The Political Power of the Business Corporation

The Political Power of the Business Corporation

Stephen Wilks

The large business corporation has become a governing institution in national and global politics. This trail-blazing book offers a critical account of its political dominance and lack of democratic legitimacy. Thanks to successful wealth generation and ideological victories the large business corporation has become an effective political actor and has entered into partnership with government in the design of public policy and delivery of public services. Stephen Wilks argues that governmental and corporate elites have transformed British politics to create a ‘new corporate state’ with similar patterns in the USA, in competitor economies – including China – and in global governance. The argument embraces multinational corporations, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and the inequality generated by corporate dominance.

Chapter 2: The corporation as a political actor

Stephen Wilks

Subjects: business and management, international business, economics and finance, political economy, politics and public policy, political economy, public policy


It is usual in everyday commentary to talk of ‘the corporation’ acting so that ‘Apple’ has launched a new iPhone, ‘Daimler’ has bribed foreign governments or ‘Monsanto’ is developing GM crops. We have seen from the qualities of the large corporation in Chapter 1 that this attribution of actions to corporations is a realistic expression of the corporation as a legal person and as an economic actor. The identification of the corporation as a purposeful actor presupposes, of course, that we are dealing with large corporations that enjoy market power. Smaller corporations operating in competitive markets are significantly constrained by market forces and have limited time, money and flexibility to devote to political engagement. Large oligopolistic corporations, on the other hand, have time, money, flexibility and, above all, discretionary room for manoeuvre. So how do they exercise that discretion? The treatment of the corporation as a ‘person’ provides a convenient approach. Theorists as far back as Hobbes have treated the state as an artificial person (Skinner, 1999) and students of international relations have built on that philosophical perspective. In a defence of the idea of states as persons Wendt notes that ‘if state personhood is merely a useful fiction, then why does its attribution work so well in helping us make sense of world politics? Why, in short, is the concept so “useful”?’ (Wendt, 2004: 290). He stresses the role of the state as an intentional or purposive actor and we could apply the same insights and concepts to corporations.

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