They are mammoth carnivores, dark power brokers, and, as proven time and again, without tough governing, they devour the earth, seduce public officials, and prey on human bone, greed, and blood. They can hold everyone in their crushing jaws, smash innovation in one sweep of their tails, and pack off entire nations back in time some 66 million years as hostage for the release of Tyrannosaurus Rex herds, reaping chaos.
Corporations are beneficial forms of business. They provide almost equal investment opportunities for everyone--although without equal decision information--and they sometimes even create "economies of scale" by delivering useful products most efficiently at low, competitive prices. By leveraging capital, they are able to build products otherwise unimaginable, like Adobe software, Boeing aircraft, Apple Computers, and then others like BP, GoldmanSachs investments, AIG insurance, MerrillLynch investments, or Enron energy.
They are giant businesses. Without regulatory limits, they wield monstrous power. In the U.S., as in Mexico and in other countries, they have become stronger than the government; their money can overrule environmental laws, influence and even control our public officials and judiciary. They prey on our most treasured democratic institutions and values. The patrician owners, leaders of corporations, have their own self-interests and agendas, and they rarely set a priority to improve the greater good of society. On the other hand, government's job is to balance the competitive markets so that they comply with the needs of society in general such as clean environment, health, or whatever the majority of citizens set as social goals. Today this balancing is not working. And it's a problem we need to fix in our current system of government.
The stewards of industry must spread a certain ideology to protect their assets. Consider the privately owned Koch Industries, valued in the billions, the Koch brothers own patented processes, mostly by inheritance, to convert oil into gasoline; you can guess that they lobby against any awareness of global warming. (1)
The captains of industry believe in magic. They have become the tribal high priests of our culture while our enfeebled democracy fails to set boundaries and rules to develop our society in general. One of the most glaring ideas that corporate elitists hold close to their hearts is that a "free market"--one that is uninhibited by government policy--always corrects itself to the most efficient conditions. This notion about a "free market" arose from something Adam Smith, an 18th century economist, expressed in terms of "the invisible hand" that guides markets to correct themselves as it satisfies the needs of individuals. But they are not concerned with solving social problems. However, the more contemporary, post-WWII economists, like John M. Keynes, emphasized that government must play a crucial role in markets in order to point industries toward the greatest good of society and away from abuses of power.
Corporate managers are generally not wise, altruistic saints looking for the best possible benefits for society at large. No. Their job is to keep their firms competitive and increase profits and stock values by any means. Today one of the popular methods includes "investing" obscene sums of money in lobbying to slacken labor rights, taxes, and the bridles of government regulations. And as individuals, corporate managers do not possess the will or the power to make rational decisions for an entire society's best interests. They work for their own self-interests to own more preferred shares and to promote their careers, salaries, and bonuses.
Today's military and economic crises reflect many others in U.S. history. In the 1920s bankers and investors raised speculation into a feeding frenzy of greed leading to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Likewise, the delusional boom years of Reagan/Bush led to the same false gods of free-wheeling business taking power over the balancing controls of government oversight. Reagan's empty speeches about "no government is best government" are still praised as great oratory by the wealthy who benefit from it. The empty discourse continues even after all the hypermedia has crashed down around the ankles of the middle class workers, who now pay for the excesses of the wealthy and their sycophant policy makers. America's short history of bubble-and-bust business cycles allows no one to plead ignorance. No one can act surprised, least of all the well-heeled financial wizards responsible for the premeditated busts for profits. American politics repeatedly shows the world that brain-dead incompetence is tolerated the more its consequences are colossal and costly to working-class families.
The dazzling myth in today's America is that the U.S. government is empowered to direct the economy for the benefit of all people since the government is--theoretically--for and by the people.
"They argued perhaps naively, that in a democracy, the people were sovereign and government was, by definition on their side. The sovereign people were entitled to use governmental power and resources to redress the inequalities created by the economy of capitalism." (2)
FDR's New Deal supported this conviction and "a wide range of regulatory agencies were created, the Social Security program and a minimum wage law were established, unions were legitimated along with the rights to bargain collectively." (3)
Since the 1950s, the U.S. government has become weaker than corporate power. Its democratic processes no longer serve the interests of its citizens. During the 80s, Reaganomics (a.k.a. neoliberal economic policy) weakened and dismantled most of FDR's New Deal, "socialist" policies, which resulted in less equality. From the time of Reaganomics to the present, government policies distributed 200 times more wealth to the top 1 percent of the population, back to the robber barons--a return to the Gilded Age--while the middle class' income barely increased, if at all.(4)
During the 90s, Clinton continued this neoliberal trend. While looking to gain support from the Wall Street investment banks like Goldman Sachs, he hired Robert Rubin for help, which resulted in Rubinomics--the overturn of the regulatory Glass Steagall Act, thus enabling free-wheeling banking to run off the tracks by 2008. Banks like Goldman Sachs only used this major catastrophe first to fleece the middle class and then to take its tax-paid bail-out as the spoils of a corporate coup d'e'tat.
"Rubin has been held in awe by the American political elite for nearly 20 years despite having f**ked up virtually every project he ever got his hands on. He went from running GoldmanSachs (1990-1992) to the Clinton White House (1993-1999) to Citigroup (1999-2009), leaving behind a trail of historic gaffes that somehow boosted his stature every step of the way." (5)
Recent crises show us how both Republicans and Democrats sing the same hymns in order to garner financial and political support from corporate lords. Does America now have a single party like, say, China or Cuba? If not, at least the differences are now little more than staged soap opera dramas to maintain the American myth that voters have a choice--one between the neoliberal or the neoliberal policies--and that America is still a functional democracy, home of the free and the brave.
"Why has capitalism become so triumphant and democracy so enfeebled? Are the two trends connected? What, if anything, can be done to strengthen democracy?" (6)
The U.S. government is weak. It cannot control its own military-industrial complex, which has grown its own power base by lobbying, despite what citizens might vote to stop the endless wars and colonial occupations, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Andrew Bracevich points out in his book, Washington Rules, the American empire has become an unbearable burden, almost impossible to shake off our shoulders.