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McDomination: How Corporations Conquered America and Ruined Our Health

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On August 23, 1971, Lewis Powell sent a confidential memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr., the director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memo was both a call to arms and a battle plan for a business response to its growing legion of opponents. Powell was a corporate lawyer, a former president of the American Bar Association, and a board member of eleven corporations, including Philip Morris and the Ethyl Corporation, a company that made the lead for leaded gasoline. Powell had also represented the Tobacco Institute, the research arm of the tobacco industry, and various tobacco companies. Later that year, President Richard Nixon would nominate Powell to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served for fifteen years.

Powell's memo serves as a useful starting point for understanding how the transformation of the corporate system that began in the 1970s set the stage for today's global health problems. "No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack," wrote Powell. "The assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts." "One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time," Powell continued, "is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction." He enumerated the system's enemies: well-meaning liberals, government officials intent on regulating business, news media, student activists, and an emerging environmental and consumer movement- especially its most visible leader, Ralph Nader, in Powell's view "the single most effective antagonist of American business."

Powell called on business, especially the Chamber of Commerce, to end its "appeasement" of its critics and launch an aggressive and systematic counter-assault. The memo warned that "independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years . . . and in the political power available only though united action and national organizations."      


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