Building an Elite Consensus

excerpted from the book

When Corporations Rule the World

by David C. Korten

published by Kumarian Press, 1995



Visions of American Hegemony

The roots of the current drive toward economic globalization go back to the trauma of the depression that preceded World War II. America's policy elites were deeply concerned about ensuring that nothing similar would ever recur. There were two prevailing ideas as to how this might be accomplished. One would have required major reforms of the U.S. economy, including strong governmental intervention in the market. The other depended on ensuring the domestic American economy sufficient access to foreign markets and raw materials to sustain the continuous expansion required to maintain full employment without market reforms. The latter was by far the more popular alternative among those in power, including a small elite group of foreign policy planners associated with the Council on Foreign Relations.

A meeting ground for powerful members of the U.S. corporate and foreign policy establishments, the Council on Foreign Relations styles itself as a forum for the airing of opposing views-an incubator of leaders and ideas. Its activities are organized around dinner meetings and study programs for its members-often involving influential world figures or foreign policy thinkers-in settings that are conducive to candid off-the-record discussion. It similarly styles its influential Foreign Affairs journal as a forum for the open debate of significant foreign policy issues.

The portion of the Council's history that is of particular interest to our present inquiry began on September 12, 1939, less than two weeks after the outbreak of World War II. On that day, Walter Mallory, executive director of the Council, and Hamilton Armstrong, the editor of Foreign Affairs, met in Washington with George Messersmith, assistant secretary of state and a member of the Council. They outlined a long-range planning project to be carried out by the Council in close collaboration with the State Department on long-term problems of the war and plans for the peace. Several war and peace studies groups composed of foreign policy experts would produce confidential expert recommendations for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, during his tenure as governor of New York, had lived in a town house next door to the Council's headquarters. Relations between Roosevelt and the Council continued to be close. At that point in history, the State Department lacked the funds and personnel to undertake such studies, so its leadership accepted the Council's proposal. By the end of the war, the partnership had produced 682 confidential memoranda for the government, with funding provided in part from the Rockefeller Foundation.

The planners anticipated that the defeat of Germany and Japan and the wartime devastation of Europe would leave the United States in an undisputed position to dominate the postwar economy. They believed the more open that economy was to trade and foreign investment, the more readily the United States would be able to dominate it. Working from that logic, the plans produced by the State Department-Council planning groups placed a substantial emphasis on creating an institutional framework that would create an open global economy.

In April 1941, a confidential memo from the Economic and Financial Group of the Council provided the government with the following suggestion on how to frame the public presentation of U.S. objectives for propaganda purposes during the war:

If war aims are stated which seem to be concerned solely with Anglo-American imperialism, they will offer little to people in the rest of the world, and will be vulnerable to Nazi counter promises. Such aims would also strengthen the most reactionary elements in the United States and the British Empire. The interests of other peoples should be stressed, not only those of Europe, but also of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This would have a better propaganda effect.

Memorandum E-B34, issued by the Council to the president and the State Department on July 24, 1941, outlined the concept of a "Grand Area." This was the area of the world that the United States would need to dominate economically and militarily to ensure materials for its industries with the "fewest possible stresses." The minimum necessary Grand Area would consist of most of the non-German world. Its preferred scope would consist of the Western Hemisphere, the United Kingdom, the remainder of the British Commonwealth and Empire, the Dutch East Indies, China, and Japan. The concept outlined in the memo involved working for economic integration within the largest available core area and then expanding outward to weave other areas into the core, as circumstances allowed.

This same memorandum called for the creation of worldwide financial institutions for stabilizing currencies and facilitating programs of capital investment in the development of backward and merge the economic interests of three regional partners: North America (the United States and Canada), Western Europe, and Japan. This idea became a frequent topic of discussion at Bilderberg meetings. It was decided to create a new forum that included the Japanese and had a more formal structure than Bilderberg.

In 1973, the Trilateral Commission was formed by David Rockefeller, chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as the Commission's director and coordinator until 1977, when he became national security advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The Trilateral Commission describes itself as follows:

The Commission's members are about 325 distinguished citizens, with a variety of leadership responsibilities from these three regions. When the first biennium of the Trilateral Commission was launched in 1973, the most immediate purpose was to draw together-at a time of considerable friction among governments- the highest level unofficial group possible to look together at the common problems facing our three areas. At a deeper level, there was a sense that the United States was no longer in such a singular leadership position as it had been in earlier post-World War II years, and that a more shared form of leadership-including Europe end Japan in particular-would be needed for the international system to navigate successfully the major challenges of the coming years. These purposes continue to inform the Commission's work.

In contrast to Bilderberg, which is known for its secrecy, the Trilateral Commission is a more transparent organization that readily distributes its membership and publication lists to anyone who calls its publicly listed phone number, and its publications are available for sale to the public. Whereas Bilderberg includes many heads of state, other top government officials, and royalty, members of the Trilateral Commission who assume highly administrative positions in government resign from the Commission for the period of their tenure.

The collective power of the Commission's members is impressive. They include the heads of four of the world's five largest non-banking transnational corporations (ITOCHU, Sumitomo, Mitsubishi, and Mitsui & Co.); top officials of five of the world's six largest international banks (Sumitomo Bank, Fuji Bank, Sakura Bank, Sanwa Bank, and Mitsubishi Bank); and heads of major media organizations (Japan Times, Ltd.; Le Poit; Times Mirror Co.; the Washington Post Co.; Cable News Network [CNN]; and Time Warner).

U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush, and Bill Clinton were all members of the Trilateral Commission, as was Thomas Foley, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Many key members of the Carter administration were both Bilderbergers and Trilateral Commission members, including Vice President Mondale, Secretary of State Vance, National Security Advisor Brzezinski, and Treasury Secretary Blumenthal. Former members of the Trilateral Commission who went on to hold key positions under the Clinton administration include Warren Christopher, secretary of state; Bruce Babbitt, secretary of the interior; Henry Cisneros, secretary of housing and urban development; Alan Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System; Joseph Nye Jr., chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Central Intelligence Agency; Donna E. Shalala, secretary of health and human services; Clifton Wharton, Jr., deputy secretary of state; and Peter Tarnoff, undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Although the Commission publishes its own position papers, its views are conveyed through many outlets not necessarily associated with it. The trilateralist vision of Sony chairman Akio Morita that was published in Atlantic Monthly and discussed in the previous chapter is an example. At the time, Morita was the Japanese chairman of the Trilateral Commission.

It is important to note that the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg, and the Trilateral Commission bring together heads of competing corporations and leaders of competing national political parties for closed-door discussions and consensus-building processes that the public never sees. Although the participants may believe that they represent a broad spectrum of intersectoral and even international perspectives, in truth, it is a closed and exclusive process limited to elite Stratos dwellers. Participants are predominantly male, wealthy, from Northern industrial countries, and, except for the Japanese on the Trilateral Commission, Caucasian. Other voices are excluded.

The resulting narrowness of perspective is evident in the publications of the Trilateral Commission. They are written by seasoned and thoughtful professionals, and a diversity of views is presented. Yet they all accept without question the ideological premises of corporate libertarianism. The benefits of economic integration and a harmonization of the tax, regulatory, and other policies of the trilateral countries-and ultimately of all countries-are assumed as an article of faith. The debate centers on how, not whether.

No note is taken of the fact that harmonizing standards-which necessarily means setting standards-can be accomplished only through international negotiations, which by their nature must be carried out in secret by the administrative branches of governments. Thus, in the absence of an elected international parliament, a call to harmonize standards is a call to take decisions regarding the standards by which businesses will operate out of the hands of democratically elected national legislative bodies and pass them to the unelected bureaucrats who represent governments in international negotiations. Such a situation lends itself especially well to cozy insider deal making-especially when these bureaucrats come from the same elite circles as members of the Trilateral Commission. For example, Carla Hills, who as U.S. trade representative under President George Bush played a key role in negotiating the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that established the new World Trade Organization, was a member of the Trilateral Commission.

The fact that George Bush and Bill Clinton were both members of the Trilateral Commission makes it easy to understand why there was such a seamless transition from the Republican Bush administration to the Democratic Clinton administration with regard to the U.S. commitment to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and GATT. Clinton's leadership in advancing what many progressives thought to be a Bush agenda on these agreements won him high marks from his colleagues on the Trilateral Commission but seriously alienated major elements of his core constituency, who had looked to him to provide a less corporatist view of the trade agenda. On this most fundamental of issues, the electoral system gave the voters only the illusion of choice.

The policy actions being advanced by the elite consensus constitute an increasingly effective attack on the institutions of democracy-the very purpose of which is to prevent a small inside elite from capturing control of the instruments of governance. Their dominance of the policy debate largely precludes raising alternatives to prevailing assumptions.

Economic globalization is neither in the human interest nor inevitable. It is axiomatic that political power aligns with economic power. The larger the economic unit, the larger its dominant players, and the more political power becomes concentrated in the largest corporations. The greater the political power of corporations and those aligned with them, the less the political power of the people, and the less meaningful democracy becomes. There is an alternative: to localize economies, disperse economic power, and bring democracy closer to the people. However, networks and alliances made up exclusively of Stratos dwellers are unlikely to articulate and pursue such an alternative. To the contrary, as we shall see in the next chapter, the Stratos dwellers are mobilizing the full resources of the world's largest corporations behind an effort to consolidate global corporate rule.

When Corporations Rule the World