The People’s Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy, by Lee Drutman and Charlie Cray is a valuable tool to the activist who wishes to have a better understanding of the nature of corporate power in the U.S. and realistic ways in which this corporate control can be confronted and rolled back. The book, a report from the Citizen Works Corporate Reform Commission, is a well written and comprehensive look at the causes and possible remedies to the destructive power currently wielded by large corporations. Clearly organized and containing plenty of documentation, this book contains more than enough specifics to satisfy the most critical reader.
While highly critical of corporate power, The People’s Business is not tied down by any partisan bias or leftist dogma. Highly critical of both major political parties, the book points out how both have been complicit in according corporations too much influence in the political process. At the same time, the book does credit those politicians of either party how have tried to restrain corporate power. As much as the book talks about legislative politics, even more emphasis is put the judicial branch, being where many of the extraordinary rights enjoyed by corporations currently were won. Numerous court cases are cited concerning corporate rights and the book provides a nice concise sketch of the legal history of corporate power.
One point worth noting is that The People’s Business repeatedly talks about “reforming” corporations; it is not a book that could rightfully be considered anti-capitalist. This may lead some more radical readers to dismiss the book as “reformist” and therefore not worthwhile. In the opinion of this reviewer, that would be a mistake. Regardless of whether one considers oneself a liberal, a progressive, a radical or whatever, The Peoples Business contains information and strategies that are useful to any serious organizer seeking to limit corporate power. While there have been a recent upsurge in popular books and films (such as Michael Moore books and films, Naomi Klein’s No Logo and the film The Corporation) that have looked at the destructive effects corporations have had on society, few provide as clear and detailed a look into the history, as well as the internal workings and structure of corporations as The People’s Business.
Most importantly, The People’s Business spells out several attainable and concrete goals that citizen groups can work toward to challenge corporations. The two movements singled out by the authors as most essential and important are electoral reform and media reform. The emphasis on electoral reform is not surprising given that Citizens Works was founded by Ralph Nader, who made electoral reform a major part of his presidential platform (Nader also supplies the forward for the book). That Citizen Works would put an emphasis on Media reform is also not surprising since their commission includes Robert McChesney, one of the leading media reform proponents (and the provider of the first blurb on the back cover of the book). That said, the authors are entirely correct in pointing to electoral and media reform as two crucial first steps in the fight to take power back from corporations.
Lee Drutman and Charlie Cray, The People’s Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy, (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004).