How American Is the American Corporation?
Robert Reich's 1990 article -- provocatively entitled "Who Is Us?" -- has helped to revive a question almost as old as the corporation itself: To whom does the corporation owe its fealty? The question is particularly provocative in the United States in the final decade of the twentieth century because almost every major corporation headquartered in the country presides over a network of related enterprises that reaches over many countries. How are we to take into account the existence of these international networks as we address the question "Who Is Us?"
My conclusion is that the mushrooming of these international networks has not greatly dimmed the concept that American corporations exist, to be distinguished from corporations based in Europe or Japan or Brazil; the distinction continues to exercise power not only in the perceptions of the public but also in the policies of national governments. Nevertheless, the corporations themselves are far more constrained in recognizing their national identity as American. Their position as stewards presiding over a network of companies located in many countries introduces an element of ambiguity in their interests and in their loyalties that no amount of goodwill and open-mindedness can totally resolve. Mitigating these tensions will require a wide range of measures, many of which can be undertaken only by joint agreement among affected governments; but few of these measures have yet even appeared on the international agenda.