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 9: How persuasive is corporate social responsibility?

Stephen Wilks

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


The increased attention to the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR), its inclusion in corporate strategies, and the growth of the CSR ‘industry’ has been remarkable. In the UK an idea that was regarded as marginal, eccentric and largely dismissed by both proponents and critics of corporate capitalism became respectable from the early 1980s and is now firmly mainstream. The rise of CSR can only be explained in the context of other major changes in society, the economy and political ideology. Among those changes are the increased criticism of the corporation already outlined Chapter 8 but, of course, CSR is reflective of much more profound changes. Indeed, the CSR phenomenon illustrates, and provides evidence for, many of the themes explored in this book including, paradoxically, corporate political power. Every mention of corporate social responsibility is simultaneously an affirmation of market power and hence a recognition that perfectly competitive markets are an illusion. Unless it is recognised that corporations have economic power, which can be translated into social and political power, then CSR is, by definition, nonsense. In a world of perfect markets CSR is impossible.

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