Special: Corporate-Focus: Commentary: ‘Enemies of the Future’

And you thought populism meant the movement of citizens to control, through democratic means, their economy, their government, and their lives? Clearly, you have not been paying attention — to editors of Fast Company, Forbes ASAP, and Wired magazine, the authors of The Millionaire Next Door and the Beardstown Ladies investment books, to George Gilder, Tom Peters, Lester Thurow and Thomas Friedman, to the Nike and Microsoft revolutionaries — and the myriad other business hustlers who would have you believe that popular democracy is reflected not by unions, activist groups and communities of human beings — but by avant garde, internet connected, tech-savvy corporations.

And you thought populism meant the movement of citizens to control, through democratic means, their economy, their government, and their lives? Clearly, you have not been paying attention — to editors of Fast Company, Forbes ASAP, and Wired magazine, the authors of The Millionaire Next Door and the Beardstown Ladies investment books, to George Gilder, Tom Peters, Lester Thurow and Thomas Friedman, to the Nike and Microsoft revolutionaries — and the myriad other business hustlers who would have you believe that popular democracy is reflected not by unions, activist groups and communities of human beings — but by avant garde, internet connected, tech-savvy corporations.

Revolution is the air! Forget the fight against the WTO in Seattle. We’re talking about fast companies leading the way to a new marketplace — fast
companies that express the will of the e-trading people, who are buying and selling their way into millionaire status, and upending the hierarchical corporate order.

The incessant bombardment of this drivel drove cultural critic Thomas Frank up and over the wall. He landed on the other side with One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy (Doubleday, 2000).

Frank, a social critic and editor of the Chicago-based Baffler magazine (www.thebaffler.com), has had it with the idea of “market populism” — the notion that markets are identifiable with the “will of the people” — one dollar, one vote.

He’s had it with the corporate hucksters who continue to paint this rosy picture of the 1990s: Corporate profits multiplied. The Internet liberated a new entrepreneurial spirit. A new generation of millionaires was minted overnight. Not just the rich — but all Americans — prospered, adapted easily to downsizing.

Or as laissez faire energy specialist Daniel Yergin put it: Privatization plus deregulation plus globalization plus turbo-capitalism equals
prosperity.

“From Deadheads to Nobel-laureate economists, from paleoconservatives to New Democrats, American leaders in the nineties came to believe that
markets were a popular system, a far more democratic form of organization than democratically elected governments,” Frank writes.

In molotov cocktail style, Frank rips into the hucksters of business hype, pointing out that democracy still means democratic institutions
democratically controlled, including governments and unions, and that all the hype about the millionaire next door and fast company revolutionaries that allow workers to dress casual on Fridays and rip the boss on e-mail will not change some fundamentals about our current version of extreme capitalism — the top 10 percent of Americans control 90 percent of the nation’s wealth, CEO compensation skyrocketed, rising from 85 times as much as the average blue-collar wage in 1990 to some 475 times as much by 1999, most Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck, union membership continues to crash, 15 percent of the population is without
health insurance, thousands of American jobs have been exported overseas, Americans are running up record levels of debt, and with the coming
downturn, trouble lurks.

Yet, because Frank effectively contrasts the hype of the business magazines and corporate hucksters with the reality on the ground in this country, he is considered “an enemy of the future” by Reason magazine editor Virginia Postrel.

Just practice democracy — seek to exert people power over corporations — and you too can become a card carrying enemy of the future.

Frank points out that for years, corporations, fearing public control, have sought to mess with the collective mind of the citizenry.

He says he owes a debt of gratitude to Roland Marchand’s classic Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in
American Big Business (University of California Press, 1998), in which Marchand points out that for all the legal legitimacy that the courts bestowed upon corporations at the turn of the century, corporations “conspicuously lacked a comparable social and moral legitimacy in the eyes of the public.”

So big corporations launched a 100-year public relations campaign to “create the corporate soul” — to convince Americans that corporations had a moral purpose and were serving the public good.

The public relations campaign continues today at warp speed. Many have been convinced that democracy and the free market are identical. But at
what price?

“Here at home the price was the destruction of the social contract, the middle class republic itself,” Frank writes. “Our portfolios may have appreciated generously, but they did so only to the extent that we countenanced the reduction of millions to lives of casual employment without healthcare or the most elementary of workplace rights. We caught the tail end of the Qualcomm wave and pretended not to notice as sweatshops reappeared on our shores. We wondered like tots at the majesty of Cisco, at the generosity of Gates, and we stood by as the price of a good education for our kids ascended out of reach.”

Pick up this book, not just to help you screw your head back on straight and to clear your vision — but also to help you start thinking about those to hold accountable for the outrage that has been perpetrated on the nation.

Make the list.

And check it twice.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1999).

Author: Russell Mokhiber & Robert Weissman

News Service: TheExperiment Network

URL: http://lists.essential.org/pipermail/corp-focus/2000/000049.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.