A new critique of the corporate state has been the focus of extensive media attention. It is intellectually vacuousby Martin Wolf / July 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
There, on the cover of The Silent Takeover, sits a young woman. She sprawls in an armchair, with a booted leg draped nonchalantly over one arm. The chair is placed, incongruously, on muddy ground by a small river. Our prophetess looks at the reader, mouth slightly parted. Thus do we meet the pundit as poseuse. Infantile leftism takes on a new and attractive form.
What is Noreena Hertz-an academic at the Judge Institute, Cambridge University-trying to tell us? The “silent takeover” began, she writes, with Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Global corporations were apparently, invisible and uninfluential before then. But capitalism has now taken over the world. In the process it has destroyed democratic politics. “Governments’ hands are tied and we are increasingly dependent on corporations.” The result is an eroding tax base and crumbling public services, as “our elected representatives kowtow to business.”
Hertz says she is not anti-capitalist, since “capitalism is clearly the best system for generating wealth.” She is “unashamedly pro-people, pro-democracy and pro-justice.” This, naturally, differentiates her from opponents who are unashamedly anti-people, anti-democracy and anti-justice. Her core worry is this: “as business has extended its role, it has come to define the public realm? Governments, by not even acknowledging the takeover, risk shattering the implicit contract between state and citizen that lies at the heart of a democratic society, making the rejection of the ballot box and support for non-traditional forms of political expression increasingly attractive.”
The new capitalist economy has, she claims, undermined the prosperity of the unskilled in advanced countries and increased job insecurity. It has failed to benefit the poor, as inequality has risen. By threatening to move abroad, companies have driven down taxes and regulatory standards. “The levying of taxes? the most fundamental right of the nation state and a potential means of redressing inequality, is squeezed by corporate pressure? The mindset is one of ‘beggar thy neighbour.'”
Corporate interests dictate to government, which makes it impossible to pursue an ethical foreign policy. The WTO puts our health at risk. Our politics are sold to the highest bidder. Our media are monopolised. “Many people have simply lost their faith in politics.”
Then, quite suddenly, we are told that the all-powerful corporation is not all-powerful, after all. Monsanto’s campaign for GM food is crushed by media-fed hysteria. Shell abandons its plans to sink the Brent Spar platform in the Atlantic. Campaigns by…