

It was not surprising that Ben Heineman paid little attention to Velsicol except after crises that had festered for years. Throughout Heineman’s ownership, Northwest repeatedly faced the challenge of staying ahead of the creditors. Since many of its subsidiaries...

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Chapter 5: Creating Junk

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pp. 133-154

The fundamentals of Farley’s methods of operation were so typical of the behavior of a large class of American entrepreneurs that few business leaders would criticize him, until it was too late. By contrast, the people at West Point, Georgia, noted two...

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Chapter 6: Importing Fruit

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pp. 155-183

Similar to the troubles at Acme and Doehler, after 1990, the problems at Fruit of the Loom devastated communities, workers, and investors. As happened with the other subsidiaries, neither the media nor pubic officials got the story right...

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Chapter 7: Experts and Local Knowledge

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pp. 185-210

Fruit of the Loom and its subsidiaries, by transferring work overseas, instigated the theft of jobs at home and the loss of technological expertise to benefit a few incompetent managers. In contrast, Velsicol symbolized the looting of natural resources...

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Chapter 8: Consequences and Controls

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pp. 211-231

The history narrated in this inquiry exposes corporate leadership failures and some institutional pathologies that require clarification and study. It recounts more than the rise and fall of a chemical, boot, or underwear manufacturer...

Notes

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pp. 233-306

Bibliography

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pp. 307-326

Index

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pp. 327-332

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781609173227
E-ISBN-10: 1609173228
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860252
Print-ISBN-10: 1611860253

Page Count: 340
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Wealth -- Moral and ethical aspects -- United States.
  • Social responsibility of business -- United States.
  • Fruit of the Loom (Firm).
  • Hazardous waste sites -- United States.
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