Several writers have described the exercise of power, by powerful corporations and private interests, over government policy-making as a Deep State.
Mike Lofgren, a former Congressional staffer for the Republicans, in his book The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, describes the Deep State as a shadow government whose "governing philosophy profoundly influences foreign and national security policy and such domestic matters as spending priorities, trade, investment, income inequality, privatization of government services, media presentation of news..."
Reference: Mike Lofgren, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, New York: Penguin Books, 2016.
Our venerable institutions of government have outwardly remained the same, but they have grown more and more resistant to the popular will as they have become hardwired into a corporate and private influence network with almost unlimited cash to enforce its will.
This has resulted in the paradox of impoverished public services and infrastructure at the same time as billions are spent on foreign wars and mass surveillance.
The existence of the Deep State means that whether the Democrats or the Republicans win elections in the US, economic and security policies do not change much. The real differences are in the arena of "cultural and identity issues". Even presidents have limited power with respect to "very big issues of international finance and national security". Instead they become the front persons for the Deep State. For example, Lofgren says that when Clinton was at the end of his term as president he "signed a bill which took the wraps off derivatives trading. He claimed later that somehow his hand was forced and that it was going to be written anyway and all that; I don't think so. He ended up being paid over $100 million afterwards, mainly by corporate sponsors, to give speeches."
The Deep State, according to Lofgren, consists of "a hybrid association of key elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States with only limited reference to the consent of the governed as normally expressed through elections."
Reference: Lofgren in Elias Isquith, 'Controlled by shadow government: Mike Lofgren reveals how top U.S. officials are at the mercy of the “deep state”', Salon, 6 January 2016.
The key institutions are exactly what people would think they are. The military-industrial complex; the Pentagon and all their contractors (but also, now, our entire homeland security apparatus); the Department of Treasury; the Justice Department; certain courts, like the southern district of Manhattan, and the eastern district of Virginia; the FISA courts. And you got this kind of rump Congress that consists of certain people in the leadership, defense and intelligence committees who kind of know what’s going on.
Peter Dale Scott, in his book The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy, describes the Deep State as decision-making and enforcement, particularly with respect to US foreign affairs, that takes place both inside and outside of government and the law. Scott, like Lofgren, claims the Deep State includes agencies set up by the government such as the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and the NSA (National Security Agency) and powerful banks and law firms, sometimes referred to as Wall Street. To this mix, Scott adds the transnational oil corporations.
According to Lofgren:
Reference: Mike Lofgren, 'The Anatomy of the State', Truthout, 26 February 2014.
It is not too much to say that Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than that it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career that is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice – certainly beyond the dreams of a salaried government employee.
Lofgren adds wealthy Silicon Valley interests into the mix because these corporations generate so much money and the NSA is so dependent on it for its intelligence operations.
Kevin Taft, in his book Oil’s Deep State, claims the Deep State in Canada is dominated by the oil industry. He says the Deep State is a "a public-private hybrid that operates outside public view" as a result of "several key democratic institutions" being "captured and held by the same private interest". As a result the Deep State consists of business owners and executives (in Canada's case from the oil industry), together with allied politicians and bureaucrats.
The oil industry acted in response to Canada's efforts to reduce global warming in the 1980s and 1990s;
Reference: Kevin Taft, 'How the oil industry created a ‘deep state’ in Canada', Maclean's, 6 October 2017.
The Harper Conservatives became clients of the oil industry, withdrawing from the Kyoto accord and silencing federal scientists. The federal Liberals and Alberta NDP committed to expanding pipelines and oil sands production. The National Energy Board was tarred by conflicts of interest and the Alberta Energy Regulator was chaired by a former oil executive, while millions of oil dollars flowed to universities. Enough public institutions were captured by the oil industry that a state within a state was created: a deep state.
The collaboration between Treasury officials, CIA, and Wall Street bankers and oil executives is facilitated by the revolving door. Scott shows that Wall Street played a crucial role in the formation of the CIA in 1947 and aided the large oil companies to maintain their cartels in opposition to government in the 1950s. Allen Dulles, a Republican lawyer at Wall Street law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, was appointed to plan and structure the new agency and he formed an advisory group of six men including five investment bankers and lawyers from Wall Street. Dulles later became CIA director. "For at least two decades the CIA lavishly subsidised right-wing parties in countries including Japan and Indonesia..."
The Deep State was further entrenched as presidents brought corporation CEOs into government planning processes and government roles were outsourced to the private sector. For example, the majority of the government intelligence budget is used to pay private firms such as Booz Allen Hamilton (owned by the Carlyle Group) and there is a revolving door between intelligence agencies such as the NSA and these same private firms as well as between these firms and the transnational oil companies. Booze Allen Hamilton has also played a part in CIA covert operations.
Scott suggests that "there is a high-level fusion of interests between the U.S. and Saudi governments, oil companies and banks (not to mention facilitating alliances like the Carlyle Group) which the CIA tends to represent continuously, and not just ad hoc for the sake of any one particular goal." He argues that the US economy is supported by the exchange of Saudi Arabian oil, paid for by US tax dollars, for US arms. Saudi Arabian profits are reinvested, "most of it in U.S. corporations like Citibank (where the two largest shareholders are members of the Saudi Royal family)."
Jason Royce Lindsey, in his book The Concealment of the State, differentiates between a deep state and a shallow state. Traditionally matters of defense and security have been kept secret but "we now see a shift of even mundane policy decisions to less visible agencies in the Deep State. Examples include budget recommendations, environmental regulations, consumer and workplace safety, scientific investment, transportation planning, and educational policies." Privatisation of public services has further removed public services from the democratic arena.
Reference: Jason Royce Lindsey, The Concealment of the State, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, p. 5.
By bifurcating politics into a deep and shallow state, contemporary states hide their ability to act, but at a cost. Political actors in the shallow state are left to visibly debate policies, which, from the outset, have been closely circumscribed by the actions of the deep state. This shift of responsibility allows politicians in the shallow state to pursue votes with popular, or populist, policies that ignore increasingly hard economic and ecological constraints. To some extent, politicians must engage with their constituents (and with each other) in this circumscribed, populist arena because so many issues of substance have been removed from their sphere of influence.
The shallow state focuses on issues of "national identity, cultural controversy, consumer frustrations, and symbolic acts of solidarity with constituents". The Deep State has taken over decisions about taxation and government spending, with austerity no longer up for public debate. The private interests dominating the Deep State ensured that during the Global Financial Crisis, many nations directed government aid to large financial institutions rather than to public welfare.
Lindsey says that national governments like the US's concede power to transnational corporations, even though it undermines national sovereignty, in order to remain economically competitive and therefore have power and influence in the international sphere.