"Actually, I'm Mayor in name only. The city and everything in it is really run by Shinra, Inc. My only real job is watching over Shinra's documents. Me! The Mayor! A librarian!" —Final Fantasy VII
A Mega Corp. is often a large, shadowy organization with a power base and structure that rivals even The Government. When you take it one step further, with the Mega Corp actually being the government, you get One Nation Under Copyright, or a "corporate state."
Essentially, a corporate state is a government run and organized like a business. At the top is typically a board of executives (more likely than not corrupt in fiction) which makes all the decisions; for the common people, the terms "citizen" and "employee" are more or less interchangeable. Some may actually have a form of quasi-democratic government, allowing all shareholders a certain number of votes proportional to the number of shares the voter owns (the common citizen is likely defined as someone who owns only a few shares in this case).
One Nation Under Copyright may employ Law Enforcement, Inc., or even own them outright as a subsidiary.
If taken to the extreme by the government owning everything, this raises the question: "What's the difference between these and Dirty Commies?" Some might argue that this is the whole point. This idea—that "business runs government" and "government runs business" are basically the same—is at the heart of many, many populist and/or agrarian movements since at least the 19th century, e.g. G. K. Chesterton's "Distributism".
See also N.G.O. Superpower.
Subtrope of Privately Owned Society. Very common in the Cyber Punk genre. If the story is set Twenty Minutes into the Future, then it more likely than not takes place in either a Divided States of America or Japan.
Buy 'n' Large from WALL•E is one of these. Dollar bills have the B&L logo on them, and the CEO broadcasts messages from the Oval Office. This is merely heavily implied in the movie; the DVD extras confirm it.
In RoboCop, Omni Consumer Products's ultimate goal is to turn the movie's gritty and dystopic Detroit into "Delta City", effectively a city-state version of this trope, complete with people exercising their representative citizenship rights via the purchase of OCP shares. note Insert your own pithy comment about the current state of the city and whether OCP could possibly make things any worse at this point.
The Trade Federation in Star Wars seems to be a cross between this and The Federation (it even has a representative in the Galactic Senate-Expanded Universe material confirms they in fact "represent" many planetary systems that are dependent on them). It later joins the Confederacy of Independent Systems, an even larger federation of corporate states.
The world in the 2010 Tekken movie is divided into eight massive conglomerates.
In the future world of Idiocracy, fictitious brand "Brawndo" purchased the FDA and the FCC, and used their position to replace water with their product. If you look closely at the American flag, each of the stars is actually the logo of Carl’s Jr. Also, the red stripes are actually red text reading, “The following companies are proud sponsors of the United States of Uhmerica. Carl’s Jr., Costco, Cavalcade, Flaturin, Tarrlyton, Ronaise, Buttfuckers, Nastea, Bonerax, Brawndo, Acne Insurance.” Possibly, these companies own parts of the U.S. government in the same way that Brawndo owns the FDA and FCC.
The Space Merchants (published 1953) by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth.
Snow Crash has the United States being split into thousands of micronations, each one run by a different franchise company. Everything, from roads, to jails, to the Mafia, is now run like McDonald's. Neighborhoods are called burbclaves, a portmanteau of "suburban enclave", and act as autonomous nations with their own laws and currency set by the owning company. An American might encounter dozens of "Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong" neighborhoods scattered about his nearby area just like any other business chain. Of particular note is the Mafia, which now operates out in the open as a legitimate business, complete with marketing slogan ("You've got a friend in the family!") and friendly mascot (the reigning don, Uncle Enzo).
In the dystopian novel Jennifer Government, not only do corporate states run America, but every citizen takes the last name of their business. The heroine is a government agent; the villain, John Nike, works for Nike, and children take the last names of the corporation that owns their school. One editor writes: "The central point of the novel was that this was where we'd be eventually headed if deregulation continued the way it was going."
In the novel Podkayne of Mars, the Venus Corporation controlled the entire planet Venus (and ran it like Las Vegas IN SPACE!).
In The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, the Golden Rule space habitat is run by the Golden Rule Corporation, which is the law there. The General Manager of the station can pretty much do what he wants there, although he is restrained by being a Villain with Good Publicity and feels he can't just kill someone without a good excuse. Failure to pay your air tax will, however, result in being thrown out the airlock (rumor has it that you are made into ground "pork" instead, though).
And in Friday, the Shipstone Megacorp has grown so powerful in a balkanized world that the heroine starts to think of them as the only effective government.
In Catch-22, M&M Enterprises is set up as a way for the mess officer, Milo Minderbinder, to bilk the US Government out of quite a lot of money. He then goes on to make an absolute fortune monopolizing trade in the Mediterranean. Eventually he has a private army and air force, and is paid quite a lot by the Germans to bomb a US air base. Milo was supposed to be tried as a criminal, but all charges were dropped as soon as the brass saw how much money there was in bombing their own men. But hey, at least everybody owns a share! The film sums it up quite well when Milo hears about the death of a brother officer killed by Milo's raid.
Milo Minderbinder: Nately died a wealthy man, Yossarian. He had over sixty shares in the syndicate.
Yossarian: What difference does that make? He's dead.
Milo Minderbinder: Then his family will get it.
Yossarian: He didn't have time to have a family.
Milo Minderbinder: Then his parents will get it.
Yossarian: They don't need it, they're rich.
Milo Minderbinder: Then they'll understand.
In The Gap Series by Stephen Donaldson, the United Mining Companies control human space on two different levels. There are some habitats, such as Com Mine, that they own outright and control the votes of in the Governing Council. Plus, their corporate police force is the only organization capable of protecting power in space, which effectively gives the UMC CEO dictatorial powers over the central government. The entire arc is driven by his chief of police's plan to pull a Heel-Face Turn and get control over the police given back to the Governing Council.
The Sullustan homeworld Sullust is this in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The SoroSuub Corporation employs half the planet and unofficially dominated the government (its CEO also serving as President), before The Empire gave it outright control. However, the Sullustan resistance movement "persuaded" them to instead back the Alliance, and Sullust became a founding member of the New Republic. Even after this SoroSuub remains nearly on par with the state.
Both Beowulf and Mesa in Honor Harrington are run along the corporativist lines, which is hardly surprising, as Mesa was settled essentially by a group of rogue Beowulfers. Both are controlled by the board of directors, with votes arranged corresponding to professions, though Mesa muddles the water a bit, being secretly run by the Ancient Conspiracy. Manticore initially was also envisioned in the same way, though it mutated into somethingelseentirely. It's also mentioned that such political arrangements aren't anything unusual in the galaxy.
In the Wild Cards series there are brief mentions of a space-faring conglomerate known as "The Network" which is described at one point as "a form of capitalism more rapacious than anything you can imagine". From the mentions, it appears that this is how The Network operates.
When the Empire of New Britain Isles is first encountered by the Destroyermen, they quickly find out that Governor-Emperor Gerald McDonald has long been under the thumb of the Honorable New Britain Company, with the company, essentially, running things. Not only is the company run by Corrupt Corporate Executives but the company's CEO equivalent is actually a secret follower of the Holy Dominion's Religion of Evil. This changes quickly after the company reveals its true colors, and the practice of "obligations" (the company's bread and butter) is abolished.
The Syndicate Worlds in The Lost Fleet series are run like a corporation. In fact, their command officers are actually called "executives". It gets to the absurdity that, when the "executive" of an obsolete "Syndic" space station is facing an entire Alliance fleet of modern (by necessity) warships, he calmly replies to the offer of surrender by citing a specific regulation that forbids surrender under any circumstances. All John Geary can do is gape at the man's stupidity and unwillingness to see the reality, showing that a good number of Syndic executives are typical bureaucrats. Their war with the Alliance is motivated by their desire to keep their own people in line, as the presence of a democratic nation is a threat to their dictatorial government.
Not all Syndic CEOs are bad. Some are honest and good people who care about the people under them. However, none of them are in charge of anything larger than single world. When Geary interrogates a CEO, the executive reveals that he has been Reassigned to Antarctica for daring to file a protest about his company being bought out by a rival (the rival CEO having better connections in the Executive Council).
Dune is an example of a feudal society where noble titles are derived from ownership of shares in Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles (CHOAM, roughly translated as "The Corporation of Honest Profit Traders"), a Mega Corp. that pretty much runs the Imperium's entire economy.
It is implied that the Moon in Dunno on the Moon is one. We never encounter any state official higher than a police chief, instead the very wealthy decide everything on an assembly resembling a stockholders' meeting.
Live Action TV
The Blue Sun brand is omnipresent throughout Firefly, appearing on everything from coffee cans to neuroimagers; Word of Joss says that "practically half the government was Blue Sun." They're also hinted to have backed the government's mind-shattering experiments on River; she attacks the logos on their products in two different episodes.
According to background materials and the official tie-in CD, the Brakiri in Babylon 5 are an example of this.
Chet: So with the board meeting this week, our former CEO, Arthur Wells, is in town. Veronica: Arthur Wells? That man is a legend. Wasn't he behind Veridian acquiring ownership of the African country of Chad, and then renaming it after his nephew Chad?
In Classic Traveller a number of planets were controlled by corporations. Because of the way Traveller stats were set up, the corporate planets were most likely to be small, low-population planets, more of a company town or trading post than a full-fledged corporate republic.
Naruni Enterprises in Rifts, who are considered a major political power in the Three Galaxies setting. They have been known to equip entire planets with military gear... then repossess them if they don't pay up on time.
Rifts features several of these, where a corporation is the replacement for a local government.
The setting doesn't just have the corporations taking over nations. A Yakuza front company practically takes over its original criminal gang, and a few corporations struggle to rule the world. They start as plain Mega Corp., but since their laws are the only ones that matter on company grounds...
The Pueblo Corporate Council was founded as One Nation Under Copyright. All PCC citizens are awarded one share of non-transferable stock as a birthright, and voting rights are allocated logarithmically, based on how much stock a person holds (two votes for ten shares, three for 100, etc).
Most of the Terra Novan population centers in Heavy Gear have conventional governments, but the Paxton Protectorate are an unusual Good Guy version. They lay claim on and defend a majority of Terra Nova's physical territory, the Badlands, although there's not much in the way of people or resources there. The government of the Protectorate is really just the board of the military-industrial Paxton Arms corporation, and they're still a more egalitarian bunch than the polar confederacies.
In Fading Suns the Guilds, while they're not quite encyclopedical example of Mega Corp., rule over several planets and own pieces of land on most of the rest.
The game's background mention precise examples in the game-universe's history. The Earth-based First Republic was really a governmental figure-head, with a number of MegaCorps holding the only real power. After the fall of the First Republic, both era known as The Diaspora and to a lesser extent during the Second Republic, some planets were openly owned and operated by corporate entities.
The Terradyne setting is named after the first off-planet Mega Corp., founded to slip through a loophole in the Outer Space Treaty, particularly Articles II and IV: no nation can claim extraterrestrial territory, no national military can operate in space. Good part; a corporation can hold territory and defend it from theft and/or destruction. Bad part; space colonists have no political rights, as they are effectively expatriate citizens - and subject to completely arbitrary taxes and tariffs. Result: Cold WarIN SPACE! - the capitalist Terradyne colonists engaged in economic shenanigans and covert intrigue with an increasingly socialist United Peoples of Earth.
The "Stopwatch" Bad Future in GURPS Time Travel ... maybe. Government and industry are so interwound in its One World Order that it's no longer clear whether it's a communist state that nationalised everything or a free-market state where the Mega Corps took over. Basically it's whatever you don't want it to be, and may even change from one to the other as a result of actions in the past. (It's established that all timelines lead inevitably to the "Stopwatch" future or the good guys' "Timepiece" future.)
The Corporation RPG features a world run by five mega-corporations.
Blue Planet has the Incorporate, corporations who bought "failed states" after a global famine with the consent of the UN to restore governance in those areas. They are run like corporations, but have their own armies, issue their own money and sit on the GEO (UN replacement) council just like nations.
Much of the inner solar system in Eclipse Phase is governed by the Planetary Consortium, which is a confederation of the major inner-system corporations.
In the Alternity Star*Drive setting, the Stellar Nations Austrin-Ontis Unlimited, Rigonmur Star Consortium, Starmech Collective and Voidcorp are this, and Insight might be as well (it isn't outright stated, but they did begin as a division of Voidcorp [then again, they also hate Voidcorp...]). They vary in corporateness from Voidcorp, whose pursuit of profit leads them into things that are not just unethical and against the Galactic Concord, but also questionably profitable in a long-term perspective, like selling out humanity to the Externals, to Austrin-Ontis Unlimited, who is, for all intents and purposes, a bog-standard republic that just happens to call its citizens 'shareholders' and its president 'CEO'.
In the Mystara D&D setting, the Minrothad Guilds are essentially a MepugaCorp, with each individual island constituting a different "division" of the company and the service-guilds operating as corporatized government bureaus.
The Guild in Exalted is an aspiring one and in many respects a successful one. While they may not have complete legitimacy, in effect everyone may as well admit they rule the Scavenger Lands.
Star Control II's Druuge of the Persei system take this trope to a ridiculous extent: The Crimson Corporation is not only a government substitute, but owns all the natural resources and inhabitants as well. Druuge who quit (or are fired from) the corporation are instantly found guilty of stealing air and are sentenced to death. Druuge who are no longer useful, cannot work, or are in debt are tossed into the reactors of the nearest power station to be used as fuel. Retirees can breathe at a reduced rate.
Galactic Civilizations: The Korx would sell you their own mothers if they hadn't already sold them to someone else.
Activision's Civilization: Call To Power games (a sub-series made in Meier's absence) has a futuristic form of government called "Corporate Republic." In-game history noted that the gradual collapse of modern governments forced corporations to step in and maintain vital infrastructure and services or risk major losses.
The reason for that is likely that if you could, Morgan Industries could be a non-corporate state. As it stands, the available choices can be seen as representing different variations of One Nation Under Copyright (Police State: Politburo of Directors, Democracy: One Man, One Share (of common stock), Fundamentalist: God, Incorporated, Green: A green economy is a sustainable economy, Power: Power is the shortest path to wealth, Knowledge: Innovation drives capitalism).
On the old BBC Micro there was a space-trader game called Elite. This featured some planets that were corporate states.
Frontier. the sequel, also had these. They varied from reasonably civilised places to pirate infested systems which were happy to trade slaves and battlefield weapons to anyone visiting.
The Shinra company from Final Fantasy VII. Ostensibly, there is a mayor to the city of Midgar, but his offices are in the company building, and he does not have any real power. His only real job is managing all of Shinra's archived files.
In Crusader, the WEC arose from the merger of the economic bodies that themselves took over the running of the various continents from more conventional governments when they toppled or became too weak. interestingly, the WEC actually claims to not be a government, merely a steward for the powers of government, even as it goes about cheerfully tightening its grip on the ways, the means, the sources, and the consumers of production.
The Czerka Corporation from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, while functioning like a normal mega-corporation in Republic Space, actually has complete control over at least two known planets, Tattooine and Kashyyyk, in the first game.
One of the loading screens says they and other mega-corps police themselves, being too large for the Republic to control. Czerka seems to still be in The Reblic's good graces in the second one despite openly dealing arms to both sides.
The Caldari State, one of four playable races in EVE Online, is a conglomeration of Mega Corporations. They outright call themselves a corporate state, and the company rivalries are so deep-seated the only thing that really bands them together is the fight to reclaim their homeland.
With the possible exception of Armored Core 2 and its successor, Another Age, the world is dominated not by one, but multiple corporate states.
In Mass Effect the whole planet of Noveria is a conglomerate of corporations. The planet is exempt from all but the The Citadel's most anti-catastrophic laws. Corruption is rampant and generally ignored as long as it doesn't impede regular business. Also arguably the Volus species which are like the Ferengi but with morals. A variant in the Turians, who are instead of a nation corporation are a nation military, to the point the advancement in military rank is an advancement as a citizen as well (though non-military jobs are not lesser or looked down upon).
Interestingly, the volus find the idea of parents "owning" their children to be absurd, which is why they associate by clan rather than family.
In the backstory to X Rebirth the Plutarch Mining Corporation's office in the Albion System staged a coup d'etat after the jumpgate network shut down, ousting the now-isolated Argon Federation government and military and setting themselves up as the government.
Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg features AlgOstAsien GmbH, a German corporate consortium which controls the southern half of China as a de-facto government under the nominal sovereignty of the Qing Empire.
The Vector corporation in the Xenosaga series fits this trope to a T. Almost to the degree of being ridiculous, given certain revelations in the third game such as the fact that Vector's CEO is the head of a religious organization hell-bent on Vector's destruction too.
Or at least, that was the original premise. They've abandoned this in favor of RED and BLU being effectively worthless ventures founded by a pair of dimwitted, feuding brothers using their wealthy father's land and money. The comic "Blood Brothers" cemented the companies/brothers' status as money sinks. However, this same update also introduced the co-op map Coaltown, which bears the markings of a company town (see Real Life below). A sign above store states that it accepts "coal tokens only."
The Administrator still controls the world through TF Industries, RED, BLU, and Mann Co., but RED and BLU's role has been moved away from. It may have something to do with Zepheniah Mann's will, but the will itself does not specify how the Administrator runs RED and BLU.
The Mann Vs. Machine update (and subsequent update) finally gives us a clear picture of why The Administrator would ever want to rule the world by turning the world's worst two companies (and dumbest CE Os) into secret rulers of the planet: Australium either enhances the user's intelligence to supernatural levels, or when refined can provide immortality instead (as seen in Redmond, Blutarch, The Administrator, and Grayson). Zepheniah Mann's inheritance of companies included a f***-ton of Australium (or at least, the means to store the largest quantities of it safely and securely). DO THE MATH. Also, Grayson is more egotistic but also much smarter than his two idiot brothers (but still an idiot) so he cuts out the middlemen and makes Mann Co. itself the NGO superpower.
The little-mentioned Kel-Morian Combine in Starcraft is controlled by a bunch of mining guilds. The Combine worlds were annexed by the Confederacy (except for Moria itself, who joined up with the Dominion upon its formation) some years before the first game, but broke away from the Dominion following the Brood War. Rory Swann, the Hyperion's engineer, is from a former Combine world, he lost his arm in a rebellion against them.
The novel Heaven's Devils takes place during the war between the Combine and the Confederacy from the viewpoints of Jim Raynor and Tychus Findlay. Both sides are shown to be just as corrupt, and the war shows the first uses of "resocialized" criminals as Space Marines.
Borderlands 2 has the Hyperion corporation taking over Pandora, in the aftermath of the Atlas corporation's collapse.
The eponymous city in Fallout: New Vegas is run by a (seemingly immortal) pre-nuclear apocalypse business executive who describes himself as the territory's "president, CEO, and sole proprietor."
This is essentially the premise of Remy's Northern Corporate Dominion universe, although from the point of view of the slaves.
In the webcomic God(tm), the intellectual property of God and all related characters is owned by a corporation. Later on, a marketing campaign is created to rebrand religion into something hip and cool.
The Maytec Consortium of S.S.D.D owns the Californian government and claimed the entire planet Mars for mining (up until the anarchists showed up).
In Ferrets vs. Lemmings the ferret government of Dook Island was founded as effectively a company town for Guy King's meat exports business.
Free Mars: Mars is run by the totalitarian Combined Systems Corporations. The Martian Liberation Front is trying to change that.
The backstory to Pay Me, Bug! had the Free Trade Baronies starting life as this. That was so long ago that they've since evolved into essentially standard governments, but there are still a few throwbacks to their history.
The webcomic Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger has the late, unlamented RIAA... which became so abusive in securing its alleged intellectual property that an alliance of solar systems declared war on it.
The Honourable East India Company: Ran the British Empire's interests in India until the Great Mutiny of 1857 and thus, by a combination of bribery, alliances and superior competence - oh, and a private army larger than that of the Empire itself - controlled a substantial part of the subcontinent. It got away with so much as every British member of Parliament owned shares.
And their northern counterpart, the Hudson Bay Company, which ran much of what is now Canada and the USAnote and is now a chain of mid-range department stores..
The British East India Company exists today, and ironically for having ruled there so long, was recently bought by an Indian billionaire.
Their Russian counterpart, the Russian-American Company, owned and ruled Alaska.
There were projects to create another one in modern times, called the Russian Far East Corp. The project was discontinued, and a government bureaucratic structure was created instead.
Going eastward: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (known in English as the Dutch East India Company). The first stock-based, multinational corporation that controlled parts of Indonesia for almost 200 years. They had their own military, minted their own currency, and had the right to establish colonies, negotiate treaties, and even wage wars! Their rule made an everlasting impression to locals even after they went bankrupt and the official Dutch government took over. So much that their legacy lives on to this day; the local word for colonial forces is still "Kompeni".
In fact, the entire nation of Indonesia is essentially the Dutch East India Company's old territory plus sovereignty. It's currently the fourth most populous country in the world, and world's most populous island country, and the world's most populous Muslim country.
The emirate of Dubai is run very much like a business enterprise based around tourism, trade, and finance.
Social Anarchists and left Marxists say that so-called "socialist" or "communist" states are nothing of the sort, instead terming both them and fascist regimes State Capitalist, because they become this. In fact, both Marx and Lenin admired large monopolistic business for increasing efficiency! Basically, they just did this with the state, coming at it by the opposite route. This seems to be true, because workers are for damn sure not in control of those states.
The major part of the change brought by the fall of the USSR involved the rump states dropping the pretense of being communist and switching to pure monopolistic crony capitalism. One might therefore say that communist states in practice were just this with a pleasing propaganda rhetoric to cover up the fact, along with some crumbs passed onto the commoners (like free healthcare, though the quality was usually poor).
In the USA in the 19th century, Company Towns were commonplace. They had their own money (chits) their own stores, and their own lenders, among numerous other things. Their excesses helped fuel the rise of Labor Unions. And inspired the song "Sixteen Tons" (with a part of the chorus going "St. Peter don't you call me/'Cause I can't go/I owe my soul/To the Company Store.") They were gathered a lot of bad publicity after town (Pullman, Illinois) disrupted the entire US rail system during its violent strike.
One of the proximate causes of the Pullman strike was that the Pullman Company, claiming slow sales, cut employees' wages without reducing rents for the company-owned houses in which its employees lived.
The song mentioned above derives its chorus from people having to buy things on credit at the company store, which took it out of their wages. Eventually they'd end up so deep in debt that it would never be paid off.
The US is now effectively owned by the big banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs through the Federal Reserve system... according to some sources.
The old Congo Free State. The people of Belgium were adamantly against joining the imperialism game, so King Leopold pulled some strings to have the whole thing done as a private enterprise initiative, turning the land into private grounds with a captive workforce that took in chains, ammo and mercenaries and churned out ivory and corpses. It eventually got so bad that the Belgian government officially nationalized the Congo, bringing them into the colonial system anyway. One estimate has it that the Congolese population was reduced by half in about twenty years.
And long before all of these boys were even glimmers in their founders' eyes was the Hanseatic League, also known as simply The Hanse. Founded in the 1200s, it was a mercantile and defensive confederation of the merchant guilds along the northern coast of Europe that lasted well into the 17th century.
Interestingly the actual political concept of corporatism—most notable for its association with fascism but also present in conservatism and christian democracy—is something completely different, namely the concept of collaboration between classes and negation of class antagonism. Which, by the way, may include this trope but need not.
The actual real life term for this system of government is corporatocracy, and it is being increasingly used as a pejorative by those on the left and the right.
Another concept for this is a corporate republic, which retains some semblance of that of a republican government, but is run like a business, effectively fitting this trope.