George Monbiot, 'Captive State'

IssueDecember 2000 - February 2001
Review by Melanie Jarman

“Only one thing can reverse the corporate take-over of Britain. It's you” ends Captive State and, wow,given the extent of corporate capture of public life that the book describes, what a task you will have. A long road ahead then, butat least mapped and made so much more comprehensible by Monbiot's Manifesto of Multinational Malevolence.

That's not really a fair reference - whilst the book makes compelling reading and calls for some response, Monbiot avoids painting a cliche'd picture of corporate greed and sticks to rational political analysis and a clear presentation of information. Corporations are not necessarily malevolent, but do exist to maximise profit and, as such, are “by definition, managed in interests at variance with those of the public”. This lays the ground wherein “the struggle between people and corporations will be the defining battle of the 21st century.”

Is it a turn of the millennium thing that so many writers are claiming to define our age? A criticism of Captive State has been that it hypes its exposure of corporate intrusion as breaking new ground whilst this is not necessarily so. Just think of all those public institutions that exist through the generosity, or quiet co-option, of Victorian benefactors. But is there any new power play under the sun anyway?

Monbiot's investigation into Britain today, into the “the institutional corruption of a nation which has long enjoyed a reputation for integrity”, ranges from an exposure of the Private Finance Initiative to an exploration of the ways in which biotechnology companies have sought to commodify our food.

Moving outside of this island,Captive State looks at power in the international sphere and how “on every occasion, the negotiators insist that they are devising a formula for a fairer world. On every occasion they emerge with a prescription for corporate rule.”

As the time of year comes around for British media coverage of “winter flu and the state of the health service” the context provided by Captive State becomes more pertinent in, for example, an understanding of the privatisation of hospital provision. Captive State is about the very fabric of life in Britain now, and I only wish it were fiction.

Topics: Corporations
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