James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Magic in business and government

Americans have been told over and over, ad infinitum, that we should model our government after corporations. We should elect business people to office. We should insist that government services be run in a “businesslike” manner.

So now we outsource the fighting of wars, in large part, to mercenaries who are paid 10 or 20 times what members of our military earn, and that's on top of billions of dollars in profits skimmed off the top by their employers. We even outsource spying to corporations. There are campaigns in several states to turn major highways over to private operators to run with “businesslike efficiency.” Politicians on the right, and their unquestioning supporters, want to sell the U.S. Postal Service to some outfit like UPS because, the story goes, business will run things more efficiently and without spending tax dollars.

After decades of having the message pressed on them day and night, in school and on television, many Americans believe the story of business efficiency and government wastefulness.

There's just one little problem: The message is one gigantic pile of steaming horse manure.

It is piled higher and higher by people who want to grab profits from services that should be run strictly in the public interest. Such people have bought carloads of politicians to do their bidding.

For starters, the fantasies about cool corporate leaders and their unemotional, practical judgment and rational weighing of issues is a myth equal to stories of trolls under bridges.

Take it from a guy who spent decades reporting for magazines and major newspapers on both government agencies and businesses of all sizes, up to and including giant international corporations: You seldom will encounter a government bureaucracy as inefficient and hidebound as that of a typical giant corporation, nor will you ever run into a government bureaucrat so out of touch with the world most of us live in as anyone who lives within the top four or five layers of corporate leadership.

Bill Clinton and the Bushes screwed up many federal agencies by the very fact that they loaded their upper layers with people drafted from corporations. Some of the agencies now are close to being as afunctional and stupid as those of, say 3M, GM or Hewlett-Packard. Barack Obama has done little or nothing to change that; in fact, he's put more agencies under the control of corporate wizards and witches.

Religions aside, no group of human beings on earth is more given to belief in magic than the corporate elite. They are raised to it, and it is what gives them their ability to ignore all facts that do not fit the corporate belief system. No amount of reason can get through the magic barrier.

Let's take just one glaring example:

On June 4, 2010, American stock markets nosedived. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost a bit more than 323 points, sending the index below 10,000 and causing no end of wailing from big-time investors. (We little schmucks have become so used to having our meager savings savaged by Wall Street that we hardly cry out anymore.)

Causes of the losses: More fear about what may or may not happen to European economies, yes, but primarily it was the U.S. Labor Department's jobs report. Business in this country added only 41,000 jobs in April, and business leaders had been expecting an increase of 150,000 to 180,000 jobs -– in itself an indication of how deeply they believe in magic. No rational person could have believed the figures corporate leaders, including Wall Streeters, whispered to each other.

(Incidentally, the U.S. economy must add 100,000 jobs a month just to take care of new people entering the work force. That says nothing about the millions of jobs lost in our giant recession and a few years preceding that big meltdown.)

So here's the breakdown: Corporate and Wall Street executives were frightened and upset by the fact that our economy failed to add a substantial number of jobs.

Those are the same corporate and Wall Street executives who do everything in the immense power to cut jobs in this country, and to fight any action that might add solvency and economic stability to the lives to the millions of unemployed, underemployed, uninsured and generally ignored citizens.

Minimum wage increase: Hell no. Health insurance for all (which does much to add economic stability): Absolutely not. Extending unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs in the Wall Street-created economic collapse: Not if the corporate political action teams can do anything about it. And absolutely no increase of oversight of business by government -– not now, not ever, nohow, no way, and never mind the fact that it was lack of oversight that let the corporations, banks and Wall Streeters screw themselves and us into the ground in 2008.

In a sneaky move, so that we wouldn't notice they were giving the corporations what they wanted, members of the U.S. Senate went home for a week-plus at the end of May without extending those jobless benefits. Now that they've returned to Washington, it's like no one ever heard of the need for an extension of unemployment pay. The very few pundits who have noticed agree that the Senate is not likely to do anything about an extension any time real soon.

Democrats in the House dumped plans to give states more money for Medicaid. But the House, with Democrats and Republicans voting on the same side, passed legislation to extend a bunch of entirely unnecessary business tax breaks. John Kerry and other Democratic icons have joined Republicans in preventing any increase in taxes for billionaire private hedge fund operators, who pay only 15 percent on most of their income while other high rollers and not-so rich folks pay as much as 35 percent.

Those are things corporate executives demanded, and to hell with most citizens and the economy that most of us live within.

The corporate crowd also is frightened of government deficits (though their own didn't bother them a couple of years ago) and the specter of that great boogey man in the sky, inflation. Never mind that there are absolutely no signs of inflation now or in the near future in our economy. In fact, deflation may be something of a danger.

Also keep in mind that it is Wall Street and the spacey world of corporate leadership that declares the answer to lower-than-desired earnings at any corporation is to cut the hell out of employment, or at least employment within our national borders.

Hewlett-Packard announced June 1 that is going to lay off 9,000 employees, most of whom work in the “service” part of the business –- as it is ironically called. About 6,000 of those people are to be replaced by employees in other countries, eventually.

Because the economy in general was looking so sickly, the HP move didn't bring the immediate jump that the corporate/Wall Street deep thinkers usually give the stock price of a company that announces a big layoff, but it did keep the stock stable. Analysts said there was no big uptick in HP stock because the company simply did what the business world expected of it. The stock would have dropped had it not turned 9,000 people loose in an economy where there are almost no decent jobs to be found.

See the magic?

Wall Street and corporate leaders do everything they can to reduce the number of jobs available to this country's labor force. It is a ritual of faith. They fight every move proposed by liberal politicians to bring some measure of economic stability to America's people. But they thought the number of available jobs would increase substantially. Magically.

Before long, corporate executives will again be “disappointed” when the Labor Department reports that the number of jobs still isn't growing measurably, and they'll sell off more stocks and cut more jobs. In the meantime, they'll buy some other stocks and push those price up on the basis of some other equally foolish myth or another.

Really, people, do you want those believers in myths and magical nonsense determining our government's economic policies? Any of its policies?

Oh, by the way: The horror in the Gulf of Mexico is "businesslike" in the truest possible sense.


While we're at it:

As noted earlier, one of the favorite ideas of right wing politicians and corporate leaders is to turn major highways over to corporations, which would operate them as toll roads.

If anyone knows the history of toll roads in modern America, and the involvement of, shall we say unsavory, individuals and organizations, he or she will not want to extend that system. And then there is the question of road maintenance, a big question because money spent on maintenance is money that doesn't go into the pockets of toll road owners. And how about the lobbying a highly profitable toll operator is likely to do to prevent spending on public roads which might provide unwanted competition? You undoubtedly can come up with another dozen questions.

And turning all postal services over to private business?

First, this simple point: The postal service is a “service” for all citizens. Like freeways and city streets and fire and police services and a whole lot of other necessary activities, it is tax supported. It should be. Turn it over to corporations and in the blink of an eye, unprofitable service to rural areas and probably some poorer urban areas will be cut off. You want your mail? Drive 30 miles, or maybe 50 miles, to the nearest Fed Ex office. Can't afford a car? Tough. Cost of package delivery will soar, guaranteed. And, as with Fed Ex, the anti-labor execs will start union busting and cutting worker pay. We'll get much less and pay much more than we do now.

It's magic.