While working for the u.s. forest service during high school, Ted Nace learned about the plans of several major corporations to develop coal strip mines and other energy projects near his hometown of Dickinson, North Dakota. During graduate school, Nace worked for the Environmental Defense Fund, where he helped develop computerized simulations that demonstrated the investor and ratepayer benefits of re- placing coal-fired power plants with alternative energy programs. The EDF simulations led to the cancellation of a multi-billion-dollar coal- based power complex proposed by two California utilities. After completing his graduate studies, Nace worked for the Dakota Resource Council, a citizens' group concerned about the impacts of energy development on agriculture and rural communities.
Nace nurtured Peachpit Press from a home-based operation, writing and publishing computer guides, to a business worthy of acquisition by the Pearson conglomerate. The experience inspired him to study the nature of corporate power. He offers a breezy summary of the legal history surrounding the formation of corporations and the parameters of their power, putting an anti-corporate spin on the American Revolution and discussing how the early republic limited corporate power by enabling state governments to issue restrictive charters. But the tight controls didn't remain in place: after the Supreme Court's decision in an 1886 case involving the Santa Clara Railroad, corporations were assumed to be the legal equivalent of people entitled to equal protection under the law and, in subsequent cases, were guaranteed a growing range of constitutional rights. One of Nace's central arguments is that Santa Clara doesn't mean what everybody thinks it means: the original decision doesn't take any stand on whether corporations have constitutional rights; the question comes up in a subsequent version of the decision, but the Chief Justice acts as if it had been resolved in earlier decisions. Although Nace blames the Court's reporter for the shift in emphasis, he illustrates how another justice, Stephen Field, was already buttressing politicians' and financial titans' efforts to eliminate all restraints on corporate power, making their legal supremacy inevitable. Later chapters examine how corporations continue to wield their influence to prevent the government from regulating them too closely, but while the book offers plenty of details about the problem's existence and deftly introduces it, it offers little more than generalities about where to go from there. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
"An important and highly accessible book about the legal and
political environments that shaped the modern corporation. Highly
--Choice "A joy to read . . . clear, straight-forward, and very accessible . . . one of those books that can awaken people's consciousness."
--Corporate Reform Weekly "Entertaining and sometimes arresting . . . the book is a lively read, and Nace is an interesting companion."
--New Leader "Gangs of America is a brilliant page-turner revealing how powerful, greedy corporations wage institutional terrorism. Reading it is the first step to saving our communities, our democracy, and our planet's environment."
--John Stauber, coauthor of Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!
"A beautifully documented and readable history."
--Ben H. Bagdikian, author of The Media Monopoly "The essential guide to the history of the American corporation. Nace explodes the myth of inevitability surrounding the corporate takeover of our lives."
--Maria Elena Martinez, executive director, CorpWatch