Beyond Capitalism: A Corporate State
July 16, 2013 9:58 AM   Subscribe

What scholarly or popular works are there out there exploring what a world would be like where nations have been replaced by corporations in a complicated, non-dystopian way?

Many works of science fiction have imagined the world moving beyond nationalism into a set of corporate states competing in rough geographic areas, or without any tie to geography. Robocop. The Role Playing Game Shadowrun. The novel Cloud Atlas and the sci-fi series Chung Quo. Most of those are dystopian futures. Having just read the very interesting Metaflter project The Good Society magazine about Alternatives to Capitalism, I started wondering whether anyone had ever advocated a way that society would actually be better off if nations were replaced by publicly traded corporations entirely. "Alternatives to Democracy" so to speak kind of I guess.

I am not as interested in hearing theories about how that would be a nightmarish un-ending hell-on-earth, that's easy enough for me to imagine on my own. Most libertarian fantasies and discussions I've heard involve either a return to a wonderful individualistic Democracy or a total breakdown in government and a bunch of entrepreneurs banding together against the chaos or some such silliness. So not that. What I'd like to hear about is the possibility of a stable and somewhat equitable global society formed around the competing and cooperative interests of companies rather than nations. Perhaps there is no such thing! But that's why I'm askin'.
posted by Potomac Avenue to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:16 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Max Headroom, the TV show from the '80's seems to fit your bill.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:17 AM on July 16, 2013

Jennifer Government
posted by Thorzdad at 10:18 AM on July 16, 2013

Response by poster: All of those seem pretty dystopian, especially Max Headroom. I'm looking for a more positive or balanced vision from a political scientist or futurist, if it exists!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:22 AM on July 16, 2013

Maybe look backward rather than forward?

The East India Company basically ran India for a hundred years. The Dutch East India Company possessed "quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies." The Hudson's Bay Company "was at one time the largest landowner in the world".
posted by seemoreglass at 10:29 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Unincorporated Man is a novel set in the 24th century, and comes near to exploring that idea. The premise is that everyone is incorporated at birth, with your parents, yourself, and other investors having ownership of your shares. So not exactly what you're talking about, but still similar in that state power has been replaced by capital and investors.

The treatment is fairly complicated--for fiction. And while I found the story somewhat dystopian, I think it is possible to read the book without seeing their corporate world a dystopia.
posted by General Tonic at 10:34 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy. Written in the 19th century, but very forward-looking and meets your criteria.
posted by Melismata at 10:41 AM on July 16, 2013

Best answer: Here's what comes to mind. Anarcho-capitalism, neo-feudalism, legislative prediction markets... that sort of thing:

Robin Hanson's Futarchy

The work of Jason Brennan and to a lesser extent the work of Jerry Gaus

Murray Rothbard's For a New Liberty

Hoppe's Democracy: The God that Failed

Bruce Benson's The Enterprise of Law: Justice without the State


Snow Crash

posted by anotherpanacea at 11:29 AM on July 16, 2013

It skirts your non-dystopia request but Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) has this as a backdrop for the story. The growth of multi-national corporations into "transnationals" and then "metanationals" essentially becoming equivalent to states, and sometimes associating with or subsuming "client states" is a crucial element of how he portray's human colonization of Mars and the rest of the solar system. Vague spoilers below:

Generally the metanats are played as the "bad guys" but more in the sense that they are large actors (themselves full of conflict) whose interests often clash with those of the viewpoint characters struggling for Martian autonomy. Metanationals are portrayed as accomplishing great things, and one in particular ends up being crucial in enabling Martian independence from Earth (though this has more to do with certain individuals within the organization than the shareholders as a whole).

I'm trying to avoid spoilers but the events of the plot basically ends up pushing the metanats towards a more utopian economic order, but this is portrayed as a mostly peaceful (if messy) evolution not a dystopia.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:36 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Neal Stephenson "The Diamond Age".
posted by PickeringPete at 11:37 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Machinery of Freedom is a non-fiction book by David D. Friedman, an anarcho-capitalist / libertarian professor of law and economics. The topics in the book include "how police protection, law courts, and new laws could all be provided privately." A lot of Friedman's academic works and other writings are also relevant.

The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod is a science fiction book that takes place in a couple of different non-dystopian anarchist or anarcho-capitalist settings. Part I of The Stone Canal is titled "The Machinery of Freedom" in a nod to Friedman's work.

Trivia: David D. Friedman's father was nobel laureate Milton Friedman; his son Patri Friedman was the creator of the seasteading movement that was already mentioned above.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:20 PM on July 16, 2013

Ned Beatty's monologue in Network:

"And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that... perfect world... in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused."
posted by steinsaltz at 12:57 PM on July 16, 2013

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