Capsule Book Review: When Corporations Rule the World

First published summer 2001
By Tim Nickles

The first (1995) edition of When Corporations Rule the World awakened many Americans to the destructive systemic impacts of the global economic system and the depths of the structural problems. Coming from a self-described conservative with an extensive background in international development and economics, WCRW offered a thorough and extensively documented analysis capable of swaying even hard-core laissez-faire advocates.

The new 2001 edition contains a new introduction, epilogue and three new chapters updating the growing gap between the rich and poor, the global citizen movement against corporatization and provide a context within which to discuss the role of spirit and culture in distinguishing between a society oriented towards capital versus one oriented towards people.

Korten argues against what he calls “Corporate Libertarianism” which demands that all political, economic, and civic barriers to the free reign of corporate interests be demolished and for “Democratic Pluralism” which requires a “pragmatic, institutional balance between the forces of government, market, and civic society.” He maintains that America’s economic success through the 1950s and 60s was the result of a more pluralistic balance between these three forces and that restoring this balance is essential for continued peace and prosperity.
While Korten emphasizes the importance of markets and private ownership, like Adam Smith he is a harsh critic of the centralization of wealth and political power. Korten’s background includes an MBA and Ph.D. from Stanford Business School, teaching at Harvard Business School and working with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Asia.

I recommend WCRW to everyone as a guide to understanding the full extent of today’s global economy–an essential foundation for effective action for change.