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The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen: Democracy Under the Rule of Big Business

by Murray Dobbin

Corporations have replaced citizens as the foremost subjects of government and as Canada’s fundamental raison d’état, says Murray Dobbin. Democracy, he argues, has become little more than an illusion maintained by our governments on behalf of the transnational corporations that have taken control of civil society and really govern us. If corporations are the new citizens, he maintains, then “these particular citizens exhibit the behaviour of textbook sociopaths.”

Dobbin, author of the excellent muckraking biography Preston Manning and the Reform Party, aims his sights on more abstract terrain in this book, which is polemical in style and reminiscent of the left-wing populist tracts of the early 20th century in its consistently angry tone. It offers few surprises to anyone who has read recent works by Linda McQuaig, Maude Barlow, or Tony Clarke. Dobbin tours such popular themes as the globalization of the Canadian economy, controversial free trade pacts including NAFTA and the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the emergence of elite gatherings such as the Trilateral Commission and conservative think-tanks such as the Fraser Institute, the political influence of the Business Council on National Issues, and the unequal division of wealth, and the fiscal, financial, and monetary regimes that help maintain it. Dobbin calls for a “cultural revolution” against the logic and structures of modern capitalism.

As this book is based on a very short list of sources (mostly books by fellow activists and media clippings) and contains little first-hand research, it tends to have an arid, distant feel that is at odds with its humanist message. Dobbin is at his strongest when he deals with terrain he knows well, such as the emergence of the Fraser Institute as a force in politics and the media (paradoxically, he excoriates the media for making use of Fraser research even though large parts of this book are based on the work of a very similar but left-leaning think tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives). More subtle arguments (why is the private-sector corporation a threat to civil society but not its public-sector counterpart? To what extent are “we” the state and “they” the corporations?) won’t be found here, but that is not the purpose of this book. It is a statement of one man’s outrage, an outrage that is shared by a great many Canadians.