Tag Archives: corpocracy

What Hath Business Wrought?

Or perhaps more precisely, what hath the Business Elite of the US wrought, specifically in the melt-down, (or is that conflagration?) of its political arm, the Republican Party, a.k.a the party of Business?

It is too early to write the obituary of the Republican Party. Remember, that has been done before; after the flame-out of Barry Goldwater, and the humiliation of Richard Nixon’s demise.  But what the Business Elite has unleashed through its political arm is more devastating to our national well-being than the collapse of a political party which can and likely will regenerate in a variety of ways.

It was supposed to be so simple.  After three decades of whittling away at government at all levels through various manipulations of elective and lobbying processes, covered by the benign visage of Ronald Reagan and Bush the Elder, and finding that economic power alone was not sufficient to complete the task, the Business Elite decided to go to asymmetric guerrilla warfare.  Agents such as Dick Armey and Karl Rove incubated and unleashed what became the corporate arm of the Tea Party.

It was supposed to BE the Tea Party, except, as with the Stuxnet  computer virus, it metastasized beyond intent…and control.  It sought to rouse the deepening dissatisfaction and cynicism of the white middle class and vector it like an explosive shaped charge against The Government. The anger that was building over a system that was failing the Tea Partiers on all fronts was supposed to deliver the final ‘democratic’ blow to ‘take back the government’ by destroying the government.

Kind of reminds one of that famous line delivered by a military officer in the aftermath of the Tet offensive: “We had to destroy the city in order to save it”.  It is worth noting that that did not work either.  Nor will the act of destroying our governments at all levels and denuding our Constitution of its spirit and intent by straight-jacketing it with brittle meaning of a bygone era that doesn’t comport with today’s reality. (May Justice Scalia rest in peace, and the rest of us with his passing.)

But, back to Business. There is a double ruse at work here.  The Republican Party has mastered the meme of ‘perp as victim’, pretending to defend the Constitution against the ghost of the Warren court, while systematically disemboweling the very notion of a democratic society, aided and abetted by the Roberts court which, despite the best efforts of its liberal wing, has exceeded the alleged abuses of the Warren Court  in its interpretive manipulation of the spirit of that document.

It takes more than a flag lapel pin to be a patriot.  Eroding voter rights while championing Citizens United and Corporate participation are among the gems of their deceit.  Their rejoinder that Citizens United merely puts business influence on a level playing field with union influence ignores the success of the Business Elite in bludgeoning the union movement into irrelevance.  (In fairness, it must be noted that the union movement has done itself no favors in convincingly arguing its relevance, which should be self-evident in the asymmetrical warfare perpetrated by the Business Elite against workers at all levels of the food chain, but that’s a subject for another time.)

And so the Repugnantlan Party finds itself with a choice:

‘Do we play by the rules (a novel concept, don’t you think?) and let the ‘democratic’ primary process choose the nominee; or

do we trump Trump in the convention and engineer the coronation of a ‘true’ conservative;

or do we ditch this rusting hulk of a party and run a third-party candidate who is a true ‘conservative’.’

Note that in any case we’re talking about the vestiges of a party that is defined only in terms of which brand of ‘take-no-prisoners, no-compromise, Christian caliphate’ flavor of conservatism that The Force might choose.  It’s Trump (wing-nut conservatism); Cruz (Christian Caliphate Conservatism-Dark), Kasich (Christian Caliphate Conservatism Light with a smily face), or god only knows whom else can be dredged up.  The Huckster? Jeb, the Repugnantlan equivalent to Hillary’s political ineptitude and entitlement?  Marco, the flame-out hope of the Establishment that couldn’t sell the electorate on youthful Kennedyesque charm alone? (fill in the blank).

And who is the Force?  It is the widely reported groups of ‘Big Donors’ who have been meeting this past week to determine the Repugnantlan Party’s fate. And who are The Big Donors?  Well, they ain’t Joe and Jane Six-Pack of Union Local 13.  Safe bet?

They are the Adelsons, and the Koch Brothers  and Big Oil, and Big Hedge Funds, and Big Banks and other Big Corpocracies through various intermediaries to conceal their identity from the Little People where disclosure might be bad for the ‘Business Model’.

In one sense,  nothing has changed.  As in Watergate, Deep Throat’s advice still holds: ‘Follow the money‘.  But today, the stakes are so much greater; and the mechanisms so much more blatant; and the arrogance, insufferable, as evidenced in Trump who merely distinguishes himself from the rest of the Republican clown circus in his galactic audacity (because Earth alone could not possibly contain his ego).

The Business Elite have, as a group, succeeded in corrupting both parties so as to appear ‘impartial’ and politically neutral.  But the flow of money, to the extent that it can be determined, tells the truth.   It would be both unfair and myopic to suggest that the Democratic Party is less corrupt.  It is less dangerous merely because it is less organized and focused in its intent.  Democrats in Congress seem more concerned with saving their own individual hides than with submitting to a party discipline.  This is as much the cause of Obama’s troubles, post-2010, as is the treasonous Mitch McConnell and his minions in the opposition party.

But, perhaps this rant is missing the fundamental point.  What’s really bad in all of this?  Isn’t what’s good for business good for America?  Don’t our job creators know what’s best?  Aren’t we safer than we’ve ever been, thanks to the very same Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned us about?  Don’t we have the best health care that money can buy in the world, thanks to the Medical Industrial Complex?  Don’t we have the safest food in the world thanks to the Agricultural-Industrial Complex that also gives hope to so many undocumented workers? Aren’t our pensions and other investments secure in the best free market system known to mankind? And wouldn’t all of this be so much better if business were just taxed and regulated less so that it could invest more in turning West Virginia coal miners into high-tech coders (which it would surely want to do because full employment makes for more robust consumer markets for cheap Chinese stuff sold at everyday high prices and lowest possible cost and quality (because quality is unnecessary cost))?

And besides, who’s really complaining about the role of business, besides some spoiled little brats who are too incompetent to find a good job and don’t want to pay off their college loans accumulated while taking gender studies and lit classes?   Most people are happy.  They’ve got the newest technology.  They can  watch Hunger Games and Game of Thrones on a big screen at home or in their car, or on a mobile device.

Access to Hunger Games and Game of Thrones and House of Cards on mobile devices is particularly useful in the migration from foreclosed McMansion to homeless shelters.  It maintains continuity of distraction from the real hunger games and games of thrones and house of cards going on around us as our infrastructure crumbles, our rule of law crumbles, our way of life crumbles, our civic institutions and sense of shared destiny crumble, our self-esteem disintegrates.

I suspect that at some point, Tea Partiers and Occupiers will converge by necessity if not by desire, in homeless shelters and other venues of need.  Circumstances will force them to look at each other as people, and not caricatures of The Opposition.  They will discover that they have more in common than they ever imagined; that is, they’ve both been screwed by the same forces.  And when The Government has been reduced to a point of institutional incompetence and impotence as to be rendered irrelevant and no longer a plausible ‘enemy of the people’, they will begin to ask the questions that should have been asked thirty years earlier: Who is the real enemy of the people? And why?

And when they begin to ask those questions, the Business Elite will learn belatedly that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were the least of their concerns.  It will be a bad day for Business. It will reap what it has sewn.

*     *     *

There will be voices in the business community who will object to this rant and protest that its observations are not reflective of all people in ‘business’.  That is of course true.  No generalization is ever universally applicable.

But it is also true as in many movements that an assertive minority that presumes to speak for the majority, in effect speaks for all in the majority’s silence (remember Nixon’s Great Silent Majority?) .  In a majority’s silence, the majority has made a decision, be it subliminal or conscious; be it for agreement or fear of consequences or apathy.

If the Business Majority chooses to remain silent to the actions of the Business Elite for whatever reasons, it is an endorsement.  If significant members of the business community or the Republican party are troubled by the course of their institutions toward regressive and repressive government in  the perverted guise of ‘conservatism’, and choose not to speak and act in opposition, then they are accomplices to the consequences.

Or to borrow a line from the Sixties protests, ‘if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem’.

Onward.

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Capitalism’s Contorted Calculus

Is Capitalism’s time passing?  Is it at the doorstep of history’s vault of failed paradigms, following Communism for similar reasons of brittleness and irrelevance? Those who have read my prior blogs in the Capitalist Papers series may already guess my inclination.

I am a firm supporter of free enterprise as one of our other essential freedoms. But Capitalism in its current incarnation has evolved to cause me great concern because its current trajectory is undoing the very essence of the democracy and land of opportunity we sought to create two hundred and thirty-six years ago, and appears to be on a collision with reality. Least aware of this trajectory appear to be the capitalists at the top of the food chain.

I submit for your consideration the case of the Protean Organization, as expounded recently by Paul Christiansen in the Wall Street Journal.  The title is: “To Outsmart Obamacare, Go Protean”. The subtitle is: “Don’t fire staff to avoid the 50 employee trigger. Make them corporations”.

How utterly clever!  Mitt would endorse this. After all, they’ll still be people.

The concept, as elaborated upon by Mr. Christiansen in the article, is fundamentally a tax dodge thinly masked as a management strategy. But it plays nicely into the meme I have been weaving in three prior blogs on human resources and employee benefits to suggest that in the blind pursuit of maximum profits, business is systematically destroying a productive relationship with its most important resource: its human resource, and by extension the consumer market for its goods and services.

Mr. Christiansen opines that every possible functional relationship of the organization should be translated into modular, plug-and-play, Lego-like relationships, defined as corporate entities, and regulated by contract.  A small elite will be retained at the mother-ship; the functional drones will be redeployed in a flexible galaxy of entities connected by contractual umbilical cords.

i infer, perhaps incorrectly, that Mr. Christiansen has never managed an organization, or never managed it for long enough to see how it (d)evolves over time. This might be tolerable for the kind of businesses he has been involved with, or the kind of business that has an intended half-life of eighteen months before being flipped to sucker investors, but I can’t really picture an enterprise of this concept growing to any considerable scale and doing anything of significant magnitude.  But this speculation gives more dignity to the premise than it earns in its own expression.

Let’s go back to the original premise. Mr. Christiansen proposes this as a way to dodge Obamacare.  He is not the first to vigorously pursue strategies of labor cost avoidance, and it would be wrong of me to burden him with the full blame.  That path has already been well-worn by many others.  But is Mr. Christiansen trying to avoid Obamacare per se, or benefits more generically?  If the latter, is he negotiating fairly with his ‘corporate’ associates to provide compensation that enables them to pack their own benefits parachute, or is he, like so many others, using a tight  labor market to extract a price of indentured servitude that will be unilaterally beneficial to we-know-who?  How long will that relationship endure when things get a little bit better?  Will the drone corporations see their staff evaporate as the economy and competing opportunities heat up?  And what will that ‘contractual umbilical cord’ be worth then?

Further, in Mr. Christiansen’s  corporate cosmos, how does one build a culture of cohesion and alignment of values and priorities?  What clause of the contract covers that? Do you insert a Facebook app into the mobile devices of your extended ‘organization’ to create a ‘virtual’ organizational culture to substitute for a real one?

And let’s not forget the mother-ship corporation’s bottom line.  What does it really net from this fantasy?  The Protean organization is a simplistic mirage, as well as an economic dodge. But beyond Mr. Christiansen’s conjuring is the troubling truth that the underlying motivation for it is all too familiar in many corporate management strategies to control labor costs.

By dodging fair compensation, wage and/or benefits, to employees, corporations individually create a false economy, in both dimensions of that word.  As noted in prior blogs, each company’s employee is some other company’s customer.  When the preponderance of companies seek to squeeze their respective employees to the point that they can barely meet necessities, and must forego discretionary items, the economy contracts, as it has, as it is, and as it is likely to continue.  The irony is that as corporations have played the China card to control labor costs, they are transforming more American consumers into Chinese consumers, and not the Chinese 1%.  What goes around, comes around.

*  *  *

Nor is labor the only wild card in the Capitalist equation.  Let’s talk energy.  As Joe Petrowski, Chairman of Cumberland-Gulf Group, noted in 2010, higher oil prices hurt business and hurt the economy. His position was that oil prices, which were beginning to recover from their 2009 death-bed after their 2008 fever, should be kept low in order to sustain business and the economy as we know and love it.

But at what cost in military and environmental terms must we maintain low prices to sustain Capitalism’s mandate?  What if we can’t? What if the costs of production in more hostile environments, added pollution of all kinds from all collateral causes, and security costs all force costs above Capitalism’s cherished sweet spot? What is the fate of a Capitalism based on a consumer economy, based on distributed retail and labor resources connected by costly transportation which relies on ever escalating fuel prices?  Market theory, if one still believes in the markets, suggests that a re-prioritization from the bottom up is inevitable as consumers and corporate people re-assess and adjust their priorities consistent with their finite resources. There will be a lot of broken china along the way.

*  *  *

This gets us to the umbrella subject that encompasses the Capitalist myth: the markets.  The foundation for the myth is the existence of functioning and fair markets in which that magical invisible hand of free enterprise arbitrates fair value through the unfettered interplay of competing interests. Which of our markets truly operate on this premise today?  Labor, credit, investments, real estate, energy?

The corpocracy  will contend that it’s all Government’s fault for ineffective regulation that strangles  the markets. But regulation is too much in the influence of lobbyists who are too much in the pay of corporations who are too narrow in their world-view to grasp that regulation which is contorted to satisfy a myriad of special interests ultimately devolves to a sclerosis that benefits no one. And Government is not the cause of the aggressive consolidation in so many industries that has induced rigidity and brittleness in many vertical markets.

That, ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, is where we have arrived.  A paradigm detached from its critical foundation of true free enterprise, oblivious to any sense of greater social responsibility in its enlightened self-interest, and insulated from the environmental, social, political and economic realities that are about to engulf it.

Capitalism, as we know it, is toastadas.  What follows it as the next hottest hope of humanity requires more imagination than i can conjure.

But what precedes that is amply recorded in history.

Onward.

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Shock and Awe, The Sequel

Shock and Awe, Baby.  Shock and Awe.

It looks and feels a lot different when you're near the blast zone: your home, your job, your family.

I've been anticipating this moment since 1995, and yet now that it's here, I'm somewhat surprised by its timing and ferocity.  It's not like we couldn't see it coming.  We've been warned for years.

I cite 1995 as a point in time when we were staggering out of the financial wreckage of the Reagan years, and surveying the future.  My expectation was not of an immediate and universal implosion, but a long, steady slide into third world status, aided and abetted by serial failures in leadership.

Approximately one year ago, I attended a presentation of the Fiscal Wake-up Tour, conducted by David Walker, then Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a complement of economic policy wonks from institutions as diverse as The Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution.  They came to the University of Hartford to present a consensus view of our economic future if current policies and leadership did not change.  They painted a bleak picture, but one that was still some time in the future, though its seeds were already firmly planted and germinating. 

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Capitalist Papers 2 – Corpocracy and Agency

Capitalism has been a vehicle for vastly improving and advancing the human condition.  But no system is perfect, and Capitalism's flaws are becoming progressively more apparent. While it is unlikely to collapse as dramatically as Soviet styled Communism, neither is it likely to survive in its current mode. 

However, before I delve deeper into this subject, perhaps it would be useful to separate Capitalism from some of its philosophical underpinnings that are as vital to a democracy as to a Capitalist paradigm of economic enterprise.

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