Corporate Class Consciousness

Saudi agents lured Washington Post columnist and American visa-holder Jamal Khashoggi into their embassy in Turkey, where he was tortured, murdered and dismembered three weeks ago. Our president waved off the incident since the Saudis own an entire floor of Trump Tower, share his hostility toward a free press, and figure prominently in his financial crimes. The State Department and the military have responded with moves to protect a $100bn+ arms deal with the theocratic kingdom. So much for that “City on a Hill” nonsense.

Meanwhile, AT&T, Google, Ford, JP Morgan, CNN and numerous other companies announced a boycott of a critical Saudi media event. Uber’s CEO joined the chorus, refusing to attend the event despite the company’s heavy Saudi financing. Virgin CEO, Richard Branson, suspended all of his many ties to the Saudis, a move that endangers more than a billion in pledged funding for his space ventures. Meanwhile, US Treasury Secretary and Bond-movie villain, Steve Mnuchin, still plans to attend.

We’re seeing this pattern consistently. Now that the government at the center of the “Free World” has been bought off by a corrupt global kleptocrats, who is standing up for liberal democratic values? Corporations, of course. Get used to it, because this is the strange new shape of liberal democracy.

Rising corporate activism will not be entirely good news. Our new class of creative global corporations has interests largely, but not entirely aligned with liberal democracy. How these companies identify their interests will be heavily influenced by the assertiveness of their employees, their customers, and the general public. Corporate benefactors will not simply ride to our rescue. Recognizing the importance of corporate class interests doesn’t mean waiting for Bill Gates to save the world, it means that all our plans for political activism need to be updated to include an economic and corporate appeal. Corporations will not be our saviors, but we will not succeed in building a just 21st century order without successfully engaging them.

I. Awakening

Not all corporations are joining the boycotts and protests against oppressive regimes, racism, and bigotry. Companies are not all the same. Like people, they have class interests. Also like people, there is a process by which these companies waken to their class interests. The story of the 20th century was the rise of socialist-inspired class consciousness, eventually dominated by large middle-classes in the western democracies. The story of the 21st century may be the rise of post-socialist corporate class consciousness, dominated by a powerful new order of creative businesses, reliant on talent and a free society for their profit stream.

We don’t think of businesses as a force for social progress for some very good reasons. Most of the dominant business models from the industrial era depended on resource exploitation. When you make your money from squeezing oil out the ground, growing cotton, or stamping out widgets, labor is just another cost burden. Pollution is a competitive advantage. A minimum wage is nothing more than a drag on the bottom line. Commodities must be seized at the lowest possible price by any means necessary. Every dollar lost to taxes, regulation or humane interests is a dollar wasted.

By comparison, pause to think about how YouTube, Salesforce or WordPress make money. Slaves produce lousy video content. You don’t get better code by beating your programmers. Yes, there is pressure in tech companies to produce, but when you compare that pressure to life for workers in industrial era companies, the complaints look pretty thin. Very few programmers will die or get cancer producing the next version of Linux. Processes companies used to get higher productivity from a factory floor simply don’t work in a creative economy. Much of the foundational economic logic of an industrial economy is maladaptive in the information age.

Tesla and Ford are not in the same industry. They will not make money from the same practices, processes and political climate. Ford is an automotive manufacturer, earning the bulk of its profits from selling trucks. Tesla is a software company that will make the bulk of its revenue from data analytics and AI. Tesla sells rolling data platforms. That data is the company’s most crucial profit center. Tesla has sold barely 200,000 vehicles, yet its market capitalization has already exceeded Ford and equaled GM. They will be left in Tesla’s dust.

Like Tesla, other companies in more traditional industries have made this crucial leap, and their public priorities have followed. Amazon was an online bookshop. It now sells the infrastructure for ecommerce. Nike, which began life as a shoe store, is now closer to a media company. Domino’s now calls itself a software company that sells pizza, crushing competitors thanks to a technical edge sharpened by their location next a major university.

When we think of creative companies we imagine a narrow slice of Silicon Valley innovators, but that’s a false picture. The creative economy extends to the best performing organizations involved in almost every form of business, from shoes to pizza. The world’s fastest growing, most profitable organizations have left the 20th century industrial model behind. They are fueled by talent, data, and ever-accelerating parallel processing. They don’t need armies scouring the world to secure resources. They don’t need a supine, starving labor force, divided by racism or nationalism and blinded by religious bigotry. They don’t need an unfettered right to dump toxins in the environment. In fact, all of these industrial era priorities cut against their interests.

II. Innovators of the World, Unite!

Why will companies take on a public role more significant than Andrew Carnegie scattering coins around? Companies will coalesce around a more active, engaged political program for the same reasons that people do – to promote their threatened class and identity interests. Class and identity interests of this new generation of creative companies happen to line up to a large extent with the interests of middle-to-high-income knowledge workers and more affluent non-white voters largely left behind by the GOP’s slide toward white nationalism. The most important divide in our politics is the rivalry between corporate dinosaurs and parasitic rentiers, represented by the GOP and its criminal standard-bearer, and the innovation age companies steadily lining up behind Democrats and other left-leaning institutions.

Corporations, like people, have a peer cohort and rivals. “Rivals” in this context, does not refer to competitors. Business competitors will mostly be class compatriots, in much the same way that the steel-worker standing next to me in line to get picked up for day-labor is both my competitor and my “comrade.” In political rather than business terms, my rivals are defined by their identity. Just as in the development of class consciousness among voters, there’s a process by which companies are coming to recognize their authentic interests and class identity in politics, apart from just jostling with competitors for a few regulatory concessions.

Companies are not the same. Some breed broad prosperity. Some spread suffering and poverty. Some have been well-represented in politics. Some of have been under-represented. Creative-class companies are under-represented in politics, partly because they have yet to recognize their authentic class interests. We are at the earliest stages of an emerging corporate class consciousness among innovation age giants.

III. A Corporate Taxonomy

There are five distinct classes of companies at this stage of our development. Ask someone what they think about “big corporations” and they’ll probably describe the most powerful class, the old extraction/exploitation model in the mold of Exxon, US Steel or GM. Then there’s finance, the oldest of them all. The largest class is small businesses, the companies that own your local restaurant chain, doctors’ or accountants’ offices, dry cleaners, auto repair shops, and so on. Newest on the scene is the class of businesses driven by talent, data and creativity.

Finally, there are the garbage companies, the true jackals of the corporate jungle. Private equity vultures. Secretive family trusts. Shell companies within shell companies within holding companies in partnership with offshore real estate investment trusts. Networks of pure parasitism, often producing nothing at all while hiding and laundering money for rich rentiers. Real estate business like the Trump Org are the poster-children for this class of businesses. Much of the middle tier of corporate agriculture, most major real estate developers, and the local networks of small fossil fuel companies fill the ranks of the garbage companies.

Our political system is dominated by finance, extraction companies, and garbage companies. Almost every politician in our system has been sold to one or more of these interests. At the local level, small businesses play a powerful role in politics, dominating city councils and planning boards. Data/creative companies have remained on the political fringe, their influence still latent. They emerged largely from a politically-skeptical counter-culture, working to avoid rather than engage the political world. Now they’ve become too large to remain sidelined. For the most economically potent institutions in our economy to be this disenfranchised sets up a dangerous tension. Expect earthquakes as these organizations awaken to their class interests and leverage their power.

IV. The Creative Class Corporate Agenda

For those accustomed to seeing all corporations as a monolith, interested only in resource exploitation and low wages, the behavior of creative class corporations can be confusing. These companies have already played a powerful role fighting discriminatory legislation in red states. Their leaders have begun buying up media companies to protect journalism. They’ve been at the front of efforts to fight the Trump administration on trade and immigration. In short, they aren’t Exxon. So what do these companies want?

What the most profitable new corporations value is talent and creativity. An environment that cultivates these values must be free, open, and culturally diverse. To promote the development of that talent into lucrative products, that environment should also be politically stable, with reliable legal norms, and open to trade across the widest possible geography. These companies thrive in high-tax, high-regulation environments, where governments make significant investments in infrastructure, education and the environment. If a democracy can create these conditions, then great. But if these conditions can be fostered without democracy, that’s great too.

Creative class companies line up surprisingly well with the left on a certain core of issues, encouraging some confusion over their remaining interests. Most of this overlap rises from these companies’ relationship to their employee base and customers. Innovation companies tend to have a much smaller, much more highly compensated and valuable workforce than their industrial predecessors. Some, like Amazon, retain a large base of low-skilled workers for certain jobs, but many of the most profitable creative businesses have few if any clock-punching employees. Their employees are their most expensive and lucrative asset, fought over in tight competition with other firms. Their employee relationships more closely resemble the labor structure of professional sports teams or movie studios than the mass, undifferentiated labor pools of industrial age businesses.

Businesses that depend on talent as a resource see bigotry as a massive hidden tax. In the US, in particular, a deep legacy of structural racism and sexism mean that a huge portion of the population never has a chance to develop their capabilities. Innovation businesses recognize the cost of a culturally monolithic employee base, but without the ability to transform the wider society their initiatives are stunted. Women, African-Americans and many other minorities are often eliminated from the job pipeline years before their resume might show up on a tech company website. The problem goes deeper than obvious issues around education equity. A social safety net organized to exclude minorities, a culture that devalues women’s contributions, and bigoted attitudes that stunt immigration limit the capacity of creative companies to meet their goals.

Creative class companies also consume relatively few commodities in comparison to industrial businesses. Having massive pools of engineering talent to tap, they tend to use innovation and technology to side-step resource demands wherever possible. Apple meets its enormous power needs entirely through renewable energy. Oracle doesn’t need a steady stream of steel or minerals. If we stopped mining coal tomorrow, Schwab wouldn’t notice. Commodities are a miniscule element in most creative companies’ balance sheets. What these companies care about is education, trade, infrastructure, immigration, and most of all – their ability to protect intellectual property. These interests are well-aligned with much of the modern left.

Then, there’s the rest of the picture.

What creative companies don’t care about is traditional labor rights, especially unions which they loathe. There is a logic to this hostility. Confrontational, antagonistic labor organizations make less sense in an environment in which employees are fought over and aren’t threatened with workplace injuries or death. However, even sports and entertainment celebrities have union protections. Employees in the creative economy may enjoy radically better work conditions, than their industrial era parents, but the absence of formal employee organization still weakens their influence.

Creative companies also have little patience for concerns over data privacy or security. They have been willing to push forward with any form of innovation, no matter how potentially dangerous or destabilizing, as long as it represents “progress” toward the next big breakthrough. Creative companies may be our allies in traditional fights over environmental pollution, but will be an obstacle to the public interest on questions of data pollution, or the spread of unstable, insecure or untested automation of key infrastructure.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the attitude of creative class companies toward government itself. These businesses emerged largely from a late 20th century counterculture, informed by a deep skepticism toward institutions of all kinds and a hyper-individualized mythos. In short, these businesses largely dislike government. Beneath that distaste is a more troubling hostility toward democracy that can manifest in confusing ways.

The creative class represents a new, remarkably large, and entirely globalized economic and intellectual elite. Democracy is almost always an obstacle to elite ambitions, no matter how wise or beneficent those ambitions might be. This new corporate class could develop into an ally of democratic reformers, thanks to their shared interest in dismantling many of the abuses of industrial age capitalism. Or, as patience wanes, rising creative corporate class activism could become one more vector tugging at the foundations of liberal democracy.

These companies need basic property protections, global trade, and a “liberal” society – up to a point. What they don’t need or in any manner respect is input from the unwashed, MAGA-bot masses in the general public. Creative class businesses will not feel a moment’s concern for the destruction of democracy if it guarantees their vital priorities. A relatively just, stable, and free environment delivered by a Singapore-style business-autocracy works just as well for them as life under a successful liberal democracy. Whether this new class of business becomes a foundational ally in the fight to save liberal democracy, or the force that replaces it entirely, will depend in large part on will, organization, awareness, and activism of these companies’ employees and the general public.

V. Are Tech Companies “Good?”

This new class of businesses will be as good or bad for society as we make them. If we, as the general public and as employees and shareholders, create an atmosphere that presses them into politics as our allies and punishes them for undermining public interest, they will become a pillar of a new liberal democratic order. This seems to be happening, but should be pursued with more deliberate effort and clear-eyed accountability.

On the contrary, if we turn to them as saviors and defer to their interests uncritically, they will quickly become just one more vampire squid on the body politic. They may have little interest in polluting our rivers or enslaving employees, which is nice, but with innovation comes nasty new challenges. Their emerging power over data, thought, and information is a direct threat to liberal democratic values. As their transnational structure continues to undermine nation-state power, their ability to skirt the political influence of the voting public in any country grows larger, along with potential temptations toward money laundering, tax evasion, and the concentration of wealth.

What can we do? Recognize the voting power in your wallet. Make companies pay for harmful behavior and reward public interest. Abandon the blanket skepticism of corporate power, recognizing that there is no way forward into a healthy democratic order without the partnership of these potential creative class allies. Perhaps most importantly, employees in these organizations must awaken to their latent political power.

Unions in the traditional model might not make sense for workers at a tech startup, but employees must begin to build parallel organizations in some form to voice their interests and opinions. A successor to 20th century labor unions should take shape soon, granting creative class employees the political voice that their economic influence deserves.

Institutions are shaped by their environments. Creative class companies are thriving on the liberal values of an open society. If we feed those interests and curtail their abuses through active engagement, this new corporate class will be a bulwark of democratic success. Investing time and energy in corporate activism may be as important to our future as voting.

***

This post is part of a series exploring what’s next after liberal democracy and what we should do to prepare. Much of this material was covered in The Politics of Crazy, though from the perspective of a more optimistic era. The work fits better as a whole, but reading through a 6000+ word piece on a computer seems impractical. When these are complete I’ll gather them into a series of links on a single page.

61 Comments

  1. On the subject of organization, working conditions at talent-driven tech companies, and unions:

    The AAA game industry is rife with bad businesses practices, and is known to burn out its young workers in pretty nasty ways. The industry’s biggest sin is its addiction to crunch. It’s a practice that doesn’t actually work (the late overtime work that a brain-frazzled employee puts in aren’t worth as much as the work put in when they’re well-rested) but game companies do it anyway. This article from Polygon discusses the manner in which companies straight-up manipulate their employees’ emotions in order to get them to work longer (ineffective) hours and put up with toxic work environments and harassment from players because of “passion”, how said employees can lose parts of themselves in that process, and whether it’s all actually worth it in the pursuit of bigger, prettier, more realistic games.

    https://www.polygon.com/2018/10/17/17986562/game-development-crunch-red-dead-redemption-2-rockstar

    I can’t see any way forward for the mainline game industry unless developers organize in some way, shape or form. It can be an old-school union or a Chamber-Of-Commerce like system as Chris suggested, but something’s got to happen. Indie developers willingly working solo or in a small group on a project day in and day out is one thing. But when a company manipulates its workers into longer (and I cannot stress this enough, ineffective) hours, with anybody who says no having their job put at risk and management saying stuff like “Well, I guess you’re just not passionate enough about what we’re trying to do here”, then action needs to be taken.

      1. The problem appears to happen only when straight ballot voting. Then the senator vote changes for some odd reason. People are being alerted (unfortunately many after the fact) to review their selections before selecting the “cast vote. “.

      1. Went and took a look at the machines – it’s those Hart eSlate monsters with the little wheel at the bottom. I’ll grant you those are miserable to use. I would be shocked that they’re still out there, but it is Texas after all.

        For the benefit of the Texas folks, it’s fine to choose a straight-ticket vote, but if you scroll through and select anything on subsequent pages the machine will remove your straight ticket selection (since it isn’t straight-ticket anymore). That can be a problem, because when you’re using that wheel it isn’t always clear when you’ve made a selection. Also, that wheel is funky. It be difficult to be sure what you’ve selected. Ugh. You have to check your ballot at the end.

        A lot of people living elsewhere don’t realize this, but the straight ticket option is particularly helpful in Texas. Since judges there are elected, the ballot can be extremely long. In Houston you could have well over 50 items on your ballot. It’s easy to get lost. Lots of people use straight ticket for clarity and speed.

        Notice from the Sec. of State.

        https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2018-35.shtml

  2. Don’t know if it’s the universe telling me something but I seem to get busy just when you post non-economic stuff, and get some free time when you post your economic posts. I won’t hijack this article to talk about your previous posts, except to make one quick mention: that picture you have with your post about the upcoming elections can’t possibly be at a voting location: in this country, only polling locations in poor minority areas have long lines like that. If you’re white and middle/upper class like those people, there are never lines like that at your polling booth or else heads will be rolling at the state election commission 🙂

    Anyway, regarding this article, a few points:

    1) I agree with you that engaging with the private world is far, far better than either seeking to kill them off (won’t happen, and not a good policy anyways), or ghettoizing them from political engagement. I’d make an analogy with assisted reproduction technologies: in the 80s/90s, religious conservatives were squeamish about advances in assisted reproduction e.g. IVF that were manipulating eggs, sperm, embryos, fetal tissues, etc. So they got Republican Presidents to ban NIH funding for that research. However, all that did was force those research labs to search for private dollars, which they did, or move to more amenable locations like Europe, which they also did. It didn’t stop anything. And now, when even more pressing ethical concerns around stuff like cloning and genetic engineering is coming up, we’re powerless to do anything about it, because they’ve weaned themselves off public dollars, and located themselves in jurisdictions (originally Europe, now in e.g. China) where we have no influence.

    If we liberals refuse to engage with corporations, especially ones that are relatively aligned with us in important ways, we shouldn’t be surprised if, a decade from now, they’re impervious to any public influence at all. I agree that simply denying their power to shape the public sphere doesn’t do anyone any favors.

    2) You’re spot on that Silicon Valley is aligned with the Left in some ways, but not others, and could easily become Republican allies if the Republican party ever went back to being half-way sane (or even go-it-alone types, once they realize they don’t need much from the government, which brings me to…).

    3) I would still argue that this is related to the lifecycle of their industry. In the early days they do need extensive government support. Yes, this time around, that support is in the form of education, research, stable regulatory/legal policy around IP, etc. But how is that different than early manufacturers like GM/Ford needing the government to build roads, train engineers, etc? Indeed, the push for public primary education (grades 1-8) didn’t come from government. It came from industry that needed educated workers (in those days, education meant the 3 R’s, but is that so different than Google now pushing to broaden university education?)

    4) Because of this, I’m still not convinced that the “creative class” is all that different than economic revolutions of before. I understand that the Industrial Age rendered landholdings irrelevant, and thus, a government based on land rights (feudalism) fell. So the possibility is definitely there. I just don’t think this coming digital age is that revolutionary. GM and Ford are not extractive industries. Yes, they’re dependent on the price of steel, but the vast majority of the expense of an automobile comes from the intellectual property of their design and manufacturing expertise. The price of a ton of raw steel is ~$4000. The other $20-100k you pay for a car is entirely the same stuff you’re paying Google/Apple/FB for i.e. design, engineering, IP, industrial expertise, marketing cachet, etc.

    5) Similar to my point above, I’ll believe in the uniqueness of the tech industry’s approach to their employees if it survives the next tech crash. Yes of course, these days tech companies bend over backwards for their employees. Because they’re scarce. Not because of any love for them. When those employees are not-so-scarce, let’s see if the foosball tables and free lunches survive. During the last tech crash, those benevolent companies who so treasure their employees laid them off faster than any GM plant, and outsourced everything that wasn’t nailed down to Bangalore and Shenzen.

    It’s not like GM/Ford beats their line workers either to improve productivity. The best manufacturing companies (e.g. Japanese) understand that their employees are assets to be developed and not expenses to be cut. They treasure their employees as much as any tech company does, and reaps commensurate rewards in productivity, quality improvement, etc. As another example, Southwest is renowned for treating its employees well, because they understood that happy employees lead to improved customer service and higher productivity. Not surprisingly, they’re the only consistently profitable airline. IOW, that mentality of treating your employees as assets is not intrinsic to an industry but intrinsic to successful companies in any industry. Which means perhaps the best tech companies indeed espouse it, but plenty don’t, and only go along because, in the current labor market, they have to.

    Heck, even in these times, with talent scarce and companies flush with money, it’s not uncommon for tech companies to abuse their employees. A bunch of tech companies were sued by the Labor dept. for illegally conspiring to hold wages down. Most of them settled. Tesla is in the midst of a big labor dispute at their (non-unionized) factory, with workers complaining of unsafe working conditions and massive pressure to meet unrealistic production deadlines (does that count as beating your workers?). Factory workers in GM actually have their weekends free. Ask a Google employee if he feels no pressure at all to check his work email after dinner and/or on the weekends. And it’s really nice that Apple gets its energy from renewable sources, but does that make up for the fact that in the factory where those shiny iphones get built, Foxconn needed to install suicide nets on the roofs?

    And about those video producers on youtube:
    https://splinternews.com/get-rich-or-die-vlogging-the-sad-economics-of-internet-1793853578
    https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/even-youtube-stars-with-14-million-monthly-viewers-earn-less-than-17000-a-year-research-shows.html
    (There are many more articles)
    In short, for most of those creative video producers, working on youtube is far closer to plantation economics than Google may wish to admit…

    This why I’ve said time and again that so far, I’m not convinced that tech companies are any less brutal in their treatment or regard for their workers than anyone else. Not until there’s a real economic downturn will we see how far their commitment goes. Which is why I’m deeply suspicious of their actual commitment to public policies such as education and taxes when we reach the point where their need for educated workers is filled. (Actually, I have no doubt about their “support” for higher taxes: Google and Apple domicile their IP in tax havens and pay very minimal tax in the U.S. Apple was one of the biggest abusers of the “repatriation holiday” that Trump instituted to essentially reward American companies that were evading taxes by holding their profits overseas. They are far worse at this than manufacturing companies like GM which at least has some factories here).

    6) I’m glad you’re coming around to the idea that some sort of collective workers’ representation is needed 🙂 FWIW, I’ve never felt that unionization automatically means the UAW model. Even now, it doesn’t. You should look at the Screen Actors Guild, and the MLBPA (MLB players’ association). They are much more interesting models of collective bargaining, and show that you can protect workers’ rights even in much more flexible employment arrangements than a traditional factory. SAG for example, is much more about workplace protections (you’d be surprised how dangerous a set can be, and I’m not even talking about the big action sequences), protection from abuses, and ensuring fair distribution of residual income from all that copyrighted IP that productions generate. They manage to do this even though acting is basically a gig economy: you work for a few months for a production, then move on to another one, having an agent negotiate new terms for each project you do.

    Youtube MCNs (multi-channel networks) are an even more fascinating form of labor organizing. I’d argue they’re a form of unionization, even though you’ll never see the terms collective bargaining, union — or even workers — attached to them. Basically, a bunch of channels would come together to form an MCN (or an MCN, thus formed, would reach out and recruit aka “organize” more channels) which would then negotiate for better rates from youtube, go directly to sponsors to negotiate side advertising agreements, etc., generally using the power of banding all of their video views together to bargain as one unit with Youtube, advertisers, etc. If that’s not a union, I don’t know what is 🙂 Not surprisingly, Youtube has moved to bust these MCNs up… So much for loving your workers.

    (NB: you already probably know of at least one MCN if you ever watched an official music video on youtube: Vevo, which is an MCN comprised of the record labels to manage all of their music videos and directly negotiate favorable rights and revenues. Not coincidentally, Google hates Vevo with a passion 🙂

    Regardless, I think your fundamental point that these companies are powerful, they will influence the public sphere whether we like it or not, and therefore, by engaging with them, we have a real opportunity to channel their efforts towards real public gains is something I absolutely agree with. I just think that you could say the same about any company, and I’m not sure tech companies are going to be that much more amenable to these efforts than the usual group of Exxon, GM, Goldman Sachs et al.

    7) (Final point). I actually think that for Democrats, rather than tech companies, it would be far more fruitful to engage small businesses and break their alliance with Republicans. Small businesses don’t care (much) about free trade, or even regulations (they’re usually exempt from most of them). They do care about keeping the big boys from using unfair advantages like monopoly pricing, government protection, massive lobbying money, etc. to kill them off. They even don’t mind paying their workers better, mainly because small business owners are much closer to their workers (they see them every day, know who they are, and all probably live in the same community). In many ways, they would be natural allies for much of Democrats’ economic agenda, if we could just pry them from their traditional alliance with the US Chamber of Commerce which is much more concerned with big business’s agenda.

      1. Thanks Mary. I forgot to add one more comparison. Chris says what’s unique about tech companies that makes them so amenable to being good stewards of the public interest are:
        1) They don’t need many resources (i.e. not resource-extractive)
        2) They need relatively few, but highly educated, creative workers
        3) They are in fierce competition for these workers, recruiting from around the world, and take care of them very well
        4) They need functional public services e.g. regulations, education, etc. to sustain their industry.
        5) They loathe unions.

        Every single one of those criteria applies to financial firms as well. Yet we’ve seen how the finance industry has turned out. What makes people so sure that today’s tech titans won’t go the same path? Chris even hints at this possibility by talking about their cavalier approach to data and privacy, pushing back against efforts to restrict and restrain their “innovation” in those areas, much like finance firms rebel against restrictions against their financial “innovations” like CDOs.

        And much like most financial “innovation” is really ways to get around or obfuscate regulations that were put in place to prevent scams and frauds, much of the tech world’s “innovation” around data and surveillance is attempts to get around legal protections surrounding our privacy and security of our records. Why didn’t Experian go bankrupt under a hail of lawsuits when their data breach meant millions of people’s credit histories were released? Perhaps for the same reasons that Goldman Sachs didn’t go bankrupt under a hail of lawsuits when their own technology and “innovations” ended up nuking the global economy? The prime motivation of both of these industries is to evade responsibility for any negative externalities that may come about from their “innovations” (privacy breaches for tech firms, bankrupt clients for finance firms), while privatizing any gains that come from those “innovations” (selling data for tech firms, making fat commissions on financial products). IOW, socializing losses, privatizing gains. For that matter, not so different from Exxon socializing the costs of its environmental pollution while privatizing the gains it makes from drilling on public lands.

        This is why I’m always skeptical when someone says, “No really, it’s different this time” 🙂 Occasionally it is, but the vast, vast majority of times, it’s not. And right now, I just don’t see the tech industry being all that different…

      2. Greed is insidious and hides behind misplaced societal norms of accessibility . America (and the entire globe, it seems), worship at the altar of wealth accumulation at the expense of principle. It’s hurting us all and I believe undergirds the violent, ugly behavior we are witnessing in our politics today.
        Read this insightful article today that explains how our choices are tearing down norms of decency.
        https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-dangerously-thin-line-between-political-incitement-and-political-violence

    1. I don’t think Chris is suggesting that this is a self-executing theory based on some essential nature “creative” firms. Rather, that there is a real difference in “character” of each aggregate corporation that is open to *possible* use.

      If we look at, say, energy or “garbage company” interests, they are often nakedly political and unrestrained participants in government corruption that happens to be aligned with our Dixified federal government, with their junior partners in the interior American West.

      The weapon that will be wielded against these potentially potent structures of liberal organized society will be the liberal theory of apoliticism of private spheres. Consider this kind of nonsense: https://www.economist.com/international/2017/08/19/the-e-mail-larry-page-should-have-written-to-james-damore. The Economist, of course, got all liberaler-than-thou and under-prepared for interviewing with Steve Bannon.

      Meanwhile, https://www.wired.com/story/the-dirty-war-over-diversity-inside-google/.

      Another area where sand is applied to the organizational gears here is in the academy, where the weirdest, fringiest pursuits are used to undermine (to the thoughtless and probably reactionary mind, at least) unrelated fields, like sociology. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/10/04/paper-that-would-never-have-gotten-past-peer-review-criticizes-academy-film

      Even with these hurdles in mind, consider the even having a chance at organizing and raising resources (of all kinds) for the open society in a Wyoming coal operation. I think this underlines Chris’s point.

    2. Welcome back. Lots of great stuff here.

      On lines at the polling station – I’ve never waited in line to vote. Never even seen that happen. Yea, I’m white and that’s how things work in America.

      Regarding the governmental needs of industrial era businesses, they almost never extended beyond the same infrastructure the Romans cared about. And even then, what got those projects done wasn’t so much industry agitation (I’m having trouble finding any examples of that) but rather the primary concern of all governments – war infrastructure. Similarly, if there was a push from the business community in the 19th century to foster public schools I haven’t heard about it. It seems like a logical thing for them to want, but I’m unaware of examples of them advocating it. What I am aware of is decades of heated business resistance to any laws against child labor. I think a closer look would reveal that the main impetus for the push toward universal public education was class fears and nativist worries about the assimilation of immigrants (and the frightening rise of Catholic parochial schools). Material taught in a public school almost anywhere in the European world would have looked pretty familiar to Shakespeare until about WW2. I’m not sure it’s accurate to think of them as an industrial age innovation, necessarily.

      Are GM and Ford extractive industries? Maybe not cleanly. Looked at through the lens of what came before, they delivered relatively more technical innovation, however they only intensified the need for commodities and labor. This new wave of industries appear to be inverting that curve. That’s a claim that’s entirely open to empirical challenge at this point, as unemployment sits at record lows, but I see us barely at the tip of this transformation. In that sense (resource utilization) I don’t really see a continuum extending into the computer or data age. We’ll see. From the standpoint of the company’s priorities and culture, yes they are solidly in a category with other extraction companies like Exxon, or any average coal company. Their executives come from the same pool. Their management class is virtually identical. They vote and advocate in public for the same things. If the defining factor in identity is alignment of interests, rather than our interpretation of their interests, then these companies are in a class together.

      Your most interesting point has to do with lifecycle. Will tech companies become just another extraction entity as they get old and stale? We have evidence for this and its mixed.

      Xerox arguably gave birth to the information age with its PARC facility in Palo Alto. They also failed to do anything with the torrent of innovations that poured out of that corporate mutant. They had entered their long death spiral by the end of the 80’s. What’s left of company after chunks of it have been passed around between a series of public and private entities is mostly just a printing and imaging business. The most technologically advanced company of the 70’s is now a dinosaur in a business category with your local box factory. Like Ford and GM, compared to Tesla, Xerox is a late stage company making the bulk of their revenue from amortizing old technology and old capital investments. As the value of those investments twinkles away, each element is sold off or killed. So what’s life like for employees there?

      Xerox lacks some of the skateboarding swagger of Silicon Valley, but that may have more to do with the company’s location (CT) and tradition. It consistently ranks very high in all the usual measures of attractiveness, from comp plans to all the other perks. I’d gnaw my arm off before going to work in a place like that, but that’s only because I’m addicted to the adrenaline of releasing a whole new product every six months and wrestling every day with questions of what’s coming next. At this point in my life, the idea of spending every day dealing with the same old tech would be a tiny death by the hour.

      Still, if faced with a choice between a dull, aging tech giant like Xerox or coping with the skull crushing inertia of GM or a steel company, I might sew that arm back on and go work for a copier company. Xerox also has the social and political posture of a tech company, with all the emphasis on social responsibility, sustainability and environmental tech. They are a late stage company, not investing a lot of energy in the new new thing, but they have very little of the debt to environmental and worker exploitation that continues to influence the culture of industrial companies despite the fact that they do a lot of manufacturing. Look closely at the landscape of the tech industry’s first generation of dinosaurs and you see similar DNA. They’re old. They’re no longer innovating. They make their money on something resembling a rentier model, squeezing a few declining dollars from depreciating investments, but their politics and employee models still line up more closely with Google than with US Steel. Will this pattern hold? It might. I think it’s deeply embedded in this new culture.

      And when it comes to the “abuse” of tech employees, I find myself actually laughing out loud. I grew up in an industrial town (Beaumont). People regularly lost their fathers in accidents. My dad survived three life-threatening accidents. I nearly lost my fingers at the plant. Yes, I feel a lot of pressure at work and I check my email all the time. I’ve never bled there. There is simply no comparison. People used to die at work (recently and in some industries still today) and they were more easily replaced than a forklift or a truck tire. And those Foxconn employees? Since that kind of abuse isn’t being tolerated anymore, the company is slogging its way toward replacing them with robots (mixed results so far). Yes, companies are cutting corners and experimenting with ways to push the envelope, but what’s really holding them back is results. You just don’t get the quality outcomes these companies need by bleeding employees. That ethic is percolating all through the management cultures of these companies. They are evolving into talent businesses, like the entertainment industry. In fact, I’m pretty convinced that all business is being gradually funneled toward the model pioneered by Hollywood, or for what will remain of the industrial labor pool, something that looks a bit more like the NFL.

      I don’t love the realization that tech workers need to organize. I don’t want to organize. The atomized, libertarian mindset of this industry is part of what attracted me here in the first place. But that’s how the world works. Organization is a measure of sophistication, and sophistication tends to out-evolve simpler forms. What this business needs perhaps is something less like the Screen Actors Guild and more like the networks of Chambers of Commerce. Some kind of entity capable of organizing a collective voice, but not necessarily a collective bargaining function. Not sure, as this is just dawning on me.

      Finally, there’s finance.

      I’ve been trying to avoid writing about this because its depressing. Finance isn’t like tech. Finance is its own thing.

      I love finance. If I had been better at math that’s what I would have done with my life, but I’m glad I didn’t. Finance today is a cesspool of institutional corruption, utterly consumed by money laundering and fraud, a wholly-owned adjunct of global kleptocrats, arms dealers and the drug trade. Finance right now is economic cancer. Deregulation initiated by the Clinton Administration and continued to idiotic lengths by Bush eliminated all the curbs necessary to make it function in a healthy manner. It will have to be gutted to be salvaged and there may be no nation-state left with the reach to perform that job.

      What the state of finance teaches us about institutions is that institutions are never really good or bad, they are a product of their inputs and incentives. They do, however, tend to take on a personality and that personality can be persistent. Finance is an essential function of a healthy economy, but it has always had kind of a pirate streak.

      Finance could perhaps be considered the first truly successful culture of subversives. They were like pirates, but more successful and moderately less violent. The first great lords of finance were outcasts, Jews, lower-class urban merchants, disrespected and reviled outsiders who found ways gain leverage over the landed classes to the point that they could manipulate kings and popes. They made themselves rich by disregarding conventions and delusions, cutting to the grubby realities. And like pirates, they survived in an entirely hostile environment by cunning and ruthlessness. They dragged Europe out of the dark ages and eventually made the industrial age possible. To me, finance has always represented the power of practicality over convention or manners or preconceived notions.

      Out of that fundamentally subversive culture emerged a business atmosphere that has remained strangely counter-cultural, almost sociopathic. Even as they have become among the wealthiest and most powerful people in our society the financial industry remains almost purposely irresponsible. They are still pirates, operating well beyond the margins of otherwise acceptable behavior, always at the very limits of law and morality. That disconnect from convention always attracted me, because it’s so essential to a culture of innovation, but the banking industry right now is basically just an arm of global crime syndicates. Set loose from constraints, they are regularly engaged in indefensible evils.

      Finance is not an innovation business. The asset at the core of a finance business model is not intellectual property or technology, but a dead pile of money waiting to be used for something valuable. When finance gets “innovative” you’re almost always looking at fraud. Finance should be treated with much the same combination of respect and caution we afford to nuclear power. It might be necessary, but not everybody should be doing it. Most of what we look at as “recessions” in our history are just economic disasters caused by stupid bank failures. In fact, we haven’t had a real “business cycle” recession in this country since the early 80’s, just a series of economic disasters caused (literally) by massive financial fraud.

      Finance needs to have its wings clipped.

      1. as unemployment sits at record lows,

        Disagree – in the old days people moved between jobs when THEY wanted to so there was some justification in the idea that 4% unemployment was “full employment”

        But those days are GONE (if they ever existed) – people simply don’t have the financial backup to take a month off between jobs not to mention the health care problems

        Todays 4% unemployed is one worker in 25 desperate for a job – any job that returns more than they lose from the moth eaten US safety net!

        The USA (and the UK) are nowhere near “Full Employment”

        Finance needs to have its wings clipped – I would say a bit more than that – like being plucked roasted and eaten

  3. Off topic, but I find this profoundly disturbing and want to comment on it:

    https://www.newsweek.com/ted-cruz-says-beto-orourke-can-have-double-occupancy-cell-hillary-clinton-1184495?utm_source=fark&utm_medium=website&utm_content=link&ICID=ref_fark

    We all remember the ignorant woman at a John McCain who complained about how Barrack Obama was bad because he was an “Arab” and a “Muslim”. There is nothing inherently wrong with being either, and while the ideal response would have included that, McCain at least had the decency to politely tell her that she was wrong, and that Obama was not a bad person or unAmerican just because of political differences. That was a test a character, and McCain passed with high marks.

    Ted Cruz just faced a similar test of character, and he failed, and failed hard. That ought to cost him, but sadly it probably won’t.

    1. Cruz is parroting trumps behavior because he sees it working with their common base. He is also desperately needy. His ego can’t bear the possibility of losing to a Democrat and fine man like Beto O’Rourke. Throw out Pelosi, Hillary and guns and dead babies and bait the far right voter. It seems to be a sure strategy on the right. Not surprised.

      As long as the odds are for a Cruz loss, wouldn’t it be sweet!

  4. Chris, sorry, but you are living in some naive world if you think the savior might possibly be corporate social responsibility. And you are hardly someone I would characterize as naive.

    First off, corporations are a small group of people controlling a larger group of people, sometimes MUCH larger group of people. A corporation is only as socially responsible as its cadre of controllers. It is only as “good” or as “bad” as its leaders.

    But most profitable corporations operate as psychopaths. I can link studies, but most recognize that as a given. To successfully rise to the top of any large corporation a person must have psychopathic tendencies, because that is the framework of capitalism: Kill or be killed. Adapt faster than your competitor, or die. Be ruthless. Lie. Empathy is a weakness. So to suggest that corporate leaders will suddenly decide to save democracy or the masses is just ridiculous.

    They will only stand up for what is right if the bottom line is improved. Corporate leaders, the most successful ones, are intelligent, and highly adaptable. These people can operate just fine in a fascist society, since they are not the ones being oppressed. Especially if the gov’t leaders are anti-union, anti-regulations.

    And even if some person at the top of a large corporation does grow a conscience and spine, and decides to stand up to a fascist regime, that person will be bounced from that corporation before the next quarter, if there is a board of directors involved, if that person’s actions would risk profits in the short term or long term.

    Also, you talk about the rentier class. One significant subset of that rentier class are the people that sit on the boards of the major corps. I would bet that all the Fortune 500 boards in total comprise of no more than 2500 people, given that many sit on more than one board. THOSE are the people that really run the country, and much of the planet.

    No, what is needed is revolution. A total teardown of the capitalist system, to the hydrid system known as “socialism”. I know, most Americans conflate that with communism, but the people here know better. Communism would be the best system, except for that pesky issue called human nature, which is primarily one of greed. It is a rare human indeed who believes that someone driving a forklift (because that is the intellectual ceiling for one person) should be living the same lifestyle as a brain surgeon. Communism will always fail, until humans evolve far far past their current empathic levels.

    But I am also a realist. There is zero chance the U.S. will move towards a Scandinavian model, or even the German model. The revolution I want will never happen, not until people are willing to die for it, and in large, large numbers. And that only happen when catastrophe has already struck America and the planet.

    No, the acceleration towards a dictatorship, or a more public yet more rigid oligarchical system (the U.S. is one now, but most people don’t grasp that), is the path and ultimate destiny of the U.S.

    “We have always been at war with Eastasia”.

    1. “First off, corporations are a small group of people controlling a larger group of people, sometimes MUCH larger group of people. A corporation is only as socially responsible as its cadre of controllers. It is only as “good” or as “bad” as its leaders.”

      WTF are you talking about?

      The biggest obstacle we face to leveraging the power of the last coherent, effective public institution in our society is the bizarre fantasies people carry in their heads about business. It’s as companies were some extraterrestrial force dropped here, with which no one had ever had any interaction.

      Let’s take Amazon as an example and remember while we go through this exercise that, Democratic-controlled, liberal governments are “good” and businesses are “bad” or even “psychopathic.” Which of those two institutions has adopted a $15 minimum wage? As we stand here right now, Amazon has a $15 minimum wage and no government entity has matched them yet (NYC will get there at end of year). How exactly does this make Amazon a villain?

      The future is going to be weird, even weirder than the insanity we’re living in now. If you ever want to see some of the most crucial lifestyle innovations we aspire to, from universal access to health care to reducing carbon emissions, we’re going to get them from businesses, or we’re not going to see them. That means incorporating (see what I did there) corporate institutions into policy-making rather than pretending they are some exogenous factor to control and contain. Keep thrashing all you want, but that’s the way forward. Failing to create those linkages means only one thing – corporations will be out there alone, without constraint or consideration from public institutions, still trying to accomplish a lot of these goals, but without the broader public interest or the focus that would rise from public partnership – a much darker and very dangerous prospect.

      1. Umm…you are saying that corporations are some entity onto themselves? Sounds like you have bought into that Citizens United koolaid.

        ALL corporate policies, good or bad, are created and implemented by PEOPLE. And a very very small amount of PEOPLE make the policies and then delegate to other PEOPLE to implement those policies.

        And as for Amazon, how many PEOPLE made the decision to increase wages? And why did they do it? Was it to lower profitability at Amazon? Don’t think so. Would Bezos and his management team of PEOPLE have made the same move if unemployment was at 8%, as opposed to 3 or 4%? BTW, you glossed over the fact that at the same time Bezos lowered the ability for workers to share in profits by removing stock plans.

        Further, how does the concentration of wealth in the hands of Bezos help all the Sears pensioners, and who knows how many other companies that have been wiped out by Bezos’ business plan? BTW, I pray that Eddie Lampert gets shot by one of those Sears pensioners.

        Did Bezos brilliantly foresee what the Internet could do when it came to retail, and create a service many want? You bet he did.
        Did he also destroy tens of thousands of lives in the process, as companies that competed in the same sectors were obliterated? Also, you bet he did.

        You call this a natural evolution in the capitalist mode, as industries are “disrupted”. You think this is good. In the long run, that is true. But for all the casualties, that never recover, no. And a well-run corporation cannot, will not, think about the trail of destruction it leaves in its wake.

      2. ****ALL corporate policies, good or bad, are created and implemented by PEOPLE. And a very very small amount of PEOPLE make the policies and then delegate to other PEOPLE to implement those policies.***

        And this makes corporations different from governments how, exactly?

        For 6000 years we’ve had governments. Across almost the entire span of their existence, their core purpose has been war. By what logic does an organization evolved for war deserve greater trust or admiration than organizations evolved for commerce?

        For barely more than a century we have tried to leverage the existing organizational infrastructure of this institution built for war to accomplish other things. Despite some ups and downs, the effort has been relatively successful where it’s been tried in earnest. Why would we imagine that governments are the only organizations with the humane qualities required to make them capable of public interest? We just haven’t tried.

        Governments are organized to kill people and control real estate. If they can also be channeled into delivering health care and a welfare state, then just about any institution can be transformed with the right combination of inputs and incentives.

      3. Chris:

        1. “Let’s take Amazon as an example and remember while we go through this exercise that, Democratic-controlled, liberal governments are “good” and businesses are “bad” or even “psychopathic.” Which of those two institutions has adopted a $15 minimum wage? As we stand here right now, Amazon has a $15 minimum wage and no government entity has matched them yet (NYC will get there at end of year).”

        Factually wrong: http://www.workingwa.org/seattle-minimum-wage/

        2. “As we stand here right now, Amazon has a $15 minimum wage and no government entity has matched them yet (NYC will get there at end of year). How exactly does this make Amazon a villain?”

        Well, if your company gives you a raise and then says we are going to pay for your raise by taking away your other financial benefits such that you are really no better off than you were before, that makes them a villain. http://time.com/money/5414709/amazon-raised-its-minimum-wage-to-15-then-it-cut-monthly-bonuses-and-stock-awards/

        3. “If you ever want to see some of the most crucial lifestyle innovations we aspire to, from universal access to health care to reducing carbon emissions, we’re going to get them from businesses, or we’re not going to see them.”

        Interesting point of view but I will note for the record that I never saw corporations falling all over themselves to require the provision of health care meeting even the standards of the ACA. Sure, corporations will provide it if they must to lure employees, but if they do not they won’t because it would cut into profits. You know this so why push an argument that is just not based in fact? Same with carbon emissions. If there is no profit to be made, they won’t do it.

      4. Republicans and conservatives tend to be blind to all of the legitimate issues Democrats and liberals raise about the private sector, capitalism, and corporations.

        Democrats and liberals tend to be blind to all of the legitimate issues Republicans and conservatives raise about government involvement and good intentions that actually lead to bad results.

        We would have a much better society if Democrats/liberals had the role of highlighting all of the issues with the private sector, capitalism, and corporations that must legitimately be remedied and Republicans/conservatives accepted the criticism.

        We would also have a much better society if Republicans/conservatives had the role of responding to the valid criticism of Democrats/liberals by being the side that creates and implements the solutions in response to such criticism whether through private sector or government policy (as applicable) and if Democrats/liberals accepted such solutions (provided they are offered and implemented in good faith).

  5. Amazon is a cutting edge, incredibly successful business model, but as far as their corporate conscience goes, their enormous profits don’t trickle down to their workers. This lack of appreciation and moral responsibility for the well being of the people who help make the company achieve its business goals are treated as disposable elements- not as work capital.

    Given its phenomenal financial success, this model will be lauded and followed, but like many corporations, it’s people are not sharing these rewards in a commensurate way. With robots and high tech assuming key functions people used to perform, people are more expendable than ever. The Romney quip, “businesses are people too”, forbodes hard times ahead for those who lack specialized skills.

    When Sears Flourished, So Did Workers. At Amazon, It’s More Complicated. – The New York Times

    1. Just realized the NYT title didn’t activate as a link. It speaks directly to Chris’ reference to Amazon’s $15 minimum wage, as did the Huffington Post article. If the right hand “giveth” and the left “taketh away”, how is that progress?

      As a Democrat, I neither believe Democratic governance is all good nor corporations all bad. Thinking people understand this. Unless I’m missing the point of the post, it refers to the opportunity for business to do more than government because it is in their best interest to attract and retain quality employees. I have witnessed many changes over my lifetime of 75 years in how businesses treat their workers. Obviously, there is a range of change – some of which is better, some worse. The focus on profit (which a business must produce or die) puts companies in a tight spot: they must reward shareholders (aka “stock performance) and they need to retain quality employees and, significantly, their customer base to achieve this. Elemental for sure, but what is being lost?

      I am not convinced that a quality business model can’t achieve both goals. Since Amazon was the chosen model, the two articles I linked offer a deeper look at how this incredible company operates on a personal level (disclaimer: I am an active Amazon customer.) Our corporate world is only as socially responsible as benefits its bottom line. It is probably naive of me to wish there was a more principled reason driving its decisions on wages and social projects, but there isn’t. What happens to people employed in these situations? My kids’ saving plans don’t factor in social security – government help in their retirement is predicated upon a business-based savings approach. Unfortunately, health care costs and education of children are eating a big hole in their take-home pay, and they are hardly alone in this.

      We are living in such a fast, hard world which I don’t think is resulting in a happier society if we look at everything from suicide rates to homelessness and mental illness. So – who’s benefitting?

      Here’s the NYT link: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/23/business/economy/amazon-workers-sears-bankruptcy-filing.html

      1. If the NYT wanted to do a real comparison between Sears and Amazon, they would compare the yield reaped by a Sears salesperson with the money being made today by an Amazon salesperson – and they’d find that an Amazon salesperson is earning in many cases 8-10x times as much as that career guy at Sears back in the golden age, and that Amazon salesperson is retired or semi-retired in the 50’s, unless they’re just having a great time and maybe a little greedy. Even better, that Amazon sales rep gets to take their retirement with them when they leave, regardless how long they decide to work there. They can come and go whenever they want, and they regularly do.

        Sears has never had any employees analogous to the warehouse workers at Amazon. And Amazon won’t either for very much longer. Ten years from now newspapers will be publishing misty-eyed pieces about those great Amazon warehouse jobs that earned 50-100% above the local minimum wage that all disappeared. Everyone will have forgotten that for a brief moment Amazon was the left’s favorite bete noire. It’s a lot like those ridiculous pieces celebrating those amazing manufacturing jobs that everyone warned their kids not to end up in, and now through the lens of nostalgia we remember them as a golden opportunity.

        I worked in an industrial warehouse. Jobs started at minimum wage, including the union positions. People died there fairly consistently (my dad almost did). I’ve seen those Amazon warehouses and read about the working conditions. I would have punched someone in the kidney for a chance to work there back when I slogging away in a real warehouse job. I’m sorry, but all this noise about the conditions in next-generation jobs is utter garbage.

        Nostalgia is a drug.

      2. Having been out of the workforce for almost a decade, and, given my age, many of my opinions are nostaligic – but, not all. I worked at Sears as a teen during Christmas holidays but never in an industrialized setting, thus I don’t have direct experience in these work settings. However, neither do I accept that there is no basis for any criticism of Amazon on this issue. I frequent Amazon in my buying habits which reveals an appreciation for their business model. I do want people to be treated well by their employer and for me, this goes beyond pay although that is the tender we mostly use today to assess worker treatment. Things are changing so fast in the world that it’s difficult for individuals to evaluate what is good or bad behavior at the corporate level unless a clear case of abusive behavior or financial shenanigans are disclosed. I recognize the left slant of both NYT and Huffington Post articles but feel they offer a view from the worker perspective that is valid… Like so many here, I follow this blog to broaden my understanding of issues even when I disagree with other points of view. Thanks for that.

  6. Corporations are literally Hitler.

    Yes! – and by the recent legal rulings they MUST behave like Hitler or they can be sued by their shareholders

    A Corporation is a Robot – and it’s software requires it to be a nasty one

    The only way to fix that is to change the “software” – German companies for example have different operating instructions

  7. Getting voters to the polls

    The USA has a low turnout for voting
    UK – 70%
    Germany – about 75%
    NZ – about 80%
    USA – about 50%
    So the USA has a lot of people not voting

    BUT that is of the people who are eligible to vote
    If we look at percentages of REGISTERED voters

    UK – 75%
    Germany – about 80%
    NZ – about 83%
    USA – about 71%

    Now the numbers are much much closer together

    The USA is still lower – but not massively lower
    How many Americans actually, you know, vote?

    The USA is about 8 percent less than places like Germany –

    BUT if we look at the percentage that are REGISTERED to vote then we see a much bigger number
    The USA loses something like three times as many voters to “did not register” as it does to “did not vote”
    In other countries the whole voter registration bit is undertaken by an organisation whose JOB it is to get everybody registered – and they do very well with registration in the 90% and higher

    We (the voters) do not have to do anything to get registered – we have letters that arrive at every address which can be checked – and then dropped in the mail – if the letter is correct you just bin it

    As an engineer I was trained to go after the biggest problem first – and the biggest problem in the USA is not Voter apathy – instead it’s creating a decent system for automatic voter registration

    Saying that – from here (NZ) your registration system appears to be DESIGNED not to register people –

  8. That was really well written and clear-eyed about how creative corporations may be important allies, but only really share some liberal goals. I sincerely hope it gets published to a wider audience.

    BTW, would you classify big Agribusiness with the extractive industries?

      1. I was also wondering about Coke and Pepsi. They have in common with the Creatives that their main asset is intellectual property, but they aren’t really generating new IP. They make most of their money as rentiers of their brand, which makes them somewhat like the Garbage type.

    1. I’m not on board with the “Monsanto is Satan” line I keep hearing from liberal friends. Monsanto and Cargill and the “big” agribusinesses (the ones heavily invested in innovation) are doing things that will save millions of lives. That said, most mid-range agribusiness are shit companies that do virtually nothing but manipulate corporate forms to channel subsidies and hide tax liabilities. Most cotton production in the US, for example, is a cartel among a few big shit companies owned by some wealthy families, with farms worked by tenants and immigrant labor much as they always have been.

      Coke and Pepsi are fascinating. They used to be food manufacturing companies. Now they are so closely tied to the entertainment industry that it’s hard to classify them. Same goes for the giant brewers.

      1. Everything that you say about corporations could have been said about the slave owners – and the “creative corporations” are about as common as “creative slave owners”

        There is a view that we NEED Billionaires because they can take the risks to advance that social constructs cannot
        The trouble is that of ALL of the Billionaires in the world we seem to have exactly ONE that is doing that!
        Musk – the only one!
        And he is doing that because his companies are NOT NOT NOT “a software company that will make the bulk of its revenue from data analytics and AI.”
        That is how the parasites operate
        Musk’s companies make actual ground breaking useful HARDWARE

  9. An interesting post. I think it’s going to take some boning up on public affairs by both rank and file and those with command in corporations, plus a choosy customer base, to move on this. The recent debacle on “Proposition C” in San Francisco shows how behind the game these interests are in governing and politics, even though they engage (almost) earnestly, which is a lot better than the hand-over-fist nature of the Extractive industries and friends.

    I think you are right that knowledge-oriented corporations are going to have to play a part in organizing for a humane society, because they’re one of the major institutions still strong with this interest: the union, the church, and other elements of civil society that sometimes (and, as you well know, only sometimes) organized around those have long been in decline.

    It is unsettling, because the liberal theory was that there would be a private sphere, including in commerce, that would be somewhat apolitical, even when accounting for fascist views. Perhaps ironically but unsurprisingly, the closer the fascist inclination has come to state control, the less small-l liberals can abide that particular luxury, instead drafting all its organizational resources to fight.

    1. ***the liberal theory was that there would be a private sphere, including in commerce, that would be somewhat apolitical***

      I fondly remember the days (90’s) when it seemed like this dream had become reality. It influenced the direction of my own career, passing up a job in government service to experience the apolitical and far more lucrative wonders of corporate life. Leave behind the dull haggles of public life for the commercial world where all truly important things were going to happen. The Wall was down. All the Great Issues were laid to rest. Government was a world of administrata, best left to gray bureaucrats, the kind of people who still wears ties.

      It was a beautiful dream. Now people with real jobs have to attend political protests. Now I have to start thinking about how to organize something that looks suspiciously like a labor union. I’m not happy about this.

      1. An honest if uncomfortable admission that unions can serve a valid purpose if they remain true to the people they represent. I think about how our beleaguered Tracy have had to resort to organized protests in order to protect their livelihood s and dignity.

      2. Bobo — It’s on my shortlist. Agency performance under Trump’s subordinates is maybe the least told story of this whole debacle. It’s not an interesting story to most Americans, even if their lives depend on those agencies.

      3. I have read everything Michael Lewis has written. He’s one of those rare authors who can write scathing books in a readable format. He also has a great sense of humor and is a wonderful communicator. I have ordered the book…thanks to Bobo’s reminder.

      1. Believe me, I do. Plus, the liberal FB groups (secret) I follow actively recommend liberal businesses to those seeking to place their business with like-minded individuals…someone is always seeking this information. Frankly, I look at businesses that are big GOP supporters and try hard to not support them but that’s not always possible….

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