I’ve always read a lot, apart from gardening books and suchlike, I’m a great science fiction fan. Last time I counted, I’d over 5,000 sci-fi books and a few hundred magazines.
One recurring theme in science fiction is the future dystopian society. Perhaps the most famous is George Orwell’s 1984. There Britain has become Airstrip One, run by the party epitomised by Big Brother who knows all, sees all and controls every aspect of life.
Another theme that crops up is a future where governments have been replaced by corporations or groups of corporations. You might recall the 1975 film Rollerball starring James Caan which was set in a corporate controlled future.
Anyway, I’ve just read a really scary book that shows how those two futures can combine. A corporate controlled state that knows everything about you. What is so frightening about this book is that it is not science fiction. In fact it is a well argued almost academic work.
Worse than this, they’ve vertically integrated their global supply chain. Farmers in Africa depend on the good will of a new colonial master, their children sing the praises of the new bwana when Tesco’s managers fly in business class to reduce their wages and improve profitability for Tesco.
Back at home they hold hundreds of land sites where eventually they can build yet more Tescos or at least stop their rivals from building. Their attitude to planning laws seems, from what I read, to be based on cost benefit analysis, In other words, if there is more profit in flouting the law than the fine then go ahead.
The book discusses the effect of Tesco opening in a town, although the same could be said for any one of the big chains like Wal Mart or Morrisons. In effect, it’s the death of the independents. You might say ‘so what?’, after all people must like shopping there and the prices are better. Well, as Joni Mitchell sang – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Big supermarkets reduce choice. There’s something called the 80:20 rule in business. 80% of the profit comes from 20% of the lines. So, reduce the lines. Get rid of the things that aren’t so popular and maximise your profit. We lose 80% of our choice and they gain 100% of the profit.
Since their relentless growth in grocery is held back by the fact it’s harder and harder to build new stores, they’ve reacted by expanding sideways. I don’t just mean the non-foods in the store like clothes, hardware and electrical goods. They’re moving into banking, credit cards, insurance, pharmacy, legal services, funeral services and more.
Thanks to the club card, they know what you buy and when. Imagine the power of knowing what you spend your money on, how much your house is worth, what car you drive, how your health is, what pets you have. Scared yet? You should be terrified.
I don’t want an elected government knowing that much about me, never mind a company whose only loyalty is to the shareholders and directors. Every little helps and every little bit of you belongs to us.
This is not a sensationalist scare mongering book, it’s a serious work where their sources are cited. There are some things against the book. It is hard work to read and I’d have been tempted to edit about a third out of it. The author is a bit London middle-class orientated but that doesn’t devalue the arguments and information in there.
I’d have liked to have seen more suggestions about what can be done to right these wrongs. I think the current credit crunch recession has highlighted some of the fundamental faults with our capitalist system where the primary loyalty of companies is to financial gain. Perhaps making the directors of companies personally liable for the company’s actions would be a start.
However, if you have any interest in the way our society is developing, the threat to your freedom and the potential for evil large corporations are developing, read this book.