“Do Global Businesses Have Too Much Power?” by John Gapper, Financial Times, Nov. 4, 2019
The first thing that stuck out to me in this essay was diction. Gapper seems to avoid any exaggeration, which usually happens when the target audience is either split into two pretty different camps (the author doesn’t want to tip his ideological hand) or it’s pretty sophisticated and doesn’t fall for inflammatory rhetoric. I had no idea why he would be doing this, so I just wrote this down and continued on. Next, I noticed that his naming of people and things was weirdly gentle. Some part of his target audience is very sensitive to–perhaps skittish of–this issue. Ok, moving on. I noticed that Gapper names a few people by name–all Democrats/activists–but the rest he lumps into a kind of camouflaging synecdoche: “politicians,” “business leaders,” “corporate governance”: why? The ones he names are the ones doing the blaming; the unnamed ones are “deemed to be” and “are seen as” “behaving unethically.” Overtly, I think the author wants a part of his TA to feel like AOC and those of her ilk are the good guys, and the unnamed corporations are the bad guys. But then I noticed that the bad guys aren’t really demonized: they are labeled as bad guys by the good guys, but not by the author. Hmm, is this article winking somehow to the global corporations? It was published in a business magazine, after all. On top of this, halfway into the article, the author begins to poke at a “weakness” the good guys are “masking,” and a “strain” they’re all under: they don’t agree and they’re bureaucratic, so any change they make takes a long time. Meanwhile, the global corporations are named as “imaginative and ruthless,” and a long string of words that seem neutral but are actually big hot buttons to right-wing capitalists are used to scare them…seemingly away from caving to “public opinion” (an ad populum argument used against them by the left) and complying with the rules and regulations of their country.
Pushing the whole article back and trying to think critically about it, I realized that this article has what I call a “false bottom”: it has an actual covert thesis. It asks, “Do Global Businesses Have Too Much Power?” hoping to evince a “yes” from both TAs: the center-left capitalists who believe in public-private partnerships, living by the law and paying taxes wring their hands and agree, and the right-wing global corporate raiders who dodge all possible tax defiantly assent. Which side, though, is the author on? He has to walk a very fine line: appearing to chastise the corporate raider ethic for the optics (he doesn’t want to be labeled “unethical” by the center-left readership), but covertly dog-whistling to the other group: if you can avoid being publicly skewered like Zuckerberg, and stop worrying about “the court of public opinion,” the nimble and high-tech (he tips his hand by admiringly naming them “imaginative and ruthless”) nature of global corporations will always win over the slow and often contentious nations trying to govern them.
This is a really difficult article to analyze, I realize, because you are all so used to the highly exaggerated rhetoric seen in most opinion pieces. The good guys and bad guys are straightforward, and the targeted audience is usually just one main, biggish group. In this case, the author can’t publicly say what he really wants to, because of the same backlash he warns about: his Financial Times readership is too diverse for that. So, he buries his real thesis so deep that you need to look at the naming to find it. This, students, is how the global elites communicate.