Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More puzzle pieces

The Vanity Press points out two things about the modern center-right in the US, which I'm going to repeat in large measure simply because they're rather important to understanding where we are:

One: (And this is something I've written about before) they have what you could call an "unlearned helplessness" -- they don't know sweet fuck all about important issues, so they assume those issues are unknowable, so they don't bother learning them. Look at climate change, or the profound ignorance of Arab and Muslim cultures, stem cells, or even the ridiculously horrible dance around Terry Schiavo's fate.

Two: far too many centrists -- and the vast majority of the right -- have swallowed the lie that somehow corporations and "the market" are relentlessly efficient institutions, weeding out all corruption and vice to form a crucible of pure self-interested reason. "Corporate Pixie Dust." It's as if, for these people, the gilded age and the great depression never happened. Hell, these people don't seem to remember the 1980s.

TVP adds:
Corporate Pixie Dust has basically been a rationalization for not having to know or learn anything. If all you need is a management style that can be, theoretically, applied to any kind of organization, well then you don't have to know or learn about that organization and the things that it does. That's why you can have a Michael Brown in charge of FEMA instad of someone who actually knows about emergency management.
Or George Bush in the White House instead of someone who knows anything.

If I can, I'd like to throw something else on the pile of puzzle pieces: during the 1990s -- especially from mid-decade to the Enron scandal, roughly -- we saw the Liberals in Canada and the Democrats in the US collect massive amounts of donations from corporations, when in both cases those parties had been viewed with suspicion by the business class. This was explained by, and was used to justify, both parties' shift to the right on various policies.

So long as the money kept pouring in, this state of affairs was explained largely as a matter of self-interest: corporations were (reasonably) trying to influence the election, and the best way to do that was to bet on all the horses, not just the pro-business parties of the right.

Except that in both cases, we've seen what happens when the nominal L/liberal party loses power -- business reveals itself to be a right-wing force by nature. Once the Democrats were out of the executive branch in the US, we saw a massive explosion of corruption scandals in the business world. Think that's an accident? The hemorrhaging of California during the Enron debacle ended shortly after Jim Jeffords gave the Senate back to the Dems. It's not a coincidence.

Now, we see business groups in Canada taking political positions diametrically opposed to those they allegedly held only a few years ago because they want to support the party of the right. (This makes them about as principled as your average Blogging Tory, I suppose.) So long as Harper's in a minority, they won't be able to get away with the massive swindling that they enjoyed down south, so they've apparently all decided to throw their lot in with Harper's Conservatives at least long enough for him to give away the keys to the store.

Part of the "Corporate Pixie Dust" myth was that business didn't really have strong political views, they just wanted parties of all stripes to embrace "sound management principles" and "run government like a business" (remember that?) That was actually what the kids call a "lie". Business will uncritically support right-wing parties over left-wing parties, no matter what.

I don't think that your average CEO really wants abortions banned in Canada, or even gay marriage overturned. But I do think he doesn't care about women or gays more than he cares about personally enriching himself. And he views those who do care about women and gays as likely to raise his taxes. (And environmentalists really all just hate capitalism, didn't you hear?) The point is that business -- regardless of country -- has a default position: support the right. If the right is disorganized or out of power, then business sometimes switches to Plan B: ally with the people in power, whoever they are. But the moment the right looks poised to take power again, business knows without a doubt who's going to dole out the corporate welfare most shamelessly.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying that I have very little time for "pro-business" leftists of any stripe. I think the market is a wonderful mechanism for some things, but "the market" in the abstract is a very different animal from the real-life capitalist economy. The Market may be efficient, but in the real world it also has a clear political agenda, one totally opposed to progressive visions of equality, justice, or environmental sustainability.


janfromthebruce said...

Over all I agree with the gest of your post. There was one point, however, that does not necessarily hold up in real life. You said that when "the right is disorganized or out of power, then business sometimes switches to Plan B: ally with the people in power, whoever they are." Well, that never happen when Bob Rae and the NDP was in power. They were able to govern but never to rule. Business basically did everything in its power to make this govt not work in Ontario.

john said...

I wrote "business sometimes switches to Plan B" precisely for a reason. There are plenty of other examples you could cite -- Chavez in Venezuela is another example of a guy who earned the business class' hatred long before he actually did anything to merit it. (requisite troll repellent: no, I'm not a fan of what Chavez has done lately.)

Chester N. Scoville said...

I would go even further and say that "the Market" is a figment of the imagination. In real life, there are only companies and consumers; the idea that there is some overarching metaphysical entity called "the Market" with a logic and intelligence of its own is pure moonshine.