Published online 11 April 2012.
In my last diary I suggested that the “Left” in the US has made itself into a laughingstock by (among other things) imagining Barack Obama as a “leftist.” Now, I suppose the case was overstated — there are plenty of liberals who don’t think of Obama as a “leftist,” and whose main rationale for voting for him will merely be that he’s better than the Republicans. Yet the meme was still out there, and I felt obliged to point out that one reason that the “Obama is a leftist” meme still survives is that we don’t imagine government (in the US) as being run by two competing versions of conservatism. Instead, we imagine that there is still an active “Left” in American politics.
As I explained in that diary, “antipublic conservatism,” as we attribute it to Tea Party Republicans, idealizes a version of America in which society is constituted by (if anything) churches and in which America is otherwise an incidental collection of propertied individuals who should know nothing of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Its goal is (as one commenter in the discussion threads put it) a return to the “status quo ante” of American politics.
“Corporate conservatism,” by contrast, looks at the political landscape of this era as dominated by a corporate capitalism that is in continual need of “saving.” So, for instance, you have Tim Geithner telling a Chicago audience that Obama saved America from a depression “while laying the foundation for stable growth.” And also, for instance, you have Obama’s rescue plan for GM characterized by one of his supporters as a means of “saving capitalism.” There are obvious reasons for the privileged classes to be concerned about the future of capitalism, and these concerns are not merely limited to the fact that real-life economic growth has slowed to a crawl in the wake of the economic downturn of 2008-2009, perhaps peaking now and then but otherwise slow. It’s also, I’m sure, a concern voiced in elite circles that the overall global economic growth rate of the past forty or so years has been slowing from decade to decade.
In this light, we might expect the Obama administration to come up with new initiatives to keep the capitalist system on its positive course, to allay the nervousness of the investor class in an era of capitalism in decline. This brings us to Matt Taibbi’s recent column, “Why Obama’s JOBS Act Couldn’t Suck Worse.”
In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.
Taibbi’s concern here is that this JOBS legislation will “very nearly legalize fraud” in the stock market. We know what would be bad about that — after all, Taibbi writes jeremiads for a living. But what would be attractive about such a thing? Certainly someone, some important ones, wants this legislation. Reading off Taibbi’s complaints won’t give us the answer, so let’s skip to his explanation, and we can find it from there:
The JOBS Act seems like it will invite a replay of the disastrous tech-stock bubble of the late nineties. That mess was made possible by a historic collapse in accounting standards, with the great investment banks the pioneers of the collapse. In the old days, in the fifties and sixties for instance, you would never take a company public that wasn’t profitable at the time of the IPO, or didn’t have a multi-year track record of solid revenues. When the banks stopped insisting on proven track records or real profitability before taking a company public, there was a sudden explosion of stock-market investment into heretofore unknown internet firms. Companies with no track records went from having literally no revenues at all to having five or six billion dollars’ worth of market capitalization overnight.
The thing is, of course, that the “old days” were the Golden Age of Capitalism, and in that era one didn’t need sudden explosions of stock-market investment to evidence the “success” of one’s policies. No doubt the dominant reasoning in the White House is that desperate times call for desperate measures.
Another version of corporate conservatism at work is the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of 2,4-D on Monsanto’s genetically-engineered corn. Monsanto is a business, of course, and businesses must expand profits if we are to continue to experience the regime of expanding capitalism. The EPA, then, is only protecting that regime like an organization of good corporate conservatives.
The problem, then, with corporate conservatism is that capitalism, the engine which fuels the corporate growth which greases the wheels for the corporations and their client politicians, is not a conservative institution. Capitalism needs to grow in order to justify itself, and part of that growth (in this era), is the corporate design of new and more extravagant ways of extracting profit from those with money by, say, promoting dubious businesses with vast claims, or manipulating corn markets with GMO corn, chemical agriculture, and toxic pesticides. As the global growth rate continues to decline, we can expect the corporate conservatives in government to grease the wheels more and more fervently, granting permissions to ever more toxic forms of business, in order to keep the whole system running at top speed.