The Corporate Panopticon – how HSBC controls society

The Corporate Panopticon – click on the “cells” for more information [this is a little out of date now I have discovered the mystery man from the Treasury]


The Panopticon is a type of institutional structure designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century, and now the model for the British plutocracy. The concept of the design is to allow all institutions of state to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the institutions being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.

Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman  to observe all institutions at once, the fact that the institutions cannot know when they are being watched means that they must all act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly, to the benefit of the watchman.

The design consists of a circular structure with an “inspection house” at its centre , from which the manager or staff of the watchman are able to watch the institutions, who are stationed around the perimeter. Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, daycares, and asylums, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely meant by the term and has been emulated in the late twentieth century to describe the corporate structure of British society – the corporate panopticon.

Bentham himself described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” Elsewhere, in a letter, he described the Panopticon prison as “a mill for grinding rogues honest” –  In the modern sense, “grinding the honest rogue.” The criminals have become the watchmen.


In this diagram I have dealt only with my own experience and research of dealings with HSBC. It does not take into account their influence over outsourced care providers such as G4S (major shareholder) or Serco (co-director) or their involvement with the arms trade and fossil fuels. Effectively HSBC has its tentacles in every aspect of British society. Since making the diagram I have discovered that in 2013 HSBC poached a Director General from HM Treasury who now has responsibility for the bank’s relations with the government.

Here is an everyday of example of how it works:

How your bank spies on your exact monthly income – and shares it with other firms

This text above is a paraphrase of the Wikipedia entry on the panopticon. Credit to Joel Benjamin. for alerting me to the term “corporate panopticon”.