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The Rise of the Corporate State

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The middle class is dying. Chart after chart, story after story, poll after poll, all show that the claim that we are a middle class nation are hollow fiction. This column by Charles Blow in the New York Times sums up one recent poll:

An Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll released Thursday found that while most Americans (56 percent) hold out hope that they‘ll be in a higher class at some point, even more Americans (59 percent) are worried about falling out of their current class over the next few years. In fact, more than eight in 10 Americans believe that more people have fallen out of the middle class than moved into it in the past few years.

The poll results are ugly. People know things are bad, they know they are screwed, and they are coming to the realization that the problem is the giant corporations and their rapacious executives. A majority of people polled, 54%, believe that the actions of corporate CEOs have made things worse for the middle class. A majority of people who self-identify as middle class have figured this out as well. P. 15, item 40. Similar majorities also see that financial institutions have made things worse. It’s a short step from here to figuring out that these CEOs aren’t acting in a vacuum. They are motivated in large part by the demands of the richest Americans, the owners and controlling shareholders of these corporations. We are an oligarchy.

This didn’t come out of the blue. It was predicted by C. Wright Mills, the prescient sociologist, who died in 1962 at the height of his powers. We recently had Stanley Aronowitz at a Book Salon to discuss his book, Taking It Big, which discusses Mills’ intellectual life in the context of his time. Mills asserts that there are five major groups that influence the socialization of people in the US: family, religion, mega-corporations, the political directorate, and the military. The initial socialization of children comes from family and religion. For a chosen few, the next step is induction into the leadership of one of the other groups. The rest of us for the most part become fodder for corporate interests or for the military.

We see how that socialization works for corporate fodder. Work hard and keep your nose clean, and maybe you can make a decent living. Or maybe we’ll fire you because we want to make more money or because we don’t like you. Or because we checked your credit score and we didn’t like it. Or because you didn’t wear enough flair. The random outcomes keep people off-balance, and working harder and harder, like perseverating pecking pigeons.

Perhaps you thought your technical and professional skills would protect you, but that’s not true, as all too many excellent computer coders, engineers, accountants and lawyers have learned. It’s no different for many professionals in private practice, and even for middle level administrators. The plain fact is that your success or failure doesn’t depend on your skills, but on whether you get lucky in your selection of a career and an employer.

It’s obvious that the hyper-rich and their corporations are the dominant institution today. The other institutions, the military and the political strive to please them in the hopes of a giant payoff when they leave those sectors. They eagerly leap to meet the demands of the oligarchs to preserve their own wealth and power, and they do only what they must to serve the people who ostensibly put them in power, always in forms such as civil liberties or adequate funding of tower operators so you can fly on schedule; and never in ways that might affect the material wealth of the oligarchs or their grasping for more of that wealth.

Aronowitz writes:

[Mills’s book] The Power Elite and especially Mills’s bold theory that democracy simply did not apply in America at the national level provoked a massive outpouring of condemnation – and a modest trickle of praise, mainly from the Left. P. 168

There is the problem. There was only a modest trickle of praise from the Left, because the Left, or whatever was left of the Left, had joined the universal celebration of America as the Shining City on the Hill, an entire nation united in praise of capitalism and rejection of all alternatives. Corporations and their controlling oligarchs are the rightful authority. The political directorate, supposedly the apex of democracy, flatly refuses to apply the rule of law to our corporate overlords.

The great bulk of us join in this celebration of the American/Capitalist dreamworld, even when, as the polls show, we know it is failing us and our families. What alternative does the Left have to offer? The entire edifice of left economic thought is based on Keynes, and you can barely find any discussion of his ideas by President Obama or other politicians. Even the public disgrace of the intellectual basis for austerity, the Rogoff-Reinhart paper, which followed years of anguish in countries devoted to it, hasn’t awakened interest in either political or economic alternatives.

I identify this as a problem for the Left because historically, the dissent that moves nations forward comes from the left. Today mostly what passes for the Left calls for amelioration of the misery, or even in some cases, justification. But that doesn’t exhaust the possibilities. The Modern Money Theory school has no credibility in the mainstream press or in political circles or in academia beyond a few schools, despite the fact that its ideas are logical and helpful. Who else is there with some dissenting theory?

Corporations and the oligarchs who control them are no longer under the control of democracy. How badly will they beat the people who cling to their self-description as middle class and their dreams of something better for their children before something changes? And why should we think we have some better idea about how to organize things, when our intellectual elites have nothing to contribute?

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I read a lot of books.