A look at the political and social influence of large corporations.

 by Igancio Ramonet

So-called "Totalitarian Regimes" were those regimes consisting of only one political party, which allowed no organized opposition, which subordinated the rights of the individual to the cause of the state, and in which political power sovereignly guided all the activities of the dominated society.

 After these political systems, is following, at this end of the century, another kind of totalitarianism, that of global authoritarian regimes. Resting on the dogmas of globalisation[1] and with it as the only consideration, they do not allow any other political-economic system, subordinating the social rights of the citizen to the cause of competition and abandoning to the financial markets the complete control of all the activities of the dominated society.

 In our direction-less societies no one is ignorant of the strength of this new totalitarianism. According to a recent opinion poll in France, 64% of the people questioned believe that "it is the financial markets which have the most power today."[2] After the agricultural economy which prevailed during thousands of years, after the industrial economy which marked the 19th and 20th centuries, we have entered into the era of the global financial economy

 Globalization has killed the national market, which was one of the nation state's foundations of power. In annulling it, globalization has rendered largely obsolete national capitalism and diminished the role of public agencies. States no longer have the capacity to confront the market. The volume of central bank reserves is ridiculously weak against the attack of speculators. States no longer dispose of the means to brake the formidable flow of capital nor to oppose the actions of financial markets which are against their interests and the interests of their citizens. The governed bend to the general requirements of the economic politics which define world organizations like the IMF, World Bank, or the OEDC. In Europe the celebrated criteria of convergence established by the Maastricht treaty (budget deficit, public debt reduction, and contained inflation) exercise a true dictatorship on state politics rendering fragile the base of democracy and aggravating social suffering.

 If our leaders affirm that their belief is in political autonomy _"our hands and feet are not tied in a world which is imposed on us" declare certain politicians[3] their will of resistance looks like a bluff because they immediately add in the disguise of a constant: "the international situation is characterised by the free movement of capital and products, which is called globalization." And they demand, with insistence, "to make an effort to adapt" to this situation. Now, under such circumstances, what is adaptation? It is simply admitting the supremacy of the markets and impotence of the politicians. Such is the logic of these global authoritarian regimes. During the last two decades the politically responsible have favoured policies such as monetarism, deregulation, commercial free exchange, the free flow of capital and massive privatisations. Thus capital decisions (in the manner of investment, employment, health, education, culture, environmental protection) have moved from the public sphere to the private sphere. It is why, at the present time, that of the first 200 economies of the world, more than half are not countries but enterprises.

 The phenomenon of multi-nationalising of the economy has developed in a spectacular manner. In the 1970s the number of multinational corporations was only a few hundred. Now they exceed more than 40,000. If one considers the global turnover of the 200 principal enterprises on the planet, this amount represents more than a quarter of the world economy and for all that, these 200 firms employ only 18.8 million salaried persons; less than 0.75% of planetary manpower. The turnover of General Motors is greater than the GNP of Denmark, that of Ford is larger than the GNP of South Africa, that of Toyota is more than the GNP of Norway. Here, we are in the domain of the real economy, that which produces and exchanges concrete goods and services. These figures do not include certain financial economies, such as principal American and Japanese pension funds, which dominate the financial market. Their volume is perhaps 50 times greater than the real economy. These funds along with the income of the large corporations, makes governmental influence on economic policy almost neglible.

 More and more countries, which have massively sold their public enterprises to the private sector and de- regulated their markets, have become the property of big multinational groups. These dominate entire sectors in the economy of the South; they use local governments to exercise pressure at the heart of international forums and obtain the most favourable political decisions in their search for global domination.

These phenomena of economic globalization and of concentration of capital, in the South as in the North, break social cohesion. They aggravate, everywhere, economic inequalities which increase in relation to the augmentation of the markets' supremacy. Thus the obligation of revolt, the right of protest, become the citizens' imperatives for refusing these unacceptable global authoritarian regimes. Is it not time to demand the installation, on a planetary scale, of a new social contract?


References

  1. Read "Scenarios de la mondialisation", Maniere de voir, No. 32
  2. La Vie, 21 November 1996.
  3. "Entretien avec Edouard Balladur", Le Monde, 18 December 1996.


Ignacio Ramonet is Editorial Director and President of Le Monde Diplomatique.


This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol.7 No.2 Reprinted with permission from Le Monde Diplomatique, No. 514, 44eme annee, janvier 1997. Translation Gary Levinson.