Matt Stoller: How the US Saw Multinationals as a Means to Prevent War

This Twitterstorm helps explain why US policy has been so keen to promote “free trade” and make the world safe for multinationals.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. tony

    Also why liberals think Putin is “evil” for reverting his country’s “integration into the global economy”. Meaning he stopped the looting by the west, but nevermind that.

    1. craazyboy

      Plus, the marriage of neo-liberalism and neo-cons in the West is a match made in heaven. Thar’s resources to get in the Soviet Union.

    2. Vatch

      liberals think Putin is “evil” for reverting his country’s “integration into the global economy”

      I don’t know anyone who thinks that about Putin, but I suppose there are some people who do. Russia is being looted by Russian oligarchs, and that hasn’t stopped. There’s also the problem of the hundreds of Russians killed in the 1999 apartment bombings which were blamed on Chechens, even though the evidence points strongly to the FSB. Prime Minister Putin got a war against the Chechens, his popularity soared, and he was elected President of Russia (after first becoming acting President when Yeltsin resigned).

      Later, there were murders of Ana Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and others.

      Putin is hardly the only one who deserves blame. There’s plenty of looting by other oligarchs and false flag fraud occurs elsewhere (alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are just the tip of the iceberg). But just because American, Chinese, and other oligarchs are vile, doesn’t make Putin less nasty.

      1. Anon

        Yeah, for sure. Putin’s drone killing of “enemy combatants”, regime change chaos, and innocent dismay at massive refugee movement into Europe (but not the US) is easily the same as the brutal Saudi monarchy, the Egyptian military coup (funded by whom?) or the ” moral high ground” that embraces Obama.

        1. Vatch

          Did you read what I said? I did not defend U.S. drone killings or any other atrocities committed by the U.S. government. Believe it or not, it is possible to be critical of both the U.S. and the Russian governments. Are you defending the murder of hundreds of Russians in the apartment bombings of 1999? How about the murder of journalists who embarrass the Putin government?

      2. Fiver

        Putin is not your ordinary oligarch. He cares about Russia – a lot more than he cares about money, but maybe less than his image in history. I can’t think of how anyone could have handled what the US has thrown at Russia better than Putin, who has kept an incredibly cool head while insisting there is such a thing as Russia, and it has interests, and being ruled by US/global corporate oligarchs isn’t one of them.

        1. Vatch

          He cares about Russia – a lot more than he cares about money,

          Does he? We really don’t know how much money he has. I’ve seen estimates of his wealth in the billions of dollars, but I don’t know whether that’s true or false.

  2. Mark P.

    Stoller: ‘because they see it as restarting World War II. They think they are peaceniks.’

    I don’t buy it, even as snark/thought experiment.

    Yes, historically, this was a line of policy thinking, especially in terms of how the US shaped the rebuilding of Japan — the licensing of microprocessor technology, forex — and Germany. Up till the late 1970s an element of this may have remained operative. But now it’s just looting, simply because that’s what the Machine does.

    1. sgt_doom

      This was the “official line” of policy thinking, which Stoller easily falls for — everything at face value, unfortunately!

      Nope, the move has always been towards one world bank, and one world financial exchange, and one world clearinghouse and one world corporation — we already have one world gov’t with the WTO, unofficially of course!

      But it’s a great meme, right — plenty repeat it most robotically!

  3. PlutoniumKun

    I know its hard to present an argument in Twitter form, but I do think its more complex than this – I think originally there was an underlying assumption that more interconnected trade meant of more peace. Of course, this coincided with, from the 1950’s onwards, the growth of ‘modern’ multinationals which seemed to symbolise modernity and the west. So it was natural for a certain type of foreign policy establishment to see them as natural allies. If what was good for GM was good for America, what was good for Coca Cola was good for the world. But this of course led to an opening for multinationals to hijack foreign policy for their own ends. It was no longer about opening up the world for trade, it was about opening up the world for a certain type of trade – one dominated by what are increasingly monopolistic entities with no national ties, who’s only interest is in maintaining a dominant market position. It was of course Adam Smith who first warned of exactly this process, and the related importance of allowing private interests too much access to public policy.

    1. James Levy

      My friend John Beeler talks a lot about this in his work on 19th century Britain. Cobden and Bright were making exactly these arguments 160 years ago: more trade and open borders reduced international tensions and internal contradictions (send the surplus population to the USA, Canada, Argentina, etc.). Interdependence was good, autarky bad. It was a nice idea, and they were absolutely sincere in pushing it, but it was based on the same old Smithian notions of vast numbers of small producers powerless in a highly competitive market that never seems to exist in the real world.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Sorry, my last line in my post should have said ‘the related importance of not allowing private interests…’

        To be fair to Adam Smith, he never thought that a vast number of small producers would come about ‘because markets’, he knew that businessmen would always collude and always seek political power to protect monopolies. Its such a pity that his supposed disciples never read that far in his books. He recognised precisely where libertarianism would lead, as he also recognised the dangers of not putting up firm barriers between political control and business.

        Trade and open borders are, IMO a good thing generally for all sorts of legitimate reasons (although of course as Patrick Cockburns article below points out, there are often very sound reasons behind the sort of anti-trade and anti-free market policies pursued by less developed nations). Ha Joon Chang has also written intelligently on that subject.

        1. craazyboy

          When Adam Smith advocated free trade (which he called “liberalism” – that meant government regulations are loosened to allow it and taxes on it decreased) he did clarify he meant “beneficial trade”. His idea was that countries trading in things they did not have or could not make was beneficial, and would improve the standard of living for all.

          Fast forward to today…….

    2. Left in Wisconsin

      I would agree it is more complex than this. Three complicating factors:
      1. Finance: Polanyi wrote of global finance as a force for peace in late 19th century. But now, with finance become extractive, I’m not sure that principle holds.
      2. The history of MNCs is that they become nationally dominant first and global second. The timing was such that US-based MNCs gave up their US-centric outlook much sooner than German or Japanese or Korean or Chinese MNCs did/have/will. (Export-oreinted DOES NOT EQUAL global.) So while the US-based MNCs were “trying to keep the peace,” the global exporters were trying to kick every competitor’s ass. As a result of getting their asses kicked, US-based MNCs became LESS US-centric, not more (except in their desire to control US politics so they could be less subject to laws forcing them to be US-centric). Thus, they became less connected to the interests of US citizens.
      3. Aside from finance, US-based MNCs are disproportionately reliant on military spending. Thus, they are not a force for peace.

    3. sgt_doom

      I think originally there was an underlying assumption that more interconnected trade meant of more peace.

      Negative — it is simply they way the global monopolists love to chain things: chained banks, chained oil companies, etc., etc.

    4. Russell

      I believed in the idea that those doing business with each other would be invested in the well being of each other. In 1994 I read Classic Readings in International Relations and was disabused of this idea. Within the book was an essay by Grotius showing then that those who did business with each other were more likely to go to war with each other. This set me back from my goal, (Transcendia) fearful of the law of unintended consequences. Now I see no harm if all “best practices” applied to government. As Diamond said the experiments have all been done. Here I saw the video of how generals were running foreign policy. It was the downfall of Rome that it was so militarized. The US is an equivalent of Rome now. It is overly militarized.
      After reading Killing the Host by Michael Hudson I was convinced of Finance Banking’s negative affects. All those who saw what the German bankers did to Greece had to question what good it would do sovereign nations to continue with the EU which we see having no intention whatever to change banking practices.
      I see the Trade agreements dreamed up as more to the negative than positive in attempts of Technocrats working from failed models to continue as if no reason to change because it, works for them.
      The West is desirable for contract law and property rights, but then with the goals of Finance banking to get unto themselves all deeds, what difference does it make when the only property rights they seek to enforce are rights they benefit from?
      They sell debt as wealth & when there is a downturn get all the deeds, is how Michael Hudson explains it. All is further skewed by Tax Codes that benefit the rich much more than the working people. David Cay Johnston has explained that and we look forward to his Tax Code soon to hit the market.

  4. John Candlish

    Of course this policy has nothing at all to do with maintaining a sink for a perpetually negative balance of trade. o_O

  5. Carla

    Twitter may be fine for communicating shallow sound-bites, but it’s a lousy essay form, IMHO.

    1. Vatch

      Agreed! It’s annoying to read only one sentence per tweet, with 17 tweets for a very short essay. Of course, this is not the fault of Naked Capitalism.

  6. Tom Moody

    If you are skeptical of Stoller’s claim that globalization supporters “think they are peaceniks,” please read Graham Fuller’s post about Brexit, Whistling Past the Graveyard, on Jim Lobe’s foreign policy blog. Fuller believes globalization is inevitable, despite having a few “downsides,” and he says that “the EU represents the best hope humans have put together so far—in just a limited but important region admittedly—to abolish war.”

    1. diptherio

      …for some definition of war. I’d say that austerity is a kind of warfare, and it’s the kind that the EU-types seem to want to spread everywhere. Taking away the ability of peoples to govern themselves is also a form of violence…on a large enough scale, it’s war…just sayin’.

    2. jrs

      One might question the credibility of a “former senior CIA official” to speak on humanitarian matters. One might.

      “only by taking bloated western military budgets and applying large hunks of it to some alleviation of conditions in the developing world can anybody begin to treat the problem at its source.”

      I don’t disagree with that.

      “Third, globalization is a reality. It can’t be stopped.”

      If it can’t be stopped then why do we even need trade agreements? If it’s unstoppable anyway, a force of nature, then why bother making laws about it? We don’t legislate that gravity exist now do we?

      “When foreign labor is ever cheaper than western labor, when Asian and other societies are proving just as technically adept as western ones (if not more so), and when robotics are replacing much unskilled and even skilled labor, what will the western workforce do? There are some partial answers to this—increased social services and niche industries among other things.”

      Well maybe if any public POLICY at all was dedicated to the partial answers things would be very different. Partial answers that exist in some philosopher’s head but not in the real world nor have any chance of becoming policy in that world, will not change anyone’s vote. Nor should they!!!

      “But Brexit will not solve this global problem of globalization. It represents the highest and ultimate form of capitalism if you will.”

      what does that even mean? I mean I’ve heard people subdivide capitalism, talk about forms or stages of capitalism, but highest and ultimate form? Gibberish.

      1. Tom Moody

        Fuller is espousing some version of Thomas Friedman’s “no country with a McDonald’s has ever gone to war with another country with a McDonald’s.” I linked to the article because Fuller seems to really, currently believe this (and seems to be writing for others who share his vehemence). So it’s not a mere “historical” line of thinking, as was suggested above.

    3. sgt_doom

      They — and their ilk on the payroll — said the very same thing just prior to WWI.

    1. Mark John

      Yes. There is not a lot of peace going on right now. The Eurozone meeting the other day was a true disgrace for all sides (specifically in the case of Farage and Juncker). I am horrified by what thin-skinned heavies these guys are.

  7. digi_owl

    The real problem, then and now, is the squeezing of the working class by the capitalists that then primes said working class for authoritarian demagogues of all stripes.

    What kept the peace since WW2, besides the ongoing MAD, was that workers got a fair share of the profits via wage rises that kept up with inflation. And that in turn was maintained by strong unions.

    But since the union busting of the 70s/80s, wages have been largely stagnant. And instead household debt have gone sky high.

    And this again has primed the working class for authoritarian demagogues.

  8. Les Swift

    Ball also cited the “overlapping sovereignties of the governments of Europe and the House of Rothschild,” and what Ball and company advocated very much promoted the power of the international financier crowd to steer the world. Corporations, in his view, should manage the natural resources of the world, regardless of where the happened to be located, something that would benefit the elites immensely. Ball was talking his book, so to speak. It is useful to consider the warnings of Smedley Butler, who had a different view of unchecked corporate power. The advertising, in Ball’s case, did not match the product in the box.

  9. Torsten

    I do however appreciate Ball’s use of the term “supranational corporation”, because it puns on the term “supernatural”, properly calling attention to the hubris of the MTU.

    But was it naive or disingenuous of Ball to say in the councils of government that supranationals would manage “the world’s finite stock of resources with a new degree of efficiency for the benefit of all mankind”? How easily Americans forget the East India Company!

  10. Elasmo Branch

    IG Farben. IBM. Krupp. Imperial Chemical Industries. These multi-nationals had a lot to gain from worldwide hostilities 80 years ago. In fact they anticipated it, made contingencies for it in their corporate structure, and continued to do business between nodes that lay, at least geographically on some maps, in separate warring territories. When one trades with the enemy, the enemy rarely turns around and demands tax payments.

  11. P Fitzsimon

    There may have been a peace motivation advocated by statesmen and diplomats but profit was the sole motive behind business interests. The multi-national concept worked well for U.S. corporations for 25 years after the war given that the Bretton-Woods treaty made the dollar the worlds reserve currency. U.S. dollars could be manufactured at home to buy or construct businesses in Europe. Also, the multi-nationals focused on manufacturing products for local markets not for shipment back to the U.S. market. For example, Ford produced little Ford Escorts in the UK for sale in the UK. GM produced the little Opel in Germany for Germans.
    Dollar manufacturing flooded the world with dollars. When Nixon closed the gold window he ended Bretton-Woods 1 . We’re now in Bretton-Woods II and the age of debt. The U.S. dollar is still the reserve currency. Foreign nations can’t collect our gold so now they collect our debt. Now begins globalization where corporations operate and produce wherever they choose and export to wherever they choose, all driven by profitability.

  12. Sally

    The global capitalist wants it both ways. They want unfettered access to global markets, but they also like the idea of the pretence of nation states. Keeps the little people in line if they think they belong to a national identity. Also it allows the corporations to play off one state against the other.

    The globalists of course are not loyal to any state. They may live in one, have their factories in another, and their tax affairs in yet another. As has been pointed out they are not always great defenders of competition. J P Morgan once said “competition is a sin, it’s bad for business.” In fact, in the late 1890s a lot of US and British capitalists started to complain about the rise of German industrialisation. It was taking away some of their business. The drums of war had started at least 10 years before 1914.

    Chris Hedges has written about the rise of corporate multinationals. Calling it inverted totalitarianism. Unlike traditional totalitarianism with a charismatic leader who whips up nationalism, the modern corporation pays lip service to the structures of power. Pretending to support the state, and its laws, while all the time trying to undermine them. ( TTIP, Citizens United,) many corporations are both visible and invisible. For the purpose of selling their goods they are very visible. With offices, and shops, and non stop adverts. But try taxing them, and they suddenly become invisible. “Sorry our taxes are paid in another jurisdiction.

  13. Alex morfesis

    War as in “physical” bombs..?? So 20th century…there are and have always been 3 forms of warfare…




    Physical… pink mist and scarlet dust

    national security and secrets allow for an inauditable trail of crumbs when looking to see where the money went…money being the lost time you used to create the greenbax to hand over to “fearless leader” for your protection from the boogieman…and there has always been a boogieman…

    from the medicine man who used the regularly scheduled eclipse to convince the uninitiated that he had a direct connection to the all powerful…

    to the capacity to use the bernaze sauce properly in the century of mass media to create a new royalty…and get the unwashed to “$ubmit” to the whims, wishes and will of the “announced” & “proclaimed”…

    2million sunsets later, it is amusing watching the same clowns of illium rushing to the next parade and grand event…

    Smoke and mirrors thru the magic bean…multi nationals were wonderful for avoiding tax audits and financial/currency controls…
    and hand out vig…

    Multinationals to “prevent” wars…way2funny…

    thank goodness the butterflies don’t care it’s wednesday…

Comments are closed.