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The Web of Power Hidden Behind the Invisible Matrix of Consensus Reality

Synergy: The Web of Power

The processes of corporate power do not work in isolation. The economic and legal mechanisms that allow the privatization of the commonwealth, externalization of costs, predatory economic practices, political influence-buying, manipulation of regulation and deregulation, control of the media, propaganda and advertising in schools, and the use of police and military forces to protect the property of the wealthy — all of these work syngergistically to weave a complex web of power.

The Anatomy of Corporate Power

Activists seek to locate the “mechanisms” of power, but power is not a machine. Power, the ability to make decisions and control resources, is found in the dynamics of the relationship between people. Depending on how power flows and who wields it, political and economic decisions are made and resources flow between individuals, groups, and corporations. When society’s economic, political, and social structures become institutionalised, power tends to flow from people into institutions, but not back again. Power becomes centralised.

The flow of power to corporations is promoted by legal mechanisms such as corporate personhood, limits to liability, pollution permitting, and political campaign financing, and by institutional structures such as regulatory agencies, export credit agencies, and police forces and armies.

Together, these mechanisms and structures maintain networks of tightly-held power. Network analysis has shown that ninety percent of the 800 largest U.S. corporations are interlocked in a continuous network, with any one corporation within four steps of any other corporation in the network.

Analysis of think tanks and policy groups in the early 1990s showed that the Business Roundtable was interlocked most extensively, followed by the Business Council, the Conference Board, the Committee for Economic Development, Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, Hoover Institution, Chamber of Commerce, and Heritage Foundation. Some of these institutions are being displaced by new ones. Interlocks are not the only source of power, and in any case, the precise measurement of power is impossible. But the enormous influence of these and other global alliances of corporate power is undeniable.

Corporations and corporate foundations fund think tanks which formulate policies which will be favorable to business. Corporate attorneys draft legislation which will make those policies the law of the land. Corporate political action committees pay for the election campaigns of the politicians who ensure that such legislation becomes law, and lobbyists make sure the politicians stay bought. Corporate executives are appointed to lead the regulatory agencies which enforce (or dismantle) the laws that aren’t favorable to business. National and multilateral trade and development agencies design and subsidize an international trading system dominated by the largest corporations. Governments and banks use public monies to subsidize and insure corporate investment.

The elite consensus rises above the competitive advantage of particular corporations, and is larger than any industry. What unites corporations and industry associations and the wealthy and powerful is a consensus to build and maintain power itself. Corporate power is dependent on legal, economic, and political mechanisms, structures, and processes which follow a few basic rules:

  • Privatize profits. Get as many subsidies as possible from labor, the public, and the environment. Get below-cost raw materials from the public domain. Let communities and governments pay for infrastructure. Lobby for tax breaks and tax credits. Privatize public resources and governmental services. The less visible the subsidies are, the better, but also support them with a constant repetition of the virtues of private enterprise, the rights of private property, and the equation of profits with happiness.

  • Externalize costs. Underpay your employees, even if it means hiring children overseas to work twelve hours a day. Don’t recycle your waste; don’t clean it up if it’s toxic; if you are caught, sue your insurance companies to make them pay. Minimize legal liability in general by claiming constitutional rights intended for natural persons.

  • Control information. Acquire every outlet of the broadcast media, and merge their programs. Acquire independent publishers and bookstores, and standardize what they publish and sell. Write text books from a corporate point of view, and distribute them throughout the public school system. Pay the salaries of teachers and professors and social activists until they are no longer aware that they are censoring themselves for a living. Restrain free speech as much as possible. Forbid it on private property such as shopping malls. Forbid your employees to organize or to use the workplace as a venue for civic life. Make information about corporate operations and government decision making difficult to obtain. Worship expertise and confuse data with knowledge.

  • Centralize political authority. Pay off injured employees and citizens to stay out of court, and make them agree to remain silent about the injury. If legal liability cannot be escaped, have it adjudicated in as high a court as possible. Do not appear in local or state courts if the case can be heard in federal court. Do not go to jury trial. If possible, preempt troublesome laws through the World Trade Organization, so that even national courts have less jurisdiction. Replace government and civic institutions with private corporations.

  • Centralize economic authority. Acquire or destroy small businesses, cooperatives, and other alternatives. Make the surviving corporations as large as possible, not for economies of scale (which were optimized many decades ago), but for the sake of centralizing authority and eliminating competition. Have a handful of corporations dominate every industry, and have them control the allocation of resources and the means and the ends of production. Control prices. Remove profits from the community, and deposit them in offshore banks to escape taxes and potential liability.

  • Remove all barriers to trade, regardless of whether they protect desirable industries, health and safety, human rights, or the environment. Expand management prerogative beyond the workplace, into the community, into the policymaking institutions, and across all jurisdictions. Make private property and the pursuit of profit the basis of all law and all social and economic policy. Create an economy where people have to pay currency for food, clothing, shelter, and culture. Commercialize the schools. Patent species. Make life pay.

Corporate power depends upon the successful maintenance of these principles. The cultural, legal, economic, and political mechanisms used to weave the web of power are complex, interdependent, and for most of us, largely hidden behind an invisible matrix of consensus reality. But the truth of the matter is that without subsidies, limited liability, and an inordinate influence over social and political agendas and information, corporations would soon become in reality what their apologists claim they are: merely groups of people. The sooner the better.

pages 44 & 5-7 of George Draffan's The Elite Consensus: When Corporations Wield the Constitution, the most succinct bird's eye view of the complex lattice of corporate power I've yet read. The second half of the book is an excellent resource that provides a clear-eyed summary of various powerful organizations serving elite interests (eg: Bilderberg, Trilateral Commission, Heritage Foundation, the United Nations, Council on Foreign Relations, etc.). Highly recommended.

I appreciate Mr. Draffan's reminder that behind corporate power is "the dynamics of the relationship between people". It is a vitally important reminder. It is, ultimately, all about people. The institutions that we accept as a given reality are nothing more than a society's (unconsciously) agreed upon fabrications that serve the vested interests of those who know how to wield them for their own ends. Here is an excellent insight from Mr. Draffan: "When society’s economic, political, and social structures become institutionalised, power tends to flow from people into institutions, but not back again. Power becomes centralised."

A thought: We serve institutions that exist only as consensual realities. The very real lives we lead are based upon shared illusions. It's all too easy to forget that the institutions we reify are ultimately nothing more than phantasms we agree are real. It's our consensus reality that, literally, personifies these institutions and vests them as entities with seeming palpable facticity, entities (rather than people) that appear to affect our environment, entities that can be experienced as distinct and powerful personalities in our midst treating us as their pawns, entities that seem to control the course of events like gods, gods with names like General Electric and Chase Manhattan and Raytheon instead of Zeus and Hera and Athena. The Law (another reification, BTW) magically conjures corporations as persons with all the constitutional protections of actual, corporeal, flesh-and-blood mortals. But there's one crucial difference, one that transmutes these legally invoked fictitious entities from personhood to deity: once articles of incorporation are granted these fictitious persons are born as immortals, thus, by definition, making them gods. But not just any kind of gods, gods of greed summoned to increase the wealth of those who invoked them, insatiable gods that happen to seek to rule the world by economically enslaving us mortals. These gods demand sacrifices: of our time, our resources, our lives lived under their yoke. Our consensual reality has created economic deities that materially oppress us.

But gods only exist if people believe in them. Gods die when people stop believing in them. And, perhaps, somehow, therein lies the key to freedom...?

Pull the wool over your own eyes.
     —J. R. "Bob" Dobbs

I especially appreciate the quote Mr. Draffan sneaks in in the final blank pages of the book:
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
     —Wendell Berry