Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review: Private Empire: ExxonMobil. The Elite Is Fractured!

Back in June I wrote an article claiming that as far as I can tell that our Elite is fractured into factions, and that that is why we do not (yet) have dictatorial state, see article here.  My main point was that there are a lot of players in the Elite.

I have just finished a book that reinforces my opinion that the Elite is indeed fractured into many players, and that they will not be able to impose a dictatorship extremely soon, at a minimum.

This new book is titled Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll (an investigative reporter).  Coll also has written other books, including one about the Bin Laden family (The Bin Ladens, which I have not read) and a book or two (earlier) on the oil business.  Steve Coll does not do a "hit piece" (like I was kind of expecting) but seems to be fairly objective about showing the culture and reach of ExxonMobil.

The book examines in fairly close detail much of the recent history of ExxonMobil (starting around the wreck of the Exxon Valdez tanker in Alaska), through Exxon's merger with Mobil and various ExxonMobil adventures and controversies along the way (especially showing the troubles the company had with insurgencies and other troublemakers along the way in places like Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Iraq, etc.).

ExxonMobil is a company that is very rigid by most corporate standards (and oil company standards).  They have a very control-oriented ambiance about them, driven by science and profit (they are shareholder friendly).  They are technological leaders in most oilfield technologies and are especially adept at dealing with harsh environments (deep offshore waters, weaselly Third World governments, good & modern refineries & chemical plants, etc.).  They are completely vertically integrated.  ExxonMobil is always close to being the largest company in the world by many measures.

But, they are not omnipotent!  They have had to strike up difficult (for them) deals with various power groups (in Washington, DC and around the world).  These include the environmental activists ("Global Warming"), corrupt dictators and local leaders and so on.

The company does NOT have private armies, agents of influence at high levels (they did have a close relationship with VP Dick Cheney though, who shared their world view), or other extraordinary abilities to get their way in the many disputes and problems they have had through the decades.  Of course they have tough attorneys and good lobbyists (who work both sides of the aisle, although free market ExxonMobil IS more aligned with the "R Team").

What ExxonMobil most wants is for everyone to stick to the contract that they signed!  They are very rigid about not wanting terms changed, and they fight hard to prevent that.


OK, so what does the book I read about that company have to do with my thoughts on "The Fractured Elite"?  Many would think that ExxonMobil is about as embedded into any Elite that we have.  And, yes, to a degree they ARE.

But, there are MANY other players: other oil companies, foreign .govs (corrupt or not), our own .gov (Obama has made compromises with them -- compromises in a real sense: neither got 100% of what they wanted), environmental activists, regulators (think BP oil spill in the Gulf), a hostile press (the Mainstream Media hates ExxonMobil), and many others who fairly could be placed among "The Elite".

ExxonMobil is arguably the most powerful corporation on the planet.  But there are so many OTHER corporations, so many oil companies.  Several of the state-run oil companies (Saudi Aramco and Gazprom for example) are BIGGER and have more reserves than ExxonMobil.

The company does NOT field little armies of mercenaries, Coll would have FOR SURE would have dug that information up.  The author seemed to be pretty fair to ExxonMobil, but not sympathetic.

Two Conclusions I draw:

1)  I highly recommend the book to those interested in this article here.

2)  My comments as of June still stand:  "There is no "Elite" that controls us (yet)."  They probably are trying, but they are too split up to take charge now.  But, I do recognize the direction we are going...   We all still have some time to work changes into our own lives (and of our families), and it IS possible that we may be able to turn the good ship "America" back to something we all recognize from before...

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