Who Owns the World

Who Owns the World?
Noam Chomsky
Delivered at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, September 2012
When I was thinking about these remarks, I had two topics in mind, couldn't decide between them -- actually pretty obvious ones. One topic is, what are the most important issues that we face? The second topic is, what issues are not being treated seriously -- or at all -- in the quadrennial frenzy now underway called an election? But I realized that there's no problem; it's not a hard choice: they're the same topic. And there are reasons for it, which are very significant in themselves. I'd like to return to that in a moment. But first a few words on the background, beginning with the announced title, "Who Owns the World?"
Actually, a good answer to this was given years ago by Adam Smith, someone we're supposed to worship but not read. He was -- a little subversive when you read him sometimes. He was referring to the most powerful country in the world in his day and, of course, the country that interested him, namely, England. And he pointed out that in England the principal architects of policy are those who own the country: the merchants and manufacturers in his day. And he said they make sure to design policy so that their own interests are most peculiarly attended to. Their interests are served by policy, however grievous the impact on others, including the people of England.
But he was an old-fashioned conservative with moral principles, so he added the victims of England, the victims of the -- what he called the "savage injustice of the Europeans," particularly in India. Well, he had no illusions about the owners, so, to quote him again, "All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind." It was true then; it's true now.

Britain kept its position as the dominant world power well into the 20th century despite steady decline. By the end of World War II, dominance had...