By Stephen Wilks

The Political Power of the Business Corporation
Editions:Paperback: £ 27.00
ISBN: 978 1 84980 731 9
Pages: 336
Hardcover: £ 99.00
ISBN: 978 1 84980 730 2
Pages: 336

The large business corporation has become a governing institution in national and global politics. This trail-blazing book offers a critical account of its political dominance and lack of democratic legitimacy.

Thanks to successful wealth generation and ideological victories the large business corporation has become an effective political actor and has entered into partnership with government in the design of public policy and delivery of public services. In The Political Power of the Business Corporation Stephen Wilks argues that governmental and corporate elites have transformed British politics to create a ‘new corporate state’ with similar patterns in the USA, in competitor economies – including China – and in global governance. The argument embraces multinational corporations, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and the inequality generated by corporate dominance.

The crucial analysis presented in this ground-breaking book will prove invaluable for academics, researchers and both under- and postgraduate students with an interest in the role of the corporation in politics and society across a wide range of fields including business and management (business ethics), politics, political economy, sociology, corporate governance and strategy.

Reviews:Carole Talbot on Manchester Policy Blogs wrote:

"The book pursues four themes in trying to uncover the scale of corporate influence and the processes through which this is achieved: (1) A concern about the need for better tools to understand business corporations as political actors; (2) The identification of the corporation as a governing institution and the circumstances which facilitate this; (3) A focus on managerial control within the corporation looking at managerial elites, rewards and the corrosiveness of the managerial ideology; and (4) How to improve the accountability of corporations when they exercise power over issues we commonly understand to be the role and remit of our elected governments. In terms of theoretical perspective, the author borrows from various theoretical traditions: including pluralism, partnership; structural, comparative and international perspectives together with a political influence framework comprising three elements: resources, motivation and opportunity. Through the application of this pragmatic framework Wilks identifies patterns of corporate influence. [...] The book covers much ground attempting an analysis which is focused on the UK, but situates what Wilks calls the new corporate state into the global business corporation system which further undermines the possibilities for action from national governments. A basic tenet of Wilks’ argument is that lobbying, the assumed central way in which we might identify influence on government by large corporations, is all but unnecessary in the new corporate state. [...] The book is not light reading, but worthy of attention to enable wider discussion and understanding of the new corporate state in which we live."

Nizar Manek on LSE Review of Books wrote:

"In a much-needed and important overview and analysis of the field that should appeal to students of political science and corporate law, Wilks argues the forces that created the corporation have ‘unleashed new autocrats, immune from effective political control.’ His argument in The Political Power of the Business Corporation is that it is impossible to understand the ‘structural dependence’ between the state and the corporation without studying the corporation in its mould as a political actor. But though Wilks leans on the structural dependence approach, he disagrees with identifying a business elite with a ‘capitalist ruling class.’ No Marxist, he offers a good argument that this would downplay the importance of managerial control – the central feature of managerial capitalism. Instead, he favours the idea of an ‘elite of corporations,’ and therefore corporate governance and its attempts to oversee management discretion is central to his analysis of corporate power. [...] Wilks’ concern with the ethical dilemmas posed by the separation of shareholder ownership and managerial control leads into a further issue: apparent undue influence of multinational corporation as a ‘governing institution’ and ‘partner’ in global governance. Corporate power, he argues, can become independent of nation states, and ‘so embedded in global regimes that it has taken on almost a constitutional character.’ [...] Though Wilks’ argument appears to support it, Wilks hints that an analysis that embeds corporate authority in a global ‘constitution’ is necessarily speculative; he does not do much to develop this argument."

Martin Fougère on Organization Studies wrote:

"The power of large business corporations has been increasingly discussed in the media and academia in the past few decades. [...] However, the corporation has rarely been conceptualized explicitly and chiefly as ‘a governing institution’. This is what Stephen Wilks sets out to do in this book, in which he begins by noting that ‘the business corporation is arguably the most influential and least studied institution in contemporary political life’ (p. 1). When he writes that the business corporation has been the ‘least studied institution’, the author means that within political science there has been surprisingly little interest in the role and power of corporations in public policy and governance. The book is thus positioned foremost as a contribution to politics and political economy. [...] The link that is made between the UK context and transnational processes is in fact one of the strengths of the book, well illuminated by the neo-institutional perspective and the explicit links made to traditional political economy. The combination of these two lenses (new institutionalism and political economy) delivers a valuable contribution to discussions of corporate power. [...] What also makes the book particularly valuable is how it connects the various relevant agendas in a way that to my knowledge has not been done before. Chapters 7 to 10 – dealing respectively with global governance, accountability, CSR and corporate governance – are written in different ways, which enhances their complementarity. [...] The book is not really presented as a textbook (it does not really include ‘student-friendly’
tables, figures and summaries) but it could definitely work as one, as it is written very clearly, with a logical structure that makes connections between different relevant fields of study."

Relevant Links

Table of Contents of The Political Power of the Business Corporation

  1. The Genesis of a Governing Institution
  2. The Corporation as a Political Actor
  3. Globalisation and the Enhanced Power of Multinational Corporations
  4. Corporate Power in the UK: The Rise of the Corporate Elite
  5. The Politics of the New Corporate State
  6. Partnership and Policy in Britain’s New Corporate State
  7. Multinational Corporations as Partners in Global Governance
  8. Corporations, Culture and Accountability
  9. How Persuasive is Corporate Social Responsibility?
  10. The Explosion of Interest in Corporate Governance
  11. Conclusion: Fairy-tales, Facts, Foci and Futures

About Stephen Wilks

Stephen WilksStephen Wilks is Professor of Politics at the University of Exeter where he was Deputy Vice Chancellor from 1999 to 2003. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant before taking a PhD at Manchester. He went on to teach at the University of Liverpool and was visiting Professor at Kyoto University before moving to Exeter. He researches on comparative political economy with a special focus on relations between government and industry. He was a Member of the Economic and Social Research Council from 2001 to 2005 where he chaired the Research Strategy Board. His other main area of expertise is competition policy where he has written extensively.