Corporate Mea Culpas, Corrupt New Democrats, and Progressive Populists

by on September 9, 2019 · 0 comments

in Economy, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

This just in: our corporate overlords have turned over a new leaf.  At least that’s what they were saying publicly quite recently.  As the New York Times reported :

Nearly 200 chief executives, including the leaders of Apple, Pepsi and Walmart, tried on Monday to redefine the role of business in society — and how companies are perceived by an increasingly skeptical public.

Breaking with decades of long-held corporate orthodoxy, the Business Roundtable issued a statement on “the purpose of a corporation,” arguing that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, the group said, they must also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.

What to make of this development?  Not too much, most likely.  From a public relations standpoint, it makes some sense with the climate catastrophe unfolding before our eyes, the economy teetering on the verge of a recession, and the Trump circus looking more and more like it could come crashing down at any moment, the American oligarchy might be getting a little worried that their party is about to end.

And perhaps that’s wise of them.

Also in the Times, Farhad Manjoo in “C.E.O.s Should Fear a Recession.  It Could Mean a Revolution” has a little fun with the C.E.O’s moment of contrition, characterizing their statement thusly, “In other words: no more Mr. Terrible Guy. Corporations are people, my friend, and it turns out that they’re really nice people, both interesting and interested, and we really must have them over for dinner sometime.”

Of course, Manjoo is correct to regard the new corporate piety with skepticism given the fact that no serious action followed their statement—or ever will.

Here in California we had a perfect example of just how unconcerned the corporate sector actually is with forging a new social contract when Uber and Lyft responded to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s AB 5, which, as the Sacramento Bee explains, “restricts when employers can classify workers as independent contractors and deny them benefits like overtime, sick leave and minimum wage”, by threatening to spend 90 million on a ballot measure to upend it.

Now that’s more like the American corporate world I’m accustomed to, faux social responsibility aside.

Manjoo ends his piece by zeroing in on the current political landscape and the fears that are actually motivating the titans of industry’s “woke” moment:

If I sound cynical, it’s only because I’m not a complete idiot. In the Trump era, America’s C.E.O.s have become masterful at talking out of both sides of their mouths. They’ll rush to issue virtue-signaling denunciations of the latest outrage from President Trump in order to please their woke, restless customer bases, while on the down low, they’ll champion his tax cuts and regulatory dismantling. And when the president gets too rowdy, they’ll tell him to knock it off over a friendly dinner.

It’s all a game to the moguls in charge. Their greatest fear is that we’ll stop playing.

Manjoo cites a Warren Presidency as the deepest nightmare of capital but, as a recent piece in Salon points out , it’s a bit more complicated than that.  It turns out that the Koch brothers (before the recent loss of one of them) had the long game in mind with regard to the Democratic Party.  Back in June, I wrote a column about their efforts at rebranding as a warmer and fuzzier entity, and now it appears that they had also been busy helping to shape the party that stands in for the American left. As the Salon piece reveals:

Koch Industries secretly funded a report by Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, to sell liberals on their trade agenda, according to the new book “Kochland” by investigative reporter Christopher Leonard.

The Kochs enlisted the help of Third Way, a corporate-funded centrist group that has long opposed progressive populists like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, after the Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, according to excerpts from Leonard’s book published by The Intercept. Concerned that Democrats were souring on free trade, which threatened their oil importation business, the Kochs sought to use the group to promote free trade to Democrats.

All of this would seem to fall in line with Manjoo’s embrace of Warren as the economic populist most feared by our faceless masters except that the corporate New Dems’ fear of Warren seems to have abated as she has risen in the polls.  Hence, the Salon piece observes:

Third Way has continued to criticize progressive populists in recent years, particularly those who oppose free trade policies, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both of whom are 2020 presidential candidates. Third Way leaders wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in 2013 attacking Warren and arguing she would take the party off a “populist cliff.” The authors claimed that “nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats” than to support Warren’s proposed economic reforms.

Earlier this year, as Warren rose in the polls of likely Democratic voters, the group changed its mind about her, arguing that Warren’s policies are “manageable” because she “believes in capitalism.” The group has said it still views Sanders as an “existential threat.”

So, there you have it.  If you really want to afflict the powerful and make their New Democratic “Third Way” neoliberal apologists unhappy, it appears that Sanders is still the choice.  But the fact that the neoliberal wing of the party is now willing to swallow hard and accept a bold progressive like Warren as “manageable” is a good sign that they may be on the run politically.

Like the C.E.O.s’ crocodile tears over their bad old ways, it shows that a window could be opening to elect someone willing and able to tackle the big structural changes that will take us off the dark path upon which we’ve been treading.



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