Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot

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Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: 'Captive State' describes the way private corporations are taking over the areas previously thought of as public. From bridges to hospitals, prisons to schools, science to education the corporate influence and control is increasingly dominant in public decisions making. Read it to know what to look out for and when to get interested if you want to reclaim the local communities and the wider state from the corporations.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: September 2001
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 0330369431

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George Monbiot has been named by the Evening Standard as one of the 25 most influential people in Britain, and by the Independent as one of the 40 international prophets of the 21st century. He has a column in the Guardian and numerous honorary professorships, awards and accolades. He is also a committed left- winger and a fairly radical environmentalist.

'Captive State' is a book of reportage - or you might call it investigative journalism. It's very well written, well researched and - regardless of your political affiliations and sympathies - pretty riveting. It was published in 2000, but most of the issues it touches on are as relevant today - if not more.

This book is neither a manifesto nor a treaty. The introduction and the last chapter are the only parts of the book which contain anything identifiable as a direct call to arms. Apart from that each chapter presents a particular case history concerning the way public bodies (local and central) choose to yield to corporate influence and champion interests of particular individuals and companies rather than to do their job of protecting the interests of the community that elected them.

'Captive State' describes the way private corporations are taking over the areas and functions previously performed by publicly funded and managed bodies and how, generally, the corporations are profiting while the public are getting a very bad deal indeed out of this transfer of responsibilities. From bridges to hospitals, prisons to schools, science to education the corporate influence and control is increasingly a dominant factor in how public decisions are made.

A lot of issues reported by Monbiot are to do with planning, development and financing of investment, and especially numerous cases of PPFI gone totally awry. Misspending and overspending of public money, resulting - paradoxically - from a desire to supplement the public purse with a sensible injection of private funds. Infringement of academic freedom. Imbalances in the planning system meaning that developers have significantly more rights than local residents. Patents not only on new genetically engineered organisms, but also on parts of existing human genetic code.

George Monbiot writes beautifully. His explanation and argument is crystal clear. Somehow, he manages to make the workings of planning authorities and research funding bodies as compelling as an action packed thriller, as easy to understand as a cheese toastie recipe. The reportage sequences of the book where he writes about the people he met in connection with the particular cases are perhaps a bit weaker. There is a little bit too much pathos and appeal to the readers' sympathy: though not overwhelming, it may be slightly overdone. Overall though 'Captive State' is a brilliantly written book and well worth the reading simply for the information it contains.

Monbiot is also rather clever in the way he constructs his case. He clearly writes for a middle-of-the road middle-class reader, he is not preaching to the converted red and/or green fringe. His environmentalism is definitely muted and even when writing about GMO and Monsanto he concentrates on the least controversial aspects of the case: the secrecy, manipulation, lies and corruption, the right of people to know (though the potential and rather arguable dangers of the technology get a mention). He uses the 'us' and 'ours' pronouns quite a lot as applied to the country and people in a neat attempt at appealing to patriotic sentiments (I notice such things, as despite being technically a citizen - or should I say a subject - here, I don't identify with Britain to that degree but I am sure it works for most of his readers).

John Pilger's The New Rulers of the World shows how the cogs in the global machinery of power might move; 'Captive State' shows the local side of things, one that we perhaps can at least start to attempt to change. To do that we first need to know what's going on - George Monbiot's book shows examples of what to look out for and when to get interested if we want to reclaim the local communities and the wider state from the corporations.

Buy Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot at Amazon.com.


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Helen Bradshaw said:

I too have read this book in the last year. It really highlights the downside of the PFI initiatives. I found the disregard for the modernisation of the shopping area in Southampton and the situation with the Coventry hospitals particularly depressing.