Exporting the American Model: The Post-War Transformation of European Business

By Marie-Laure A. Djelic | Go to book overview

7
From Control to Conversion Embedding the Corporate Model in Western Europe

As the largest producer, the largest source of capital, we must set the pace and assume the responsibility of the major stockholder in this corporation known as the world. . . . Nor is this for a given term of office. This is a permanent obligation.

Leo D. Welch. 1

The launching of the Marshall plan in 1948 represented an opportunity for the USA to extend their hold over Western European economic affairs. The American agency in charge of foreign assistance, the Economic Cooperation Administration or ECA, was indeed a powerful instrument, through which the USA could play the role and take on the responsibilities 'of the major stockholder in the corporation known as the [Western] world'. The small group of businessmen, trade union members, experts, and government officials running the Marshall plan administration was well organized and institutionally powerful but it was not quite representative of American civil society. In the first place, a Keynesian understanding of the role of the state in the economy, dominant within the ECA, was denounced as heresy by a majority of American business leaders. Members of this progressive minority were also connected, in one way or another, to large American public corporations and were generally convinced of the superiority of the American model of corporate capitalism. This was far from being the case of all American business leaders and the US Chambers of Commerce or the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) were in fact dominated by representatives of a smaller-scale, family type of capitalism. Finally, the small group running the ECA was characterized at this time by its interventionism and a desire to institutionalize American involvement in foreign countries quite peculiar within the USA.

Through management of the American program of foreign assistance, this small group came to control a set of powerful institutional tools. Its members used this institutional framework to further their ambitious objectives. Indeed, they saw it as their mission to bring about a structural reshaping and redefinition of the Western economic and industrial world along the lines of the American model of corporate capitalism. The very nature of this model implied that they would have to intervene both on a national and on a European level. The construction of a common market crossing over national borders

-187-

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