It’s been nearly 10 years since The Silent Takeover by Noreena Hertz was published, yet the subjects discussed have never been more timely. The book’s subtitle, Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy, explains the subject at hand, and ultimately asks the key question, “Have governments become obsolete, and if so, are corporations now in charge?”
We have witnessed the rise of corporate power over many centuries, and world governments have always been susceptible to bribery, manipulation and corruption, but in the past few decades the extent of this vast financial power has eclipsed that of our elected leaders at an alarming rate.
In 2008, for example, 88 of the world’s largest 150 economic entities were corporations – in fact, only 23 countries ranked higher than Royal Dutch Shell. A position presented by Ms. Hertz is that as our national governments have become irrelevant the electorate has become disconnected from the political process to some degree and has instead been voting with dollars.
“With governments, regardless of their political persuasion, increasingly impotent, unwilling, or unable to intervene on their citizens’ behalf, and seemingly having lost any sense of moral purpose, it is hardly surprising that the electorate is turning its back on conventional politics, even in countries that proclaim democracy as one of their greatest achievements.” Hertz
The Nature Of Corporate Control
“Politicians are increasingly seen as impotent, irrelevant, and dishonest. People see their governments as unable to deliver what they promise…The distinction between incompetence and dishonesty is becoming blurred as, in country after country, senior politicians are discovered to have engaged in corrupt practices.“ Hertz
Although international trading began some two thousand years ago, the multinational corporation has come to the forefront of economic activity in just the past century – most notably after World War II.
Whereas governments are, to a large degree, bound by borders, corporations can operate in almost any country, and can therefore choose how they want to divide their assets and production facilities. And while they must adhere to the legal policies of each country, they will often play one government against the other as a means of achieving favorable economic conditions.
Money Trumps Politics
Because of this dynamic, political candidates are often bound to the monetary will of corporations that reside in their district, or contribute to their campaigns, which means that the politicians who appear on the nightly news telling us how much they love democracy might actually be “owned” by corporate interests, and those interests may not match the will of the people who elected them to office.
In the end, this question raised by Ms. Hertz seems to be the most relevant, and most perplexing:
Is it possible that while governments are allowing corporate interests to take precedence over the public, corporations and businesspeople may decide to put the public’s needs first? Hertz
While I admit that this scenario is possible, the reality is that capitalism in not inherently moral, and the fact that profit is the main goal of business further diminishes the focus on doing the right thing. It’s true that we can express our own morality (beliefs, ideologies, or objectives) when we purchase products, but in many cases we no longer have a broad choice. For example, if you want to protest the business philosophy of Boeing and Airbus, air travel is not an option, you have no other choice.
- Do governments, and therefore our votes, still matter, or have corporations taken over?
- Can we still vote with our dollars, or has limited competition diminished that capability?
- Will the day come when governments pass laws, but corporations choose to ignore them?
- Is it possible that our corporations will take the moral high ground and protect the planet?
What are your thoughts? Should governments or corporations rule the world?