Thursday, February 26, 2009

Captains of Industry

You may have heard about Sir Allen Stanford? Madoff-style scandal, except way worse? That guy?

Well, it turns out he's managing to take an entire country down with him. [H/t TPM]

Must have been nice, having his own backyard island empire, eh?

It was Antigua where Stanford located all his off-shore bank shenanigans. But he had so many different operations going on down there (a recent report said that he was "a chief financier of government projects" in the island) that he and his businesses were the second biggest employer in the country after the Antiguan government.

...As a funny illustration, a few days ago I went to the website of the local newspaper, the Antigua Sun, to try to find out the latest on what was happening down there. And I couldn't find anything about it, which struck me as weird. And then I dug a little deeper to discover that ... well, the Antigua Sun is owned by Sir Allen. So maybe that explains it.

This entire story sounds like one of those fun anecdotes you get in a shaded box in your history textbook in the British Empire chapter. It's not supposed to happen anymore.

This reminds me of something my class briefly almost talked about today--which is to say that we would have talked about it if the class weren't quite such a waste of time. Colonization and imperialism in the 16th-20th centuries, as a phenomenon, didn't start out with actual states actually going out and conquering places just because. Didn't even start with states going out and conquering in search of resources. It started with companies. Trading companies. Like the East India Trading Company, which actually used force to coerce local governments into trading with it and granting it access to resources. And, in many ways, like the multinational conglomerates we see today that contain both security and mercenary forces and mining companies--to take advantage of all those diamonds the security forces get paid in for their work in Sierra Leone.

Depending on where we see cases like PMCs and Stanford types going in the next few decades--and on the degree to which finance, production, and outsourcing catch up in non-Western countries--this could be an example of history not repeating itself, but thumping out a really heavy rhymed couplet. I guess it remains to be seen.

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