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Globalization and Energy Policy: The Critical Role of the State and Its Constituencies (WP-02-12)

Allan Schnaiberg and Adam S. Weinberg

Some conceptions of globalization argue that the role of the nation state is essentially replaced by global organizations and multinational firms. In many ways, this is the very antithesis of subsidiarity. Yet a paradox is posed by the fact that, in the United States, U.S.-based multinationals have increasingly invested substantial sums in campaign financing. Sharp changes in the Bush administration's energy policies suggest that this administration has been influenced by contributions from major contributors to the 2000 presidential campaign. Changes include a clearer rejection of the Kyoto Accord, and policies that are likely to increase the contributions of the United States to global gases at even a faster rate than present emissions. We thus argue that the U.S. state is not powerless, but rather has been coopted by capital forces in the global economy.

We examine the background of the largest energy contributor to the Bush campaign, Enron, in some detail. Corporate policies seem to depend substantially upon energy proposals such as Bush has recently promoted. There is no acknowledgement of global warming or the Kyoto proposals in Enron’s annual report, and there is an expansionary thrust for energy (and other commodities) that is the antithesis of sustainable development. While Bush’s attacks on the Kyoto Accord have been in the name of “American workers,” the Enron case suggests that it is stockholders and not stakeholders who stood to gain under these new proposals. Further complexity to the political infrastructure of this decision-making is added by considerations of how different groups of stockholders around the world may facilitate U.S. campaign financing, working through the portals of “U.S.-based” multinationals. This preliminary analysis of contemporary “energy politics” suggests that environmental and social considerations of national energy policies are likely to be swamped by the influence of global stockholders, using campaign financing as well as other modes of influence. We conclude by arguing that the collapse of Enron suggests that its influence had little to do with national economic security, but rather the political needs that emerge from our current system of campaign finance. This raises vexing issues for long-term environmental sustainability.

Allan Schnaiberg, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University

Adam S. Weinberg, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Colgate University

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