- Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot
Macmillan, 430 pp, £12.99, September 2000, ISBN 0 333 90164 9
- No Logo by Naomi Klein
Flamingo, 501 pp, £8.99, January 2001, ISBN 0 00 653040 0
For an old Red like me, bowed down by years of Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton and Blair, these two books are full of exhilaration and hope. George Monbiot writes mainly about Britain in a terse investigative style that I had feared was out of date. Naomi Klein, based in Canada, ranges all over the world and writes infectiously with verve and passion. Again and again their themes converge. Both contemptuously reject the view, which seemed supreme after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and what used to be known (quite wrongly) as Communism, that the world is now set fair on a course to libertarian capitalist prosperity. Instead of the torch of freedom, Klein writes, ‘it seems that it may be the torch of authoritarianism that is being carried by those determined to go global.’ Both identify the chief menace of the modern world as the multinational corporations and their unelected boardrooms. Both suggest that the power and greed of these corporations is rapidly overtaking what is left of the power and responsibility of elected governments. Both revel in the growing anger against this menace, from the spontaneous protests against antisocial roads and supermarkets to the demonstrations which over the last two years have taken London, Seattle, Prague and Nice by storm and threaten every future international meeting of trade ministers.
Vol. 23 No. 6 · 22 March 2001
Multinationals are a complex and troubling feature of modern society, but they will not go away and it is not remotely desirable that they should. They wield a lot of political influence, some bad and some good. They are the theatre for much of the comedy and tragedy of personal life at the turn of the millennium. They also transmit knowledge and skills across frontiers and generations. They value docility when it suits them, but since docility is not always conducive to innovation they sow the seeds of their own subversion. When producing in poor countries, they pay wages that are absurdly low by rich-country standards but usually high by local standards (that's how they make their money). A haemorrhage of their talent is often the way local production gets started. They produce many of the essential and many of the ridiculous features of modern life, from life-saving drugs to Spice Girls records to the aircraft that transport anti-capitalist partygoers to Davos and the mobile phones they use to organise their activities when they arrive. Executives of multinational corporations are as complicated and various as the readers and writers of the LRB (which, with a workforce spread across the world, is a multinational too). They are in it for themselves, certainly, but they also lecture us, often sincerely, on ethics and the future of the world, much as Paul Foot (LRB, 22 February) does. They pose a challenge to modern politics but they deserve a more subtle treatment than they have been receiving recently in the LRB.
Université des Sciences Sociales, Toulouse