We Were Warned of Corporatism

“Both Teddy Roosevelt and union leaders like the AFL-CIO’s Samuel Gompers decried the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation. Roosevelt’s presidential opponent, William Howard Taft, criticized legislation that would have enabled the foundation as “a bill to incorporate Mr. Rockefeller.””
~Alexis Madrigal

Neither Theodore Roosevelt nor William howard Taft were liberals, much less radical left-wingers. As right-wing imperialists born into wealth, they were part of a particular monied elite that sought to defend plutocracy with ideals of enlightened aristocracy and noblesse oblige, defend it against the New Money of those like the Robber Barons. It was a paternalism that idealized the past and sought to hold a vision of national greatness, a longing to form America as an empire in the mould of the Old World.

It was a bit of the old Tory conservatism that revered the monarchy and yet sometimes expressed a certain kind of populist disdain against propertied wealth gone out of control. Like the aristocracy of the past, they feared unregulated markets and powerful private organizations that would dominate society. This was an attitude that was common going back to the founding generation. The United States was literally founded on an intense fear of corporate power that was based on hard-won experience, what helped to incite the American Revolution.

Many of the American Founders were determined to not allow a repeat of the East India Company in the United States. So, they carefully circumscribed such potentially dangerous government-decreed corporate charters in limiting their role to a temporary service toward specific projects of public good (e.g., building a bridge). They would’ve thought it dangerous and foolish to conflate business with corporatism. But we have since then forgot this founding wisdom. So much for constitutional originalism.

It’s worse than that. We are now going a step further toward the cliff edge with taking that conflation and further conflating it with philanthropy, what some call philanthrocapitalism. Those like Bill Gates also are heavily involved in lobbying. And the crony connections are vast across the public and private sectors. They represent a powerful component of the growing deep state that overlaps with the intelligence agencies and military-industrial complex.

This is one of the ways in which capitalism will destroy itself. The success of these capitalists is leading to a corrupt power that will undermine the system that allowed some of them to work/finagle their way up into wealth. They are killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Some say this is an inevitable result of capitalism. Others disagree. In either case, it will be the result of our present capitalism, if there is not revolutionary-level reform of the system.

It won’t be an outside threat that destroys capitalism. Communism is a bogeyman. Capitalism doesn’t need enemies when it has capitalists like Gates. The rot comes from within. If you wish to put a positive spin on this, as Karl Marx did, this is simply a step in the formation of a new kind of society never before seen, a society that can’t be forced through violence but must emerge naturally in passing through this stage of capitalism like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Well, it sounds nice.

Whether or not it’s a new beginning, we are most definitely coming to an ending. But it could take a while, a slow torturous demise that could transpire over centuries like the decline of the Roman Empire following the Republican Era, although it maybe more likely to happen quite rapidly with climate change catastrophe. After that, we can see if societal rebirth will help us avoid a new dark age.

“Corporations are many lesser commonwealths in the bowels of a greater, like worms in the entrails of a natural man.”
~Thomas Hobbes

“No amount of charities in spending such fortunes can compensate in any way for the misconduct in acquiring them.”
~Theodore Roosevelt

* * *

Against Big Philanthropy
by Alexis Madrigal

“Big Philanthropy is definitionally a plutocratic voice in our democracy,” Reich told me, “an exercise of power by the wealthy that is unaccountable, non-transparent, donor-directed, perpetual, and tax-subsidized.”

This was not previously a minority position. If you look back to the origins of these massive foundations in the Gilded Age fortunes of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, their creation was massively controversial, Reich said, and for good reason.

“A hundred years ago, there was enormous skepticism that creating a philanthropic entity was either a way to cleanse your hands of the dirty way you’d made your money or, more interestingly, that it was welcome from the standpoint of democracy,” Reich told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “Because big philanthropy is an exercise of power, and in a democracy, any form of concentrated power deserves scrutiny, not gratitude.”

Both Teddy Roosevelt and union leaders like the AFL-CIO’s Samuel Gompers decried the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation. Roosevelt’s presidential opponent, William Howard Taft, criticized legislation that would have enabled the foundation as “a bill to incorporate Mr. Rockefeller.”

Our era has not seen similar skepticism, despite the wealth inequality that serves as the precondition for such massive foundations. Though perhaps it is returning.

4 thoughts on “We Were Warned of Corporatism

    • It’s a systemic problem. No one has to consciously conspire, although there is plenty of that as well. All that one has to do to succeed is to allow oneself to become corrupted by the corruption all around one. It’s easier to do that than to intentionally fight the corruption which will almost certainly guarantee failure according to the rules of the game. Conspiring and corruption is the default. Consciousness is only likely to happen if one goes against this default.

  1. In Sweden, the large corporations have induced the Parliament to pass laws and the government to pass regulations which limit the ability of small entrepreneurs to grow their business. Unless something has changed since I was last informed on this, it is relatively easy to build a company up until you reach 10 employees. Any larger, then the bureaucracy and tax laws become onerous.

    • That is interesting and disappointing. I’d hope that otherwise well-functioning social democracies would not be falling into this same kind of plutocratic corporatism. It is no doubt less extreme in Sweden and similar countries, but it also was less extreme earlier in US history. Corruption like this begins small and grows from there.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s