To the “Rescue of our Capitalist Culture”?

In spite of the embarrassments on Capitol hill and debates that make many—not just those of us somewhere left of center—want to avert our eyes, there has recently been a near avalanche of hopeful critiques of our outlandish corporate economy. Suspended in a kind of Obama to Clinton wishful state, vaguely anesthetized given how much is still wrong with our approach to unions, education, corporate shareholder (all of Us?) driven knavery, we can at least find comfort and inspiration in the works we’ve presented like those of Thomas Frank and Robert Reich—and Barbara Ehrenreich, although we’ve not reviewed her. Oh yes, and, of course, Thomas Piketty’s CAPITAL in the 21st CENTURY.


Magazines like The American Prospect and The Nation also furnish lively summaries of what has gone awry in the American economy and business culture. An article by Steven Pearlstein in the March-April issue of “..Prospect” titled, “When Shareholder Capitalism Came to Town,” is typical. If I may conflate some of his major points on what is/has gone wrong with the business economy and its government and media enablers with my own “amens,” well here goes!:


  1. The pieces of the puzzle have been fit together with small variations, but the essence is that corporations have changed over the last 50 years from focusing on profitable success but within a social contract recognizing obligations to the community, to a focus on optimal profit at almost any cost, justified by the doctrine of maximizing returns to the stock-holder,
  2. What this means, of course, in plain English is that companies must cut corners as opportunities arise, often innovatively: outsourcing jobs, depressing wages and benefits (which are known to have been static among the workforce since the early 1970s)
  3. Part of the reason for the move from a more “symbiotic connection between business and society”—corporations providing stable and increasingly productive jobs, accepting some government regulation, paying rather higher taxes than today in return for a public that respected labor with a capital L and a domestic workforce with the spending power to keep healthy consumption in the United States
  4. As foreign competition increased dramatically, technology triggered sweeping workplace changes, structural forces like international trade pressures and suctioning out jobs from the U.S. (to) abroad in the name of free trade and Global market survival, all buttressed by profit at any cost dominated think tanks and even some university economics departments, some of the following occurred;
  5. This is an overview and there are better places to find causal explanations for American job loss*, weakening of Labor, income inequality, we are offering a compact laundry list of complicated RESULTS:
  • The dramatic and undeniable migration of millions of American jobs overseas, whatever the rationale
  • The corporate culture of increased insecurity and impersonality regarding employees who are not infrequently fired, laid off, handed the pink slip after years of service, often good service, with devastating individual psychological and collectively “negative multiplier effects”
  • A plant shuts down, it is cheaper to produce in Mexico or the Philippines, and while workers may eventually find work elsewhere (WALMART, service industries, other big box stores to name a few), the short term effect is of course that local businesses suffer, fewer local stores survive, economic and “social Darwinism” unfolds, and across the country for reasons—again—to complex to detail here (but read Stiglitz, Thomas Frank, Kevin Phillips, Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, Piketty, and, in the UK, for example, Robert Skidelsky, among a host of others—whole states, counties, small towns, empty out fall into decay (variants on Detroit)
  • Health and retirement benefits decrease, and again, wages remain stagnant, government programs do not fill the gap, purchasing power is compromised and speculation (read Wall Street, but not all of it and not Only it!)
  • An equally robust, but perhaps endangered literature, touting the virtues of so called hidden hand market economy advantages, neo-social Darwinism with the virtues of the survival of the fittest (why not WALMART and AMAZON with titanic economies of scale, capable of putting air conditioners, housewares, and books into the hands of consumers at Permanent Bargain rates?)

We have presented nothing new here that cannot be found articulated in more depth and with far more back story and empirical examples. What we are doing is reaching small but increasing numbers of readers, reinforcing a complex (that word again) blockbuster message that pushes back against malign forces and pulls people Toward awareness, questioning institutions and practices at the local level, holds officials, businesses and the media accountable… in a world awash with information, blogs, platforms, overlapping media, we are in the business of consciousness raising—one reader at a time—and making the case that the excesses of the Second Gilded Age, roughly 1985-2005, are, more gradually but still inexorably, paving the way for a progressive backlash and, for example, a new youth culture and worldview that questions the greed-is-good “core creed” more harshly than the increasingly hollowed out “nanny state.”







1 thought on “

  1. If, as you suggest, it has been chiefly new technologies and the global competition that they have spawned that have created a corporate culture that is concerned only
    with the maximizing of profits, then it becomes essential for government to act in ways that are politically impossible as of now.

    The model for a progressive economy would seem to be our mobilization in World War II when the unemployment problem that had remained chronic throughout the 1930s was solved (and then some) by the recruitment of 12 million men for the armed forces and by the massive government orders for the supplies and armaments necessary to fight and win the war.The money that paid for all this was obtained partly by higher taxes but mainly by borrowing.The national debt was quintupled.The increased production of the war years was after a brief recession in 1946 maintained during the 1940’s and thereafter as the economy shifted from the manufacture of weapons to the production of consumer goods.

    Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating war as a substitute for economic policy, and certainly not a conflict as disastrous as the second world war. Nevertheless, we need to ask ourselves why the 30’s were beset by continued unemployment while in the early forties we achieved one production miracle after another.

    I believe that what made possible the economic benefits of the war was the co-operation that took place between the federal government and the private sector. The government was permitted to set priorities as never before. The production of new cars ceased and the manufacture of televisions sets was postponed for the duration of the war.The private sector developed new technologies of production that lifted to incredible levels the quality and numbers of tanks, airplanes, and naval vessels that were made available to the armed forces of the United States and its allies.Unemployment virtually disappeared, wages were high, and with few consumer goods available, people bought war bonds and added to their savings accounts.

    Liberals often cite the enhanced welfare states of Germany and Scandinavia as models for the United States. Perhaps, but these nation are smaller and more homogeneous in compositon.
    At present, it is difficult to see how a nation as divided as America will ever be able to co-operate
    sufficiently to deal effectively with the complex problems that bedevil it. With millions of new people reaching working age each year,jobs must somehow be created on a massive scale.

    But how is this to be done?


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