Posts Tagged ‘Corporate America’

A tough, self-critical assessment to clear the way to a better future

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Mark McDermott

The outcome of the 2012 election is extremely important, but even avictory for President Obama and the congressional Democrats will not ensure that our nation moves towardanew shared prosperity and genuine economic opportunity and security for all. For more thanyears, corporate America’s relentless attacks and its economic and political domination have been growing and will not stop regardless of the election results.

What is the way forward? First and foremost, we progressives from many movements need to do an-depth self-criticism of how we are organized and carrying forward the fight for a better future. We need to ask ourselves tough questions about our vision, values, agenda, strategy and collective organization. I include myself in this tough self-critical examination.

I submit that the progressive movements lack the critical collective organizational capacity to the develop an overall coherent vision of a better future and to proactively map the road forward. We are a multi-limbed organism that lacks a well-developed brain and central nervous system. If hard work, dedication, and a deep commitment to justice were all that were needed, our nation would look very different. Unfortunately much more is needed.

What does this deep self-criticism look like? Major league professional sports teams study game films every week. They study the offense and defense on every play. They analyze the strategies, tactics, timely adjustments, quality of the players, and the role of random luc. Their study leads to decisions to rebuild the team, to fundamentally shift strategies or tactics, to add a few new players and/or persist with the current strategy.

For political and economic movements, history itself is the game film. Let’s look at the 30-plus years of the game films of the origins of the financial collapse and the Great Recession. Most importantly we need to look hard at what we, the progressive movements, did to combat the financial deregulation origins of this economic catastrophe.

For decades, Corporate America, its Republican and Democratic allies, and many elite economists and commentators aggressively pushed deregulation of the banks and financial industries. President Carter and the ruling congressional Democrats started the process in the late 1970’s. President Reagan and Congress continued. President Clinton and most of Congress delivered massive deregulation in the late 1990’s. Bush, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and their cronies mismanaged the weakened regulatory protections in the 2000’s.

It added up to a largely bipartisan selling out of the American people. Final score: Big banks bailed out — for the people, massive pain.

Studying the game films of our opponents is easy. Deregulation took place in broad daylight. We know what they did if we care to look. Here comes the uncomfortable part for the movements and for me personally. What was our collective offense and defense over the past 30+ years?

Our offense and defense were largely non-existent. If you doubt this, try to recall how many demonstrations and protests of any size took place across the country in opposition to deregulation and the need for greater regulation. I can’t remember any. Why? Deregulation took place publicly. Brilliant progressive economists and some progressive Democrats warned us of the great dangers. Let me be blunt. We were not paying attention. We can’t blame our opponents for this. Why were we so unprepared?

The progressive movements are splintered up into literally thousands of organizations focused on single issues. We have labor, health care reform, immigration reform, hunger, poverty, human services, senior issues, reproductive and gay/lesbian rights etc. etc. etc. What mass movement is in charge of ensuring that we don’t have unnecessary economic collapses? None. More importantly, we lack a central organizational structure to discuss these matters across movements to ensure an effective vision and strategy to prevent crises and lead us forward to a better future. The institutional Democratic Party failed miserably in this historic task.

All progressive movements and their constituencies have been hit hard by the five-plus years of economic hard times. For decades, we have lacked the collective capacity to ensure that economic policy and financial regulation serve the people and not the wealthy elites. When the collapse came, we were both powerless and largely clueless regarding what to do.

All of us want a brighter, more secure and sustainable future. We must recognize our collective strategic organizational failure as the first step in laying out our positive vision for the future and how we will get there. More on this in later articles.

Corporate America’s Counterattack against the People – 1970’s Forward

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

By Mark McDermott

By the early 1970’s, Corporate America was on the defensive as strong movements for racial justice, a cleaner environment, safer consumer products, women’s rights, and worker protections successfully pressured Congress to pass major legislation. Corporate power was being limited in areas of racial, gender and age employment discrimination, polluting the environment, selling unsafe and unhealthy consumer products, and keeping workplaces needlessly unsafe and unhealthy. This was the second major wave of reform in less than 40 years that further limited the power of corporations and expanded greater economic and social justice.

These great people’s victories provoked deep discussions among Corporate America about how to reverse this loss of power and regain dominance. On August 23, 1971, Lewis Powell, an influential corporate lawyer, wrote a confidential memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce entitled “Attack of the American Free Enterprise System.” This influential document described an alleged systematic assault on the survival of free enterprise. Most importantly it laid out the need and strategy for Corporate America to launch a broad based long-term counterattack against their enemies.

Powell called for broad-based, long-term educational campaigns and aggressive political action to regain corporate dominance. Re-establishing the primacy of business perspectives on economic life and the central role of business in our nation was needed. He singled out the key targets as business critics from the universities, the pulpit, and the media, thought leaders in the arts and sciences and unreliable politicians. To quote Powell, “The first essential is to establish the staff of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public.”

His strategy was clear and direct: Develop the idea machine to shift public consciousness, effectively work the media, and relentlessly attack the enemies of Corporate America. Again to quote Powell, “It is essential that spokesmen — at all levels and at every opportunity — be far more aggressive than in the past. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas…Nor should there be reluctance to penalize those who oppose it…The type of program described above . . . if undertaken long term and adequately staffed, would require far more generous financial support from American corporations than the Chamber has every received in the past.”

Two months after Powell wrote this secret memo, President Richard Nixon nominated him to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress confirmed him. Powell was not the only corporate advocate calling for a broad-based war of ideas and disciplined political action to regain corporate dominance. This was not conspiracy theory run amok but very thoughtful strategic thinking and planning. Did anyone listen to Powell and his ideas?

The 1970s and 1980s saw an explosion of corporate-oriented think tanks: The Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973; The Cato Institute (1974); The Manhattan Institute (1978); Citizens for Sound Economy (1984) founded by the Koch Brothers; State Policy Network (1986) which has 59 affiliated state think tanks. The long established American Enterprise Institute grew from 10 to 100 staff between 1970 and 1980. There are others.

With the idea machine well-funded, Corporate America and their intellectual and political allies unleashed a decades-long war of ideas. They triumphed with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, who promised a new day in America.

The message was simple and clear. Government is the enemy strangling the free enterprise system. Get government off the back of business and the people through deregulation. Cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy to spur job creation and prosperity. This came to be known as known as trickle-down economics. Cut government social programs because they weaken the people they claim to help. Privatize government whenever possible because the private sector is always more efficient than the government. Last but not least, promote free trade and export manufacturing jobs. We don’t need to make things any more. This bold approach would bring rising prosperity to our nation and the people. Trust Corporate America. They will deliver.

The late 1970s and early 1980s were a fundamental turning point in how our nation would approach issues of economic justice and fairness. Our nation embarked on a great experiment. How did it work? Part 4 next month will tell that story.

(Mark MCDermott is a member of the PSARA Execuive Board and the developer of an economic justice education program.)