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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 8/11/21

Why Conservatives Want Government To Fail Everywhere

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Thom Hartmann
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A study by the Peace Research Institute in Norway and the University of Aarhus that polled 6,000 adults from the United States, Denmark, Italy, and Hungary found that the Covid pandemic has further eroded faith in government among people all across Europe and the US.

This is the capstone of "conservative" or neoliberal efforts to destroy faith in democratic governance in developed countries, an effort that goes back 50 years.

In the 1950s and 1960s Americans had a lot of trust in government - around 80 percent of Americans said they trusted government - as did the citizens of virtually all the western European countries. Today, the Pew Research Center says, only 17 percent of Americans say they trust their government.

For the very rich and big corporations back in the 1970s, this trust in a government that was then maintaining high tax rates and starting to aggressively hold corporations accountable for their pollution and dangerous products was, they believed, an existential threat.

Thus, in response to the growing environmental and consumer movements kicked off by Rachel Carson's 1961 book Silent Spring and Ralph Nader's 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed, giant corporations and the morbidly rich people they created set out to destroy Americans' faith in a tax-and-regulate form of government.

As Lewis Powell wrote in his infamous 1971 memo arguing that businesses and very wealthy individuals needed to mobilize to stop this "assault" on American business, "Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader who - thanks largely to the media - has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans."

Powell then quoted a May 1971 article profiling Nader in Fortune magazine:

''The passion that rules in him - and he is a passionate man - is aimed at smashing utterly the target of his hatted, which is corporate power. He thinks, and says quite bluntly, that a great many corporate executives belong in prison - for defrauding the consumer with shoddy merchandise, poisoning the food supply with chemical additives, and willfully manufacturing unsafe products that will maim or kill the buyer. He emphasizes that be is not talking just about 'fly-by-night hucksters' but the top management of blue-chip business."

This was no less, Powell declared in his next paragraph, "A frontal assault " on our government, our system of justice, and the free enterprise system--

His solution, as history shows, was for big corporations and the morbidly rich to create a network of think tanks to change public opinion, a filtering organization to help stack the courts, to create rightwing media empires, and to place "business-friendly" professors in schools and colleges.

After Nixon put Powell on the Supreme Court and they then legalized political bribery in a decision Powell himself authored (Bellotti), billionaires and corporations began sponsoring politicians willing to put deregulation and tax cuts at the top of their agenda in exchange for large campaign contributions and other forms of support like cushy jobs after leaving office.

The key to the entire thing was destroying citizens' faith in government, because Powell and the tobacco oligarchs who owned him believed government was taking far too much of their taxes (at that time the top income tax rate was 74% and corporate taxes could max out at nearly 50%) and regulations to protect consumers, workers and the environment were cutting into profits.

If they could get the people to reject government and instead embrace corporations "sponsoring" public goods like stadiums, hospitals and civic centers, and have schools and other institutions turn to billionaires for charity instead of depending on tax dollars, then they could eventually get their taxes lowered and their regulations loosened.

The Powell Memo brought into being a plethora of rightwing think tanks, radio and news networks and advocacy organizations that today litter the top hits on any google search of government-mediated topics from free trade to tax policy to "right to work" assaults on organized labor.

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)

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