FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Corporate Socialism

 

The relentless expansion of corporate control over our political economy has proven nearly immune to daily reporting by the mainstream media. Corporate crime, fraud and abuse have become like the weather; everyone is talking about the storm but no one seems able to do anything about it. This is largely because expected accountability mechanisms — including boards of directors, outside accounting and law firms, bankers and brokers, state and federal regulatory agencies and legislatures — are inert or complicit.

When, year after year, the established corporate watchdogs receive their profits or compensation directly or indirectly from the companies they are supposed to be watching, independent judgment fails, corruption increases and conflicts of interest grow among major CEOs and their cliques. Over time, these institutions, unwilling to reform themselves, strive to transfer the costs of their misdeeds and recklessness onto the larger citizenry. In so doing, big business is in the process of destroying the very capitalism that has provided it with a formidable ideological cover.

Consider the following assumptions of a capitalistic system:

1) Owners are supposed to control what they own. For a century, big business has split ownership (shareholders) from control, which is in the hands of the officers of the corporation and its rubber-stamp board of directors. Investors have been disenfranchised and told to sell their shares if they don’t like the way management is running their business. Nowadays, with crooked accounting, inflated profits and self-dealing, it has proven difficult for even large investors to know the truth about their officious managers.

2) Under capitalism, businesses are supposed to sink or swim, which is still very true for small business. But larger industries and companies often have become “too big to fail” and demand that Uncle Sam serve as their all-purpose protector, providing a variety of public guarantees and emergency bailouts. Yes, some wildly looted companies that are expendable, such as Enron, cannot avail themselves of governmental salvation and do go bankrupt or are bought. By and large, however, in industry after industry where two or three companies dominate or presage a domino effect, Washington becomes their backstop.

3) Capitalism is supposed to exhibit a consensual freedom of contract — a distinct advance over a feudal society. Yet the great majority of contracts for credit, insurance, software, housing, health, employment, products, repairs and other services are standard-form, printed contracts, presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Going across the proverbial street to a competitor gets you the same contract. Every decade, these “contracts of adhesion,” as the lawyers call them, become more intrusive and more insistent on taking away the buyers’ constitutional rights to access to courts in favor of binding arbitration or stipulate outright surrender of basic rights and remedies. The courts are of little help in invalidating these impositions by what are essentially private corporate legislatures regulating millions of Americans.

4) Capitalism requires a framework of law and order: The rules of the economic game are to be conceived and enforced on the merits against mayhem, fraud, deception and predatory practices. Easily the most powerful influence over most government departments and agencies are the industries that receive the privileges and immunities, regulatory passes, exemptions, deductions and varied escapes from responsibility that regularly fill the business pages. Only those caught in positions of extreme dereliction ever have reason to expect more than a slap on the wrist for violating legal mandates.

5) Capitalist enterprises are expected to compete on an even playing field. Corporate lobbyists, starting with their abundant cash for political campaigns, have developed a “corporate state” where government lavishes subsidies, inflated contracts, guarantees and research and development and natural resources giveaways on big business — while denying comparable benefits to individuals and family businesses. We have a government of big business, by big business and for big business, even if more of these businesses are nominally moving their state charters to Bermuda-like tax escapes.

“Corporate socialism” — the privatization of profit and the socialization of risks and misconduct — is displacing capitalist canons. This condition prevents an adaptable capitalism, served by equal justice under law, from delivering higher standards of living and enlarging its absorptive capacity for broader community and environmental values. Civic and political movements must call for a decent separation of corporation and state.

In 1938, in the midst of the Great Depression, Congress created the Temporary National Economic Committee to hold hearings around the country, recommend ways to deal with the concentration of economic power and promote a more just economy. World War II stopped this corporate reform momentum. We should not have to wait for a further deterioration from today’s gross inequalities of wealth and income to launch a similar commission on the rampant corporatization of our country. At stake is whether civic values of our democratic society will prevail over invasive commercial values.

Ralph Nader is the founder of Public Citizen.

 

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
Marilyn Garson
If the Gaza Blockade is Bad, Does That Make Hamas Good?
Sean Posey
Declinism Rising: An Interview with Morris Berman  
Jack Dresser
America’s Secret War on Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Use and Misuse of Charity: the Luck of the Draw in a Predatory System
Louis Proyect
In the Spirit of the Departed Munsees
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Alex Jones and Infowars
Mundher Al Adhami
On the Iraqi Protests, Now in Their Second Month 
Jeff Mackler
Nicaragua: Dynamics of an Interrupted Revolution
Robert Hunziker
Peter Wadhams, Professor Emeritus, Ocean Physics
David Macaray
Missouri Stands Tall on the Labor Front
Thomas Knapp
I Didn’t Join Facebook to “Feel Safe”
John Carroll Md
Are Haitian Doctors Burned Out?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail