EMBARGOED UNTIL 9.00 P.M. WEDNESDAY 5 MARCH 1997
The Annual Corporate Managers Dinner
The Multinational Company:
Master Or Servant?
NEW ZEALAND BUSINESS ROUNDTABLE
5 March 1997
THE MULTINATIONAL COMPANY: MASTER OR SERVANT?
As a rule, radical intellectuals don't lead debate, as they like to think they do,
but are usually several steps behind. Take Ralph Nader, perhaps the world's
most famous consumer activist. Writing about corporate welfare earlier this
year, Nader concluded that:
We're supposed to have a government of, by and for the people.
Instead we have a government of the Exxons, by the General Motors
and for the DuPonts.1
Much of his criticism of US corporate welfare was valid. But it doesn't follow
that the global economy is the plaything of an international conspiracy of giant
multinational corporations. Indeed, Nader's attack on corporate imperialism
is beginning to sound dated. Twenty years ago, Raymond Vernon, a Harvard
academic, could write plausibly in Storm over the Multinationals that "the
multinational enterprise has come to be seen as the embodiment of almost
anything disconcerting about modern industrial society". Today the United
Nations - no less - is in the business of advising governments on how to benefit
from the capital, technology and employment opportunities that multinational
companies can bring to the countries that attract them.
This shift of opinion among policymakers is part of the counter-revolution in
economic policy that has swept the world over the last two decades. Later on
I shall spell out the ways in which investment by multinational companies can
help generate growth and prosperity, and the conditions under which
countries can obtain these benefits without loss of national sovereignty. The
heart of the issue at stake is the policy regime that allows countri