The Political Power of the Business Corporation by Stephen Wilks (2013)
Don’t be put off by the title, this is a great read. Prof Wilks provides the best insight you’re likely to get into the political influence of the large companies and the people who run them. No UK Government and Politics course will be complete without this book. His descriptive approach is original, authoritative and accessible.
The relationship between Business and Westminster has often been described as a ‘revolving door’, a perfect description if we are to believe Prof Wilks. But it is so much more. We shouldn’t be surprised to see Labour's Peter Mandelson (Lord) and ex PM Tony Blair marching off to the City, neither should we be surprised to see Andrew Witty (Sir) of Glaxo and John Browne (Lord) ex of BP and now head of ‘fracking’ marching into Whitehall. Government is now a ‘partnership’ with business, and the businessmen are the senior partners.
Why this is and how it has come about is the purpose of this book. The context is the economic decline of the 1970s and the rise of a ‘neoliberal’ consensus (Wilks prefers the term ‘post liberal’). But refreshingly Wilks decries the causal impact of neoliberalism.
He affirms the decisive part played by Margaret Thatcher. Her advocacy of the ‘free market’ led to her deliberately restructuring the economy with ‘market friendly’ policies, low direct taxation, privatization and crucially, legal restraints on the only potential countervailing power, organised labour.
The newly functioning Thatcher markets are better described, Wilks asserts, as ‘managed’, ‘governed’, ‘regulated’ and ‘biased’ (p 73).
If the UK had been, until the late 1980s, a ‘mixed economy’, now it was transformed into the New Corporate State. The description of this newly privatized UK drawn by Prof Wilks is truly staggering. The list of privatized organisations highlights Thatcher’s achievements and all achieved with little social and political disapproval.
The main consequence for the electorate Wilks observes is:
And the corporations?
This is great and very readable stuff. Where else would you get finely observed insights into the deliberate and man-made policies of the corporate state, alongside references to Thorstein Veblen’s ‘pecuniary culture’, to Herbert Marcuse’s ‘consumer conformism’ and more remarkably Karl Marx’s prescient description of ‘commodification’.
The book is full of great insights. If you are a believer in participatory democracy, it will not make you love business, but it will leave you very well informed about the UK and the global economy, and better equipped with the kind of factual analysis and understanding that will enable social and political change.
This is a misleading label. The reality is of oligopolistic markets organised by corporations, not the emancipated markets of neo liberal legend.
. . . the loss of faith in the active state.
Unlike a government they have no set of ideological principles to define how to improve well-being, they have no political principles of justice, social contracts with citizens, or criteria of public interest and, above all, they have no popular mandate.
Those forces, call them corporate capitalism, managerial dominance or simply corporate power, have created new autocrats, immune from effective popular control.