Monday, February 07, 2011

A Grumpy Post About Capitalism And Cakes

If my beloved alien (Al from outer space) was here to watch American politics she/he/it/they would certainly think that something called "small business" is one of the largest groups on this planet. Politicians of all stripes (from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama) keep talking about the importance of small business! Every proposal must be screened for its impact on those fragile shoots of business.

It is such a common thing that we seldom wonder about the other kinds of business: the big one. When politicians protect the small businesses by, for instance, trying to eliminate inheritance taxes, what are they doing about big businesses or about wealthy individuals?

It's not that I have anything against small businesses. But that term is used to disguise something quite different when it is used to defend or protest proposals which would either benefit or not benefit all corporations, whatever their size. "Small business" has become a euphemism for corporations in general, a more digestible way for politicians to take the side of the owning classes and not the side of the classes who own much less.

But do this thought experiment: Figure out how many Americans get their living from paid labor for someone else and how many get their living from entrepreneurship. Then compare those percentages to the political soundbite percentages arguing for each group. There is no comparison, my friends. Terms such as "workers" or "the working class" seem to be viewed as almost obscene in this country.

These grumpy thoughts were caused by this:
For Bruce Josten, the feisty top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it got personal last fall on a Sunday talk show when President Obama’s spokesman invoked his name.

“They called me out” during a White House attack on the chamber’s midterm campaign efforts, Mr. Josten recalled. Mr. Obama had his own reason to take things personally; his policies were on the receiving end of a $50 million “voter education” barrage by the chamber, the signature lobby for American business.

For the moment, both sides have sheathed their weapons. Mr. Obama will address the chamber on Monday as part of a postelection effort to improve relations with business and, he hopes, accelerate economic recovery.

Mr. Josten sees positive signs. The chamber cheered the bipartisan tax cut compromise that Mr. Obama reached with Republicans in the lame-duck session of Congress, the completion of a United States-South Korea trade deal and the recent appointment of William M. Daley, a former business executive, as White House chief of staff.

“The White House does deserve credit,” Mr. Josten acknowledged. But he is not yet convinced that such steps will tame what he called the “regulatory tsunami,” among other problems, enough to stir the investment and the new hiring the administration seeks.

“That’s all up in the air,” Mr. Josten concluded. “You’ve got to walk the talk.”
So the president will address the US Chamber of Commerce, and the members of the latter will see if he's going to behave better now! Perhaps he will even get rid of all cumbersome regulation so that, say, the stock markets can try to destroy the economy again and then get bailed out by the tax-payers! Or at least we can once again enjoy Chinese melamine and not just in the kitchen counter-tops!

Such arrogance. Such utter arrogance, and nobody seems to notice. Perhaps that is not unexpected in a country where people call Barack Obama a communist and nobody laughs. Or where someone like me (judged as right-of-center in Europe) has been called a Stalinist.

But the piece I linked to does, in fact, state the underlying problem:
Relations between corporate leaders and any Democratic president are necessarily fraught. They have different constituencies and worldviews — on the role of government, the distribution of tax burdens and the proper balance between business and labor.
Indeed*. Or put into simpler terms: They have different ideas about who should eat how much of the overall cake (the Gross Domestic Product). The corporate leaders already have huge slices on their plates but they'd prefer to have more. Those who are really just workers (whatever the propaganda may have made them think) would also prefer to have larger slices than the tiny ones they now have or any crumbs at all! Yet all this can be described as "different constituencies and worldviews." Even when the actual numbers of workers far exceed those of entrepreneurs of any stripe.

How did we come to a point where the two sides can be viewed as somehow equal in size and in need? It has to do with the fact that the corporate side owns the cake-making facilities and thus the power to hire or not to hire the workers. Without one of those jobs a worker gets no cake slice at all, and any attempt by a Democratic administration to protect the bakery workers from fires or from flour-lung or inhumanely long working hours is seen as interference with the best way to Make The Cake Bigger! The bakery owners don't want interference from the government. That, they argue, would make the cake smaller and surely a small slice out of a large cake is better than a large size from a tiny cake.

It's as if there is no way to bake a cake while taking care of the workers' safety and health and while paying them fair wages for it.

Enough with the baking metaphors. My wider point really is that the so-called class wars are going on all the time, only we have been brainwashed not to notice it except in those cases where someone complains about them. So it's really this post which is an example of class war...
*That "indeed" must be qualified in the case of Obama and the current Democrats in the Congress. It's not that clear who their constituency might be.