Monday, September 12, 2011

The Corporate Enemy

Richard North at his EUReferendum blog has an interesting post entitled the 'Corporate Enemy'. The direct trigger for this is an article in the New York Times reporting a speech by Sarah Palin (the reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher in the minds of our liberal media here in the UK). Dr North states:

The New York Times has it that some Palin's ideas cross the political divide, but the real issue is that the nature of the political divide has changed. We no long have the left-right divisions, or the distinction between state and free market.

What has happened, as I argue in the third of my pieces, is that the line has moved from vertical to horizontal, the upper part occupied by the political classes and the corporates – with no distinction between private and public sectors.

That is in fact, where the battle lines are now drawn, something which Palin understands. If the sensitive little souls from UKIP got over their wounded feelings and used their brains, they too might realise that. The EU is only a tiny part of the overall problem. It is one corporate amongst many.

On top of the political classes, therefore, our enemies are the corporates. The battle is to be fought with them as a whole. And that is going to need a lot more than a referendum, or any of the other ideas we've seen coming from a eurosceptic camp that seems unable to comprehend that the battle has moved on.

These ideas chime with a familiar theme at this blog - the utter meaninglessness of left/right divisions. They no longer make any sense, the world has moved on considerably and yet too many people are still stuck in the past. They view everything through this simplistic prism. It means, for example, that old slogans about 'Tory cuts' can be dusted off and aired again, even though there is little to differentiate the three main political parties. They are all united by the same world view with only personality differences and presentational styles to choose between them.

It is also worth nothing North's observation that there is no distinction between state and free market. In this I think he is both right and wrong. He is clearly right when we look around us: can anyone tell me how our privatised railways differ from there nationalised predecessors? Ultimately we still have high prices, poor service and a massive drain on the public purse. The same for some of the utilities. And again if we look at the state of the banks we live in a world of privatised profits and socialised losses.

More than this we live in a world of crony capitalism. The higher echelons of big corporates - and it's not just the banks and financials - move effortlessly from the private sector to the public and back again. Big companies are increasingly becoming dependent on the public purse, particularly when it comes to public subsidies related to climate change and environmentalism. They are complicit in the scam and will campaign for increasing regulation or corporate welfare when it suits them (particularly when it cuts out competitors).

But this is not free market capitalism. From Adam Smith to Milton Freidman, free market advocates have said that capitalism needs to be defended from capitalists. It's easier for big companies to cosy up to government than it is to remain innovative or competitive. So North is right, big coporates are part of the problem, but they are because they are not looking for a free market .

But in addition to the state we also have a new player on the block, one that is also part of the problem. It's the big NGOs. WWF, Greenpeace, FoE, RSPCA and more. These are multi-billion pound organisations, with huge clout and enormous political influence. Like the corporates, the higher echelons of these NGOs move effortless in and out of government. They work with transnational organisations like the EU or the UN. They are increasingly funded by the state and in some cases, like the RSPCA, are gaining legal sanctions. But still the media treats them as though they are the small campaigning organisations they started out as.

And, it has to be said, at the nexus of this powerful mix of state, corporate and NGO - effectively our political class in toto - lies climate change. Here is the issue that unites them all, from the state looking to increasingly police it's population, to the companies looking for subsidy to the NGOs campaigning against a problem that might or might not happen.

North is right - the left/right distinction is extinct and we live in a world where we are ruled by a permanent class of powerful people looking down on the rest of still fighting the battles of thirty years ago.


Contrarian said...

In Mussolini's vision of fascist corporativism, it was big business, the unions and the state at the core of the system. Roll forward to the 21st century and we have big business, the state and the NGOs cosying up to run the system. And this works without the overt trappings of the fascist state thanks to a compliant media (embedded completely in the system), a population that is largely apathetic and anti-political and an education system that works to keep them that way.

Anonymous said...

How is North wrong? Perhaps it is semantics, but I see the NGOs as an extension of the state. There is a minor distinction in that the NGOs are doing things that the state cannot legally do. However, the NGOs are accomplishing the state's goals.

Let me use the US EPA as an example (the following scenario has happened many times):

1. The EPA proposes rule changes.
2. The public reacts badly and puts pressure on congress to block the changes.
3. The proposed changes are not implemented immediately.
4. The EPA gives money to environmental NGOs
5. The NGOs sue the EPA to force the changes in the law that the EPA originally proposed.
6. The EPA produces "evidence" that is only in favor of the change while "defending" the lawsuit.
7. The judge makes preliminary rulings that coincide with the evidence.
8. The EPA "settles" (by implementing the changes that could not pass legislatively).

The state's mission is now accomplished.

Contrarian said...

I didn't say that North was wrong. I'm largely agreeing with his analysis but pointing out that it's not just big business and big government, it's also big NGOs.