Sixth Annual E.L. ‘Ted’ Wheelwright Memorial Lecture
‘The Growing Power of Illegitimate Authority’ // Susan George
On 29 August, 2013, the sixth annual E.L. ‘Ted’ Wheelwright Memorial Lecture was presented by Susan George, from the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. As one of the world’s leading political economic thinkers and human rights activists, Susan critically discussed the growing influence of ‘illegitimate corporate power’ in the global political economy.
In her only public appearance while in Australia, Susan took aim at the potential threats to democracy posed by transnational corporations (TNCs), and the methods by which they sway government decision-making. At a time when multi-billion dollar corporations such as Apple and Google Australia have come under fire for abusing tax havens in Ireland, the need to curtail the authority of bodies that are not democratically accountable for their actions is paramount. According to Susan, ‘It isn’t just their size, enormous wealth and assets that make TNCs dangerous to democracy…As the late Professor Ted Wheelwright often pointed out, it’s also their concentration, their capacity to influence, indeed infiltrate governments and their ability to defend their interest as a genuine international social class.’
In her talk, Susan also considered the rising prevalence of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) and their related ‘investor-to-State dispute resolution’ provisions. ‘These allow investors—by definition TNCs—to sue governments if they believe that their present or even ‘expected’ profits are harmed by any government measure,’ she said.
For decades, George has remained an outspoken public voice on a variety of international issues, including global inequality, corporate globalisation, food insecurity, genetically modified organisms, tax and debt. She has authored sixteen books on these themes, including her most recent publication Whose Crisis? Whose Future? (2010).
In her current role as president of the Board of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, George’s latest work examines the ongoing effects of the European financial crises, as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a deal she describes as “the most important free trade agreement ever drafted” that will set the parameters for half the world economy’s gross domestic product.
A written version of Susan’s lecture is available here.