In 'Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain', Guardian columnist George Monbiot gives a shocking account of the effects of corporate power at the local level. In this lively and well-written book, Monbiot brings home the devastating effects of the growing power of large corporations on local communities and their economies in different parts of Britain.
Monbiot's direct and sharp observations make for absorbing and entertaining reading, while at the same time giving food for thought that is both perplexing and infuriating. Take this quote from the chapter describing how biotech food is forced upon UK consumers: "In 1999, for example, demand for organic food in Britain outstripped domestic supply by 200 per cent, and was growing exponentially. Demand for genetically engineered food was approximately zero -in fact there was sustained consumer pressure for GM ingredients to be removed from food wherever possible. One might have imagined that if government were to invest in agricultural research, it would favour those sectors in which demand was unmet, rather than those in which existing supplies could not be sold. But in 1999, government funding for research into the agricultural applications of biotechnology amounted to £52m, while its funding for research into organic farming totalled just £1.7m." The casual way in which George Monbiot makes his point is very powerful and proves that these (often complicated) issues can in fact be explained in a simple and comprehensible way.
The book's many strong points also include journalistic "on site" reports. You will share the anger of the inhabitants of the Scottish island of Skye, where a cheap ferry connection to the mainland was replaced by an overpriced bridge, financed by a public-private partnership. Monbiot shows how, despite promises to the contrary, the bridge has cost more than it would have if it had been built using public financing, and how the islanders are forced to pay the price of corporate-state collusion at the highest levels. You will also sympathise with the smallshopkeepers in the Welsh market town Brecon, where a Tesco superstore was imposed on the local people, helped by the political establishment at all levels. Monbiot illustrates the extent of the corporate takeover of Britain and the collusion of the public and private sector with many such concrete examples. One would hope that this book will stimulate others to write similar accounts for their countries. The corporate takeover of the state is not, of course, a particularly British phenomenon, but one that is occurring across Europe and the globe. A phenomenon that demands widespread opposition and a focused campaign to reverse the trend.
In the last part of the book, Monbiot convincingly links his local stories to the wider process of corporate-led globalisation. Regular readers of the Corporate Europe Observer will already be familiar with many of the issues covered in the chapter on 'Governments in Exile'. This is followed by the book's finale, the 'Troublemakers Charter'. After some reflections on the commercialisation of education, Monbiot lays down a clearly formulated political programme to roll back corporate power. Acknowledging the necessity of regaining democratic control over TNCs through binding global regulation, he emphasises that "we must put the 'demo' back into democracy," and that political change involves active democratic engagement. "Only one thing can reverse the corporate takeover of Britain. It's you."
Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain. George Monbiot. Hardcover edition, £ 12.99 MacMillan, London, September 2000 ISBN 0-333-90164-9 Paperback, £7.99 Pan, London, September 2001 ISBN 0-330-36943-1