Piecing together a narrative explaining how we have come to be ruled by corporations seemingly bent on the destruction of the environment, the social safety net and democracy itself is quite a task. But, it needs to be done and what the heck, I’ve got a little time. Actually Greenpeace.org has put together a very good series of articles on this very subject that I will add to and reference as best I can. Again, this is very important because we can’t expect to be able to counter or undo something we don’t understand.
From FDR through the 1970’s America continued to move towards socially and environmentally conscious directions. The wealthy as well as business and political elites were frustrated, seemingly having lost all control of an economic and political system they had always ruled. Thus, in the early 1970’s, began efforts to regain control over democracy in the United States possibly even the rest of the world, but they first must start in the USA. The steps were multiple, building on each previous one until today they have erected a foundation possibly unbreachable by previously tested political means.
The following is my attempt (based on Greenpeace’s articles and others) to give some historical perspective.
First, they needed a plan.
There may have been other plans, but what became dominant was penned by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (unbelievably an eventual Supreme Court Justice,practiced primarily in the areas of corporate law, represented the Tobacco Institute and various tobacco companies). He “drafted a confidential memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Powell Memorandum) that describes a strategy for the corporate takeover of the dominant public institutions of American society.”
The memorandum is extremely comprehensive, but generally, “In four inter-related pages, … (Greenpeace) describe(s) how the Chamber and other leading members of Corporate America targeted specific public areas for increased influence, if not outright takeover:
- Politics: Since Powell’s day corporate lobbying expenditures and donations to politicians have exploded,
- Judicial and Legal Systems: Powell identified the judiciary as one of the most important arenas for business activism. His suggestions led to the swift formation of dozens of corporate-funded legal foundations, many of which succeeded in using strategic litigation and distorted constitutional doctrines to overturn regulations on public health and the environment. The U.S. Chamber and its allies in particular have waged a multi-decade attack on the rights of victims of corporate crime and abuse.
One of the most effective / destructive organizations to materialize directly from this effort was the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) where corporations write their own local and national laws and hand them to their paid for legislators.
- Mass Media and Communications: Powell encouraged corporations to leverage their ownership and advertising power to influence mass media. Recent decades have seen massive consolidation of mainstream media, resulting not only in the decline of independent and investigative journalism, but a clear pro-corporate news bias.
- Schools and Education: One of the most important themes of the Powell Memo was for corporate America to invest in a long-term effort to influence educational curricula and reduce their most outspoken critics’ influence on campus.
At that time (1960s & 70s) Business and political elites were panicking, worried that “their economic system” (notice who supposedly owns it) had been under attack and lost much of it’s rightful control. As these groups planned and executed, it became obvious that “since business executives had little stomach for hard-nosed contests with their critics and little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate, it was important to create: new think tanks, legal foundations, front groups and other organizations to work in their stead.
Their collective power was being neutralized by political movements focused on a kind of social consciousness they did not value. “They needed the ability to align their groups into a united front, and that would only come about through careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations.”
They needed to be dedicated to execute the plan (which would take time).
The Powell Memorandum gave pretty specific areas needing focus:
- Responsibility of Business Executives:
- Possible Role of the Chamber of Commerce:
- The Campus: (particularly targeting the Social Sciences as unsympathetic to the enterprise or corporate system)
- What Can Be Done About the Campus:
- Staff of Scholars: (The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the “corporate” system)
- Staff of Speakers: (speakers of the highest competency … might include the scholars, and certainly those who speak for the Chamber)
- Speaker’s Bureau: (which should include the ablest and most effective advocates from the top echelons of American business)
- Evaluation of Textbooks:
- Equal Time on the Campus:
- Balancing of Faculties: (this is a scary one)
- Graduate Schools of Business:
- Secondary Education:
- What Can Be Done About the Public?
- and many more you must read from the memorandum itself
The really important thing to realize is that with their collective unlimited funds, the wealthy as well as business and political elites (corporations) have executed this plan extremely well and are continuing down a path bent on the destruction of the environment, the social safety net and democracy itself, while deceiving and distracting the American public.