Thursday, March 10, 2011

"State Capture" - Corporatism's Lethal Weapon

It's been a long time since the United States was a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" and never less so than today.   Democracy has unwittingly been supplanted by corporatism and the merger of corporate and political power.  It's happening not just in the US but through the rest of the western democracies in varying degrees.   It is America, however, that provides us with the prime example of rampaging corporatism.

The Brooking Institution's Daniel Kaufmann uses the term "state capture" to describe the situation where Corporatists employ high-level corruption to essentially seize control of state policy.

While it is ...difficult, it is feasible to quantify state capture. The very same vested interests that are responsible for capturing institutions (regulations, policies, laws, etc) also tend to discourage an open and frank debate on the problem of capture. This is particularly the case in official circles of domestic and international elites. But in light of the Wall Street debacle and detailed insider accounts of what transpired before, during and after the 2008 financial crisis, it has become more difficult to mask regulatory and state capture.

However, there is still a particular dimension of state capture that goes relatively unrecognized – the capture of states’ foreign policies vis-à-vis autocratic countries by multinationals and lobbyists who favor the lenient treatment of these autocratic regimes so to pursue commercial objectives. In short, I am talking about state capture in the international arena or international state capture.

The ongoing crisis in Libya is exposing this type of capture. It is becoming increasingly evident that for many years a number of powerful U.S.-based multinational oil companies have been very proactive in trying to influence U.S. foreign policy toward Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Highly paid U.S. consultants and lobbyists, including Ivy League academics and former U.S. ambassadors, have been recruited to burnish the image of Qaddafi, to lobby for pro-Libya policies, to emphasize commercial interests in the country and to laud Libya’s “stability” to the U.S. government and media.

Concern for the totalitarian nature of the regime or its human rights abuses did not feature prominently in any of their work to put it mildly. Furthermore, the well known “revolving door” of lobbying firms, regulators and the regulated industries seems to have played a role in this more international U.S.-Libya case as well. For instance, according to a media report, the founding chairman of the lobbying group, the U.S.-Libya Business Association (USLBA), went on to hold an influential position coordinating energy issues with Middle East countries at the U.S. State Department.

All this and much more, including information on the role of other lobbying and consulting firms played and the list of oil companies behind their efforts, are described in detail in recent reports in The Huffington Post and Mother Jones. The first article contains the now off-site web-based brochure on Libya written by USLBA lobbyists, along with excerpts from a diplomatic cable from U.S. embassy officials in Tripoli released by WikiLeaks. The second article focuses on another lobbying association, USA*Engage, with big oil clients like Halliburton. Only days ago, USA*Engage appeared to be lobbying against imposing U.S. sanctions against Libya.

You may recall Halliburton as the energy company which, with Dick Cheney in charge, lobbied the Clinton government to drop sanctions against the Taliban government of Afghanistan.   This is what these creatures do, it is how they function. 

Corporatism is now insinuating itself between legislators and the voting public whenever and wherever that suits its interests.   None of this could happen without a willingly and thoroughly corrupt political class which is pretty much an apt description for America's "bought and paid for" Congress.   As we transition into a full-fledged petro-state we too will have to be constantly aware of the susceptibility of our own political classes to Corporatist corruption.  But being aware is not enough.   This has to be fought back because it won't go away on its own.

footnote:  I have decided to capitalize Corporatist because it appears to me to be a political entity, a political movement rivaling democracy even quietly usurping it. 

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