Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blagojevich and the Pendulum of Public Distrust

Ordinarily, I like much of what Robert Reich has to say. In this case, however, he's vastly oversimplified what's happened.

Throughout its history, America has cycled back and forth between two distinct targets of distrust -- big business (including Wall Street), and government. In periods when big business is most distrusted, Americans seek protection from it, and reluctantly give government authority to expand its scope. When big government is most distrusted, Americans want less of it, and give big business greater leeway.

Bur what happens if business and government are one and the same, indivisible? If it were anyone else, I could let this comment slide, but Reich should know better. As I quoted him just the other day,

Supercapitalism has triumphed as power has shifted to consumers and investors. They now have more choice than ever before, and can switch ever more easily to better deals. And competition among companies to lure and keep them continues to intensify. This means better and cheaper products, and higher returns. Yet as supercapitalism has triumphed, its negative social consequences have also loomed larger. These include widening inequality as most gains from economic growth go to the very top, reduced job security, instability of or loss of community, environmental degradation, violations of human rights abroad, and a plethora of products and services pandering to our basest desires. These consequences are larger in the United States than in other advanced economies because America has moved deeper into supercapitalism. Other econoimes, following closely behind, have begun to experience many of the same things.

Democracy is the appropriate vehicle for responding to such social consequences. That's where citizen values are supposed to be expressed, where choices are supposed to be made between what we want for ourselves as consumers and investors, and what we want to achieve together. But the same competition that has fueled supercapitalism has spilled over into the political process. Large companies have hired platoons of lobbyists, lawyers, experts, and public relations specialists, and devoted more and more money to electoral campaigns. The result has been to drown out voices and values of citizens. As all of this has transpired, the old institutions through which citizen values had been expressed in the Not Quite Golden Age-- industry-wide labor unions, local citizen-based groups, "corporate statesmen" responding to all stakeholders, and regulator agencies-- have been largely blown away by the gusts of supercapitalism.

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