To untangle what’s happening in U.S. politics, Tom Valovic recommends taking Charles Reich’s advice and revisiting the notion of “the system.”
By Tom Valovic
Back in the day, a Yale law professor named Charles Reich wrote a bestselling book called The Greening of America. His masterwork topped The New York Times best seller list and drew a ton of popular attention. Reich argued that American society was undergoing a major shift in cultural awareness (He used “consciousness,” a word that no longer seems to be in vogue) and opined that this would lead to a major and lasting revitalization of our deepest cultural norms and values. It was a noble thought.
It is possible that just about every major social and political mega-problem we’re now facing can in some way be traced to varying degrees of corporatization — from renewed interest in war as a solution to international relations to Big Pharma’s capture of health care to the influence of dark money in our political system to a climate crisis fed and ignored by Big Energy.
One reason the book drew so much interest is because of Reich’s background. He was a former editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal and a friend of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. In writing about something as retrospectively “mushy” as the consciousness movement of the sixties, Reich’s unique stance might then have been described as “establishmentarian as hippie” but also more contemporary than “old school.” His impressive background provided both gravitas and a strong air of credibility to the prevailing Zeitgeist. (Fun fact: among Reich’s students, William and Hillary Clinton.)
The sixties, of course, disappeared into the black hole of cultural amnesia that was the Reagan era. But as Reich continued his own personal and intellectual journey, he was having none of the social trend whereby many Boomer culture warriors eventually became yuppies, merrily plunging themselves into the consumer society they once railed against. Instead, and to his credit, Reich continued to develop his ideas and aspirations in the direction of the massive changes needed to right the ship of state. And many younger folks of his vintage learned and matured from the protests and educational rebellions of the sixties.
In 1995, Reich followed up with a second book that was titled Opposing the System that offered a prophetic warning about what would happen if corporations became powerful enough to “run the show.” Unlike his previous masterwork, the book was, for the most part, roundly ignored by the mainstream media. It was simply too radioactive. By chance, I happened to pick it up at a used bookstore and remember marveling at how it was shunted off to the remainder shelves after the smashing success of “The Greening of America.” So thoroughly was this book buried in the collective memory that when the LA Times wrote his obituary (Reich died in 2019), it wasn’t even mentioned.
Does ‘The System’ Still Exist?
Whatever anyone might want to say about the excesses or over-reach of the Sixties, with the influential younger demographic of the time, there was a widespread perception and understanding that the U.S. government was increasingly being influenced by corporations.
But that was a bit too simplistic. The semi-invisible power structure that guided many policy decisions had far-reaching tentacles and was basically an interlocking directorate of corporations working in tandem with a variety of educational and governmental institutions. It was this system of values that constituted “the establishment.”
The fact that, in the current political perception, many Americans no longer perceive this phenomenon (which has now mushroomed many times over in power and influence) or think of it as an obstacle to positive social change, is unfortunate. Back in the Sixties, the process of understanding the embedded role of corporate power in politics gave rise to the maxim: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
Reich’s quixotic warning about the anti-democratic effects of excessive corporate control on the quality of our political life, of course, went largely unheeded. Since that time, corporate power has increased many times over and it has been ably argued that corporations now have effective control over Western governments in many important legislative and policy areas. What’s troubling to contemplate is how easily we’ve come to accept this reality as the new normal.
Not only is there more corporate control in more areas of life but (worse) there has been consolidation of corporate power into monopolies that are so powerful that they seem unstoppable. In addition to Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Media, Big Ag, we now have the new kid on the block: Big Medicine. And sadly, the privatization (now coded as “public/private partnerships”) that was initially pushed by Republicans and Libertarians has now been embraced by mainstream Democrats and has been the case for many years.
If we are to ever untangle what’s happening in U.S, politics, we should consider taking Charles Reich’s advice and revisiting the notion of “the system,” a juggernaut of unquestioned values and influences feeding on itself, continually reinforced by the mainstream corporate media, and having a multitude of negative impacts on the quality of life. Equally important is moving beyond the illusion that our political parties operate the same way they did 30 or 40 years ago. It’s precisely this illusion that keeps ordinary citizens from exercising the full spectrum of their rights and power while serving as the conceptual underpinning for massive wealth re-distribution to economic elites.
Every Mega Problem
It is possible that just about every major social and political mega-problem we’re now facing can in some way be traced to varying degrees of corporatization — from renewed interest in war as a solution to international relations to Big Pharma’s capture of health care to the influence of dark money in our political system to a climate crisis fed and ignored by Big Energy. In my opinion, this is a worthy topic to explore. Rest assured, however, that to counter this notion, corporate interests are vigorously employing massive and costly PR and propaganda campaigns to muddy the water.
As mentioned, as corporations engage in more intrusive involvement in social and political problems (not just in the U.S. but globally), they’re also busy re-positioning themselves as agents for social change, under the moniker of “stakeholder capitalism.” This is often effected under another slightly Orwellian euphemism “public/private partnerships” (read: government in the service of business). Many areas formerly under the purview of government are now open season for powerful corporations including the climate crisis and the exploration of space. (My metaphor for this is opening up a fast-food franchise on the Titanic.)
The purported desirability of these new initiatives was made abundantly clear in several articles appearing in an April 2022 issue of Time magazine. One of them, addressing the climate crisis, advised: “Planet Earth’s Future Now Rests in the Hands of Big Business.” In the article we learn that:
“The U.S. Department of Energy has partnered with private companies to bolster the clean energy supply chain, expand electric-vehicle charging, and commercialize new green technologies, among a range of other initiatives. In total, the agency is gearing up to spend tens of billions of dollars on public-private partnerships to speed up the energy transition ….. Across the Biden Administration, and around the world, government officials have increasingly focused their attention on the private sector—treating companies not just as entities to regulate but also as core partners….For some, the emergence of the private sector as a key collaborator in efforts to tackle climate change is an indication of the power of capitalism to tackle societal challenges; for others it’s a sign of capitalism’s corruption of public institutions.”
In other words, it’s not enough that many corporations have despoiled the earth through systematic abuse of the profit motive and the widespread capture of regulatory agencies (Just one example: the FDA now receives major portions of its funding from Big Pharma). Instead of acknowledging culpability for their role in these problems, corporate entities are busy thinking about how they can make more money on the climate crisis and the other mega-problems facing humanity. Nice.
Next up: Corporatization of Space
Once again, let’s draw on the self-declared wisdom of Time magazine for guidance. (This is a publication that’s now in the Big Tech/Big Media” camp as it’s now owned by the CEO of Salesforce.com). In the same issue, another article gushed over the fact that corporations are poised to dominate the exploration and use of space:
“….NASA made it clear that when that clock does toll, the U.S. will be getting out of the space station game, likely for good. Instead, the space agency signed a $415.6 million seed money deal with three companies — Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman — to develop their own private space stations, on which NASA and other customers could lease space for professional crews and tourists. The article goes on to point out that, in a press statement, a NASA spokesperson boasted that….” NASA is once again leading the way to commercialize space activities” and that “we are partnering with U.S. companies to develop the space destinations where people can visit, live, and work.”
It seems abundantly clear that the top-down corporate model of governance is fundamentally anti-democratic by its very nature and the waning power and direction of our democratic institutions worldwide has much to do with this fact.
There are many other examples of the corporate capture of public functions could be mentioned. It’s arguable, of course, that some of these efforts have effected positive change under the right circumstances. But uncontrolled and uncontrollable market forces are no substitute for thoughtful and enlightened public policy and democratic norms. Granted, this is in short supply these days but allowing corporations to fill that void is hardly a solution.
As our glorious planet continues to experience crisis after crisis, it’s sad and troubling that there seems to be no shortage of profiteers looking to make an easy buck off the spoils. It seems abundantly clear that the top-down corporate model of governance is fundamentally anti-democratic by its very nature and the waning power and direction of our democratic institutions worldwide has much to do with this fact.
Given these realities, the first task at hand is to foster a widespread recognition that the stakeholder capitalism being pushed by the Davos crowd with its call to accept the public/private partnership model is little more than a clever PR inversion. As such, much of it can be placed in the same bucket as greenwashing and other forms of corporate virtue signaling. Only with the deeper conceptual change that Charles Reich tried in vain to inspire will it be possible to make a sustained commitment to cleaning up the corporate takeover of our political system, eliminating pay-for-play politics, and restoring the kind of democratic governance that Americans deeply long for.
Tom Valovic is a journalist and the author of Digital Mythologies (Rutgers University Press), a series of essays that explored emerging social and political issues raised by the advent of the Internet. He has served as a consultant to the former Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Tom has written about the effects of technology on society for a variety of publications including Columbia University’s Media Studies Journal, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Examiner, among others.
This article is from Common Dreams.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
Unfortunately the people that read these comments are already the ones that are questioning the ‘system’. The vast majority are on the merry-go-round of that system that is spiralling out of control and will eventually destroy the the planet as we know it. The corporations that rule are desperately trying to keep control for their own ends but are being confronted by powers outside of their influence. This will lead to major conflict(war), it is the last resort of desperate men. Unfortunately as has happened many times before albeit on a smaller scale, the flags of patriotism will be waved and the poorest of society will pick up the gun and fight not for truth and liberty, but for the corporations and those in power fuelled by propaganda and lies. How can we stop this, by implementing the suggestions listed below, how go about that and implement them successfully is another matter .
Tom, Great article!
If your readers want to know how entrenched / normalized this is, see:
The Senior Executive Service (SES)
As the keystone of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the SES was established to “…ensure that the executive management of the Government of the United States…
Members of the SES serve in the key positions just below the top Presidential appointees. SES members are the major link between these appointees and the rest of the Federal workforce. They operate and oversee nearly every government activity in approximately 75 Federal agencies.
That is basically the interface / revolving door / portal between the public and private spaces. The same folks run both worlds.
The article deals with pretty abstract notions of public administration, private-publicinitiatives, democracy and systems. Modern management was developed by engineers working in the automobile business. That’s pretty concrete and it’s based on principles of Mathematics and Engineering and some basic notions in Science. Th0se managers had some understanding of how things work. The current breed of managers come from the MBA programs and their backgroung may include a very modicum of Math&Sciences and they play with more abstract ideas than engineers do.
Those MBA’s end up as the top managers in government along with lawyers and Social science types. My contention is that the modern managers in government are no match for their colleages who work as government contractors and the managers on the government sideare too weak. Now if I add the political interference from higher echelons I must conclude that the typical program manager in the government cannot be very effective.
So one can not put all the blame for ineffective public-private initiatives just on greedy corporations. One needs also to look at how well or badly staffed the government side is.
One needs to compare how the public administrations of the US, EU, China and Russia have evolved over the years to see that the US administration is currently in need of a good clean-up and reshaping.
Your main topic here is the constant source of worry and disappointment in our lives today. Both political parties are guilty. The lobbyists come in to the chambers of congress and the senate and lay the written legislation on the desks of the elected. Literally. Then there’s a little bit of markup. Progressives come to congress and the corporatist leaders threaten their existence as they demand obedience. As long as corporate funded politicians are in charge there will be no greening going on. Weapons manufacture will continue unabated and environmental disaster is assured
And I think we are actually already a three party system. The news media, the propaganda party is the mouthpiece of the political class, the other two parties. After all, it makes them money, thanks to the beloved advertising industry. I would welcome more discussion about this aspect. The intro chapter to Manufacturing Consent would be a good place to start.
One obvious question, if ‘Corporatization’ continues and grows, is: “what is the point of government ?”
Seems that the (only) role of government will be to just distribute tax payers monies to the various corporations. However, since the corporations effectively employ the tax payers then the workers are essentially funding their own employment !!
The problem is that we no longer have a democracy, but a loose oligarchy or dictatorship of the rich, a form of economic tyranny. To restore democracy, it must be stabilized by:
1. Amendments to protect elections and mass media debate from economic power;
2. Restriction of executive power; checks and balances within federal branches;
3. Investigation and purging of our corrupt judiciary and Congress;
4. Monitoring of government officials for corruption;
5. Regulating business so that oligarchic bullies cannot control economic power;
6. Re-purposing 80% of our MIC to foreign aid, later making that a distinct agency;
7. Reforming our secret agencies to end secret political wars and operations.
Only when we have the power to do that, can we dump AUMFs, join the ICC, dump our law to attack the Hague etc., re-negotiate NATO as strictly defensive, limit foreign wars to UN auspices, repudiate deals with warmonger nations, end our secret wars, and thereby eliminate US warmongering.
Only then can literature, media, education, and public interaction encourage moral community, and only then can public debate find the moral policies that honor the rights of all persons and seek justice for all.
The Means of Reform:
1. Executive overreach to dismiss the corrupt and hold new elections requires massive replacement of agency top levels by a well organized political coalition;
2. Organize new parties that truly represent voters and form majority coalitions;
3. Use small groups, false names, no email, and eliminate possible informers;
4. Organize strikes, riots, and visible demonstrations to demand action;
5. Infiltrate military/intel/police/nat guard and deny these to oligarchy in strikes and riots;
6. Blow the whistle on corruption wherever it is found, but hide your identity;
Individual Actions To Recommend:
1. Never watch mass media or vote Rep or Dem, and advise others to do so;
2. Let people know where you stand, but not coworkers, relatives, or broad social groups;
3. Watch candidate funding and dump any with MIC or zionist sympathies;
4. Boycott military companies and BDS Israel; carefully denounce MIC and zionists;
5. Refuse to take mortgages or keep large sums in banks or investments;
6. Support foreign rejection of US products, currency, and NATO.
Do Not Expect Pacifism to Remove Tyranny:
1. Restoring democracy requires elimination of oligarchy funding of mass media and elections, which cannot be done peacefully because those are the tools of democracy.
2. The judiciary has no role at all in reform: it is almost 100 percent corrupt fake patriots who deny rights or law beyond their party and identity group;
3. Political demonstrations are no longer covered by mass media;
4. Political commentary groups are educational families but do not achieve the results;
5. Functioning movements do not end tyranny without a political and a militant wing;
6. The US is run by tyrants, who are persuaded only in their language of force and fear: organized attacks on the rich/media/parties/officials, infiltration of agencies to deny enforcement, riots, and strikes: those are the only first signs of progress;
Action, Not Identity Squabbles:
1. Alternative groups must create a substitute power, not an alternative social milieu;
2. Neutral luxury issues like climate change, maternity leaves, gun control, and gay bathrooms are mass media squabbles to divide reformers and maintain oligarchy;
3. Lives are more important: ignore luxury issues until we have restored democracy and eliminated war and the tyranny of the rich;
4. Action requires courage; but without political Action there is no progress;
5. Do your duty as a citizen while limiting the personal cost, otherwise all is lost for your future and your children; otherwise you consent to the enslavement of all humanity.
6. The challenge is to speak the language of force without losing moral perspective.
US democracy may not be restored by political action. It may be a slow train wreck much celebrated in the future. But surprises happen, and we must be prepared to sweep in and do all that can be done. This is the good fight, and humanity will win at last.
IMO – You forgot one very important action needed to truly restore democracy, that is: Proportional Representation (PR) – ‘one person, one vote and every vote to count’.
Without PR, democracy has no real foundation amongst the people.
I’ve said it before on these pages. A History of Venice. The most serene republic started out as a democracy around 800 AD. It lasted approximately 1,000 years until almost 1800 when it fell to Napoleon having been converted to a sclerotic oligarchy with a very powerful secret service. The US is not likely to last even 300 before its sclerotic oligarchy and powerful secret service falls to some future shock. That could happen soon.
Pretty good summary there, Tom Valovic. Just a few jingle-jangles along the way.
Remind me again, what “full spectrum of rights & power” still remains for ordinary citizens to exercise against “the juggernaut”? And who with any actual clout against these seeming Goliaths stands with us?
Ought we to expect The Nine to sweep corporate money out of politics, for instance, in their zeal for cleaning house & brooming away once existing protections for ordinary people?
Not wimpy bought & sold-out politicians of any vintage, surely. Don’t they bow & scrape before the so-called private sector now mostly to feather their own future nests, somewhere beyond the whirl of a revolving door?
The only language Corporations talk is money and their only purpose is profit. What prophets of the people would stand against them?
I’m glad that Consortium News is finally giving voice to someone who calls out “the Davos crowd.”
I don’t think we can hope to pierce the veil thrown over our public lives by corporate power if we fail to understand how corporate entities are using the World Economic Forum to normalize their interests as the interests of humankind.
The creators and supporters and members of the WEF—“the Davos crowd”—are about a thousand international corporations. The same “likely suspects” who have taken over the WHO and other supposedly international organizations.
The stated goal of the WEF is, literally, to “penetrate” governments at the level of the head of state (Trudeau, Macron, Scholz, Adern, and others) down to the ministerial level and below and thus to pull the levers of power to reflect the interests and agendas of these corporate “partners.” They are not partners. More like parasites.
Basically the WEF is an international secret society, which strictly controls the activities and communications of its members:
A list of attendees at the 2022 annual meeting gives a sense of the global reach of the WEF in creating an international cadre of operatives whose loyalty is not to their home countries:
The WEF is not the whole problem of corporatization of everything, but it is a big chunk of the picture.
Local Young Global Leaders and “Hub leaders” should be outted at every opportunity. These people are carrying the message of international governance and control into local organizations, entities, and civil administrations.
La CHOSE PUBLIQUE n’existe pas au pays de Washington, c’est la CHOSE PRIVÉE qui prime. Il faut toujours parler de gestion, et non de gouvernance.