“Since the Second World War, the corporation has completely eaten the state that created it,” according to investigative journalist Matt Kennard. “It is wrong to think of the state as acting in our interests,” he said.
Comedian and political commentator Russell Brand spoke with Kennard about his new book, “Silent Coup: How Corporations Overthrew Democracy,” which explores the history of corporate control over the state.
In the 1950s, during decolonisation, “corporations and private capital were very concerned about this — how do we maintain control” over former colonies when empires could no longer intervene with force on their behalf, Kennard told Brand.
So they set up shadow legal systems, like the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system, which allows foreign investors to sue states over laws or actions that could negatively affect investors’ profits.
“Egypt raises the minimum wage. A French water company doesn’t like that … so they take them to these courts,” Kennard said.
“All the stuff you hear on TV about the government protecting national security,” he said, “what they are talking about on the inside is how do we protect corporate power? And, how do we protect big business globally?”
According to Kennard, the UK uses taxpayer money to protect and export the interests of arms dealers like BAE Systems and energy corporations like BP in the name of national security.
“We don’t live in a democracy,” he told Brand.
Even states like El Salvador with a strong anti-colonial history “were integrated into the system” through treaties and aid packages that force them to protect international corporate interests, he said.
“We think that there is a kind of secularism, that there is a separation between these interests,” Brand added, “but you are saying that corporatism has had tendrils into all manner of government agencies … it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”
“It’s like a Frankenstein effect,” Kennard said. States originally chartered corporations to carry out public works projects in the 17th century, but then their structure changed. The corporation has “mutated into some nefarious and untenable monster, ” said Brand.
Brand asked Kennard about the role of Big Tech in American politics. “Do they need to resort to skulduggery and trickery or is it formalised and systemised to such a degree that they can just do it legit?”
Kennard responded, “It’s systematised.”
During the social upheaval of the 1960s, US corporations and the government “were freaking out,” Kennard said. Lewis Powell, who became an associate justice of the Supreme Court, outlined a strategy for corporate domination in the Powell Memo to the US Chamber of Commerce.
Corporations “dumped money” into think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Chamber to “retake control of the narrative,” with tremendous success, Kennard said.
Today, social media companies have disrupted legacy media’s power and opened space for different views, but they also maintain corporate domination, he said. “We rely on them so much and they are owned by these oligarchs who can pull the plug on them whenever they want.”
Brand added: “Ultimately, [social media] will be beholden to the same groups of shareholders and submerged interests – bloody Vanguard and BlackRock – that start cropping up sooner or later if you investigate long enough, and evidently you have done those investigations.”
- The Defender report / By Matt Kennard