“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps”. (Friedman, 1999/3/28)
With keenly supportive interest from the State Department and Pentagon, Neville Isdell former chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Co., has articulated what he calls “connected capitalism,” mixing profit with at best nominal social responsibility, out of an acknowledgment of growing global revulsion toward the dominance of capitalists (see Trubey, 2010/4/27). Isdell held a conference in South Africa, that we should note was organized by CNN and Fortune magazine, where he was joined by Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta president and CEO Dennis Lockhart, GE Technology Infrastructure CEO John Rice, and executives from companies such as Coke, United Parcel Service Inc., SunTrust Banks Inc., and nonprofits like USAID and CARE. “People are now questioning the capitalist model that we have,” Isdell remarked, but then added that capitalism, “is the best way to take people out of poverty and to grow the world economy”. He urged on his fellow corporate leaders:
“A corporation can’t lose sight of turning a profit, but it must also use the weight of its brand and the power of its people, as well as its intellectual and actual capital, to help be a change agent in hard-to-solve global issues. For instance, with Coke, water is the company’s No. 1 social priority, and it is the world’s largest beverage maker’s most-used commodity”. (Quoted in Trubey, 2010/4/27)
Of course Coca-Cola is interested in water, without a doubt—but it is interested in it as a commodity, not as a basic and inalienable right. Isdell worries that, “capitalism is in danger of being torn asunder by forces outraged by abuses on Wall Street, bailouts of banks and automakers,” and his notion of “connected capitalism,” while finally admitting current social irresponsibility by those in his class of world rulers, does little to change that. Indeed, there is an excess of irony to Isdell’s remarks, given Coca-Cola’s deplorable history of human rights violations in its operations in Colombia (see Foster, 2010).
In what would could easily be described as a program of cultural imperialism, the US State Department, in partnership with the Coca-Cola Company and Indiana University, sponsors roughly 100 students annually from the Middle East and North Africa, to attend a month-long summer entrepreneurship program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, with students undertaking an “immersion scholarship program” (Opportunity Desk, 2015/2/18; see also Indiana University, 2013, 2014; see Figure 1). Thus the website for the US Embassy in Amman, Jordan, features the “Coca-Cola Scholarship Program” and points out the targets of the scholarship: “preference will be given to candidates who have limited or no experience of travel to the United States,” which could be understood to mean those who may not have been as Americanized as others and thus stand out as a valuable asset for conversion (US Embassy-Amman [USEA], 2015). Nada Berrada, a Moroccan business student, said she wanted to become “a Coca-Cola Ambassador” because “Coca-Cola is not only about happiness, but it’s also about inspiration” (Priselac, 2013/7/19). Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent told the visiting students, “this is your start-up phase—your chance to be a great agent for positive change,” adding, “you can and will make a real difference, so stay in touch with each other… and with Coca-Cola”—and in his parting “words of wisdom,” as company writer put it, he advised students to, “develop an abiding respect for cash. Keep some on you at all times. Touch it and feel it and know it’s real. Never let money become an abstraction” (Priselac, 2013/7/19). Interestingly, as far as “positive agents for change” can go, the program in 2012, on how to “Make Tomorrow Better”, did not include any Libyan students. Yet Libyan students had been praised only a year earlier by corporate and public media in North America, during the US-led destruction of the nation’s state structures that opened the way to ongoing civil war. Contrary to the White House’s “failed states” admission mentioned earlier, even with the use of local “force multipliers” the extreme collapse of a nation-state can and has happened, and will do so again.
Figure 1: The US State Department’s Connected Coca-Cola Capitalists from the Middle East and North Africa
This is a still from the website of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, showing a session held with students from the Middle East and North Africa as part of the US State Department’s program in partnership with Coca-Cola. As if Indiana University’s mission has been reduced to uncritically producing corporate propaganda, the university’s “news room” website speaks of Coca-Cola “refreshing consumers” who “enjoy” its drinks, as “the world’s most valuable brand,” claiming that the company’s initiatives “support active, healthy living”. Then, the university asks readers to follow Coca-Cola in Twitter (Indiana University, 2013).
The Coca-Cola CEO’s “connected capitalism” also attracted the attention of key speakers within the US military, in a growing display of what anthropologist Bruce Kapferer (2005) described as the corporate-oligarchic state at the base of contemporary imperialism. Admiral James Stavridis was the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and Commander of the US European Command (EUCOM); Evelyn N. Farkas was his Senior Advisor for “Public-Private Partnership”. The two reminded their readers that the most recent National Security Strategy at the time, “calls on the executive branch to work with the private sector, repeatedly referring to public-private partnerships” (Stavridis & Farkas, 2012, p. 7). It was under that banner of “public-private partnerships”—for which they single out Coca-Cola and Isdell’s “connected capitalism—that they explained collaboration as a “force multiplier”. It is a force multiplier, they maintain, because it permits the state to share “the resource burden”. From “whole-of-government” they move to “whole-of-society”: binding the state, corporations, universities, and NGOs, which “can save the government money” (Stavridis & Farkas, 2012, pp. 8-9). Rather than just an idea, they note the rise of what we can call “connected militarism” as a complement to “connected capitalism”:
“the U.S. Southern Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, and U.S. Africa Command all have full-time personnel dedicated to garnering efficiencies and fostering effectiveness for DOD by collaborating with the private sector—businesses, academic institutions, and non-profits”. (Stavridis & Farkas, 2012, p. 9)
Members of an organization calling itself Business Executives for National Security (BENS) have worked with the US Southern Command in countering drug cartels and have also worked with NATO forces in Afghanistan and in the Baltic states (Stavridis & Farkas, 2012, p. 10). The Enduring Security Framework (ESF), also exists as a public-private collaboration between the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence, and “representative information technology and defense industrial firms” (Stavridis & Farkas, 2012, p. 16).
What is not raised for discussion in the self-interested, corporate sales piece by Stavridis and Farkas, is the nature of direct benefits for private corporations, beyond being able to tell the public how good they feel about being partners. Private corporations have been “partnering” with the Pentagon for decades. Increased corporatization of governance has accelerated the process. As journalist Ken Silverstein observed, “with little public knowledge or debate, the government has been dispatching private companies—most of them with tight links to the Pentagon and staffed by retired armed forces personnel—to provide military and police training to America’s foreign allies” (quoted in Johnson, 2004, p. 85). While Stavridis and Farkas do point out that, “for corporate or non-profit entities, collaboration with the government may offer access to information and sometimes intelligence, as well as legitimacy” (2012, p. 13), they refuse to comment on what that means. However, others have commented: “One reason privatization appeals to the Pentagon is that whatever these companies do becomes ‘proprietary information’. The Pentagon does not even have to classify it; and as private property, information on the activities of such companies is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act” (Johnson, 2004, p. 85). Likewise, private corporations are able to secure such information and own it, taking away from the public what originally belonged to the public, at least in principle.
Foster, L. (2010). Soft Drink: Hard Power. In Maximilian C. Forte (Ed.), Militarism, Humanism, and Occupation (pp. 181–192). Montreal: Alert Press.
Friedman, T.L. (1999/3/28). A Manifesto for the Fast World. The New York Times Magazine, March 28.
Indiana University. (2013). IU Hosts 100 Students from Middle East, Near Asia and North Africa in Coca-Cola, State Department Program. IU News Room, June 4.
————— . (2014). Top Students from Middle East and North Africa Learn Entrepreneurship at Kelley. Kelley School of Business (Indiana University), Photos and Video.
Kapferer, B. (2005). New Formations of Power, the Oligarchic-Corporate State, and Anthropological Ideological Discourse. Anthropological Theory, 5(3), 285–299.
Johnson, C. (2004). Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Holt Paperbacks.
Opportunity Desk. (2015/2/18). 2015 Coca-Cola MENA Scholarship Program for 100 Students to Travel to the United States. Opportunity Desk, February 18.
Priselac, M. (2013/7/19). Making Tomorrow Better: Coke Inspires Young Entrepreneurs from the Middle East and North Africa. Coca-Cola, July 19.
Stavridis, J., & Farkas, E.N. (2012). The 21st Century Force Multiplier: Public—Private Collaboration. The Washington Quarterly, 35(2), 7–20.
Trubey, J.S. (2010/4/27). Connecting With Capitalism. Upstart Business Journal, April 27.
US Embassy-Amman (USEA). (2015). 2015 Coca-Cola Scholarship Program. Amman, Jordan: US Embassy.