So Much for Robin Hood

It has become apparent to me the same system of serfdom we look back upon with disdain (or perhaps nostalgia if we think our blood is blue) still exists today. It always has and perhaps always will.

This thought was spawned by the latest giant-super-monstrous-mega merger: Comcast's takeover bid of Disney. For what amounts to about $50 billion, the cable corporation hopes to obtain the beloved entertainment mainstay.

Sadly, this is seen as just another step in an inevitable consolidation of power. It is being posed as a necessary ploy, the two companies' chance at competing against infrastructure-plus-media behemoth Time-Warner, whose own merger with AOL was valued at $45 billion. Disney has declined the offer for now, seeking a higher bid.

"The interests of Disney shareholders, which represent the fundamental priority of the board, would not be served by accepting any acquisition proposal that does not reflect fully Disney's intrinsic value and earnings prospects," the company said in a statement.

Well, swell. But did they consider the interests of anyone else, say customers, employees, business partners, anybody? After all, this deal is worth roughly $150 for every man, woman and child living in the United States. I can't help but recall a Salon interview with Bobby Kennedy Jr. in which he pushed the idea of a new free market, one in which all participants' needs are regarded.

"Corporations don't want free markets, they want profits. And the best way to guarantee profits is to eliminate the competition; in other words, eliminate the marketplace, through the control of government. And that's what we're seeing today in our country," explained the RFK sire and environmental leader.

"There is no free market left in agriculture. The free market has almost been eliminated in the energy sector. These are two of our most critical sectors, and the marketplace has disappeared. We're seeing the same process underway in the media industry now. So there's very little consumer choice and Americans aren't getting the benefits and efficiencies that the free market promises us."

But this line of thinking is anathema to big business. We have literally handed the reins of most of the nation's wealth to a few hundred men scattered across a couple dozen board rooms. And even their ranks are shrinking. Soon, we will have just dozens of men at a couple of boards directing virtually all of our resources.

I know, crazy talk. They are doing what it takes to make America grow and are therefore beyond question. Forget the millions of people out of work or underemployed. Forget the decline in small business. That's the price of progress.

And you know who uses this mantra to shout down any comers, any dissenters? Us, me, you. The upper echelons of our corporate culture would never lower themselves to taking on this debate. They don't have to. They've convinced the rest of us it is over. And, truthfully, they are right. Despite the belly-aching of each generation's true progressives, competition has always ceded to consolidation, monopolization. Anybody remember the robber barrons?

And this is why I've grown to doubt the story of Robin Hood. Immortalized since the Dark Ages as a savior of the poor, it is painfully clear he could never have been a hero when he lived, not even to his own people. Only direct beneficiaries of his thievery that somehow escaped the gaze of their oppressors could have been fans. If you did suffer repercussions yet never reaped any benefits - which had to be most folks - Robin and his merry band were no friends to you.

Now imagine someone robbing a large, profitable corporation now and donating the money to a worthy charity. How many of us would think it noble? My guess is not too damn many. Just another wacky do-gooder deserving to be locked up would be the word on the street. Like the serfs before us, we know we get the short end of the stick but fear getting even less.

So when I now watch the Disney version of Robin Hood, my son's favorite, I cannot help but see the townspeople thwarting their defender as they would today.