Christian May and Andreas Nölke
A ‘despotic’ idea of multinational corporations (MNCs) ‘ruling the world’ has been a common conception in international political economy (IPE) since the 1980s. However, once we investigate corporations more closely, we find that the view of absolute corporate power is exaggerated. Besides the problem of measuring power, some important limits to corporate power have emerged recently. These limits refer, firstly, to the significant costs of organizing transnational corporate structures. Secondly, financialization and shareholder value-oriented corporate governance heavily limits managerial autonomy. Thirdly, the rise of ‘pro-business’ economic policies and a general trend towards a more organized form of capitalism makes firms more dependent on public resources and gradually become quasi-public affairs. Such a ‘re-nationalization’ of business politics opens up new ways to think of the legitimacy and accountability of corporate power beyond the discussion of corporate social responsibility and towards a public (democratic) control of corporations. This chapter then sets the stage for the individual chapters with regard to the theme of corporate power.