Forty years ago this week, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., an attorney from Richmond, Virginia, drafted a confidential memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that described a strategy for the corporate takeover of the dominant public institutions of American society.
Powell and his friend Eugene Sydnor, then-chairman of the Chamber’s education committee, believed the Chamber had to transform itself from a passive business group into a powerful political force capable of taking on what Powell described as a major ongoing “attack on the American free enterprise system.”
An astute observer of the business community and broader social trends, Powell was a former president of the American Bar Association and a board member of tobacco giant Philip Morris and other companies. In his memo, he detailed a series of possible “avenues of action” that the Chamber and the broader business community should take in response to fierce criticism in the media, campus-based protests, and new consumer and environmental laws.
Environmental awareness and pressure on corporate polluters had reached a new peak in the months before the Powell memo was written. In January 1970, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, which formally recognized the environment’s importance by establishing the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Massive Earth Day events took place all over the country just a few months later and by early July, Nixon signed an executive order that created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Tough new amendments to the Clean Air Act followed in December 1970 and by April 1971, EPA announced the first air pollution standards. Lead paint was soon regulated for the first time, and the awareness of the impacts of pesticides and other pollutants — made famous by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book, Silent Spring — was recognized when DDT was finally banned for agricultural use in 1972.
The overall tone of Powell’s memo reflected a widespread sense of crisis among elites in the business and political communities. “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack,” he suggested, adding that the attacks were not coming just from a few “extremists of the left,” but also – and most alarmingly — from “perfectly respectable elements of 爱上海同城对对碰