REVIEW: Two 2012 books reveal the oligarchs' plans and practices against the workers of the USA
Anyone wonder why you can't buy a one-pound box of Cheerios today? Or why coffee no longer comes in one- and two-pound cans? Or why Chicago's Mayor can give away (on Halloween 2012) another $3 million in TIF money for a northside plastics company that would have had to stay in Chicago anyway?
Two new books, both written by reporters with vast experience, will help. You've probably guessed these policies has something to do with the same rich people and corporations that are offering merit pay to Chicago principals, demeaning Walgreens gift cards to encourage "engagement" from Chicago parents, and bullshit bullshit and more bullshit about how wonderful their wealth is for the people they exploit. If you believe that capitalists are "job creators" and that low taxes for the rich and government by plutocrats is a higher good, don't read these two books (or this review, for that matter).
The two books, both published in 2012 — "Who Stole the American Dream" and "The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use 'Plain English' to Rob You Blind" — pick up one of the places where "The Shock Doctrine" and other earlier critiques of contemporary American Finance Capitalism may be said to have left off.
Looking back now on the years since Naomi Klein published her groundbreaking expose of the predations of contemporary capitalism (with wonderful nods to two of the most notable Chicago contributors to the Orwellian process, Rahm Emanuel and Arne Duncan), the ability of Americans to get information that was once generally hidden behind popular cultural smokescreens in the USA has exploded, and among the best examples are these two books and these two reporters. But whereas when George W. Bush let people die by the dozens in hurricane raped New Orleans and nincompoops adulated his privatization vision of American disaster relief, today we are far from the days when such critiques as these existed only in a few instances — like the work of Naomi Klein and the films of Michael Moore).
For those who want a description of how the American owning class took over the rule of the country, both of these books are essential readings.
Hedrick Smith's "Who Stole the American Dream" (557 pages, with more than 100 pages of Appendix, Notes, Index and Bibliography) lays out the capitalist class's philosophical and organizational work that brought us to a nation that mindlessly repeats the mantras, slogans, obsessions and talking points of the ruling class. We can read and understand how a phrase like "entrepreneurship" can be utilized by a billionaire heiress to describe her work with a straight face, or how the Republican presidential candidates can brainwash a lot of the airwaves with the false claim that the only true "job creation" comes from the so-called "private sector." Smith's book offers dozens of other talking points from the exploiting class that grow from ignoring virtually all history since the industrial revolution (and, ironically, most classical economics as well, including Adam Smith himself).
According to Smith, the democratic and egalitarian revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s were seen by American capitalists as the threat they were to the permanent reign of wealth, power, and privilege. In what became a "Manifesto" for the strategy of the plutocracy, corporate lawyer William Powell (later a Supreme Court justice) issued a memo that became policy through the work of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and spawned, among others, the dozens of CEO-led "Business Roundtables" that organized to dictate public policy, not only at the national level but state-by-state.
"By the early 1970s," Smith writes, "the free market fundamentalism of economist Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate from the University of Chicago, was giving new legitimacy to pro-business laissez faire economics in academic circles. William Buckley's National Review and Irving Kristol's Public Interest were challenging the long-accepted governmental activism of the welfare state, as it was then called. The 'movement conservatism' of Senator Barry Goldwater, with its ardent anti-unbion, anti-government ideology, had growing appeal in Sun Belt business circles."
So while a fragmenting New Deal consensus was finding itself cast into disarray, partly by its pact with U.S. imperialism abroad (the Vietnam War being just the most dramatic flash point), the new ruling class consensus was beginning to form. And while Milton Friedman's dubious economic theories have long been credited with giving a basis for much of that movement, it was actually Powell's call to action -- political, op ed, and policy action -- that was to do the most to change history. Anyone who bemoans the state-by-state legislative work of ALEC (and the Koch Brothers) needs to read Smith's book to understand where it all began (and how a handful of villains, whether they be the Koch brothers or some of the disciples of Milton Friedman, aren't going to help us understand the breadth of the class counter-revolution that was begun with the work of the 1970s.
"Powell was like a commanding general gearing up an army for battle," Smith continues. "'Business must learn the lesson... that political power is necessary', he asserted: 'that such power must be assiduously [sic] cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.
"Powell provided a blueprint, a long-term game plan that would leverage the enormous advantages of corporate money and organized business power to do battle with their critics, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the lead. 'Strength lies in organization,' he advised, 'in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through united action and national organization."
"Who Stole the American Dream?" exposes how American capitalists worked with the ruthless efficiency of the propagandists at the Deutscher Beobachter 80 years ago changed the vocabulary the average worker uses to discuss economic realities — and ultimately to think about the reality around us. What George Orwell predicted in fiction in the novel "1984" slowly became fact as the American capitalist owning and ruling class (the same class, but with usually a division of labor) implemented a plan, outlined by Hedrick Smith, to Hijack the American Dream, such as it was. The hijacking took place by busting unions and, as important as any other part of the program, implementing a massive ideological offensive against history and reality. "Capitalists" are now "Entrepreneurs." Capitalists used to exploit workers, but today "entrepreneurs" "create jobs." Dozens of examples of doublespeak have been created and slipped into the general vocabulary since the 1980s, when the programs Smith describes began, with enormous financing from the nation's wealthiest people and most powerful corporations.
Johnston's latest book, "The Fine Print", joins the growing number of studies which outline the legal ways in which the nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations had bought themselves into power that has rarely existed in the history of earth. And all in the last 40 years, almost all of the thievery has become completely legal. Both books are written by veteran reporters, one (Smith) from The New York Times and another (Johnston) from Reuters. Before long, Americans might be able to talk about capitalist exploitation of workers again; and imperialism abroad. And, after that, maybe after a hiatus the classical solution, solution, will be back the mainstream of discourse.
The crazy reduction in the size of the boxes of cereals you can buy today in any corporate supermarket in the USA is a small example of how children and the average person is being cheated every day by the corporate manipulators. Instead of raising prices, on anything from Hershey's chocolate to Rice Krispies, America's corporate owners reduced the amount of what was in each box. In many cases, they left the size of the boxes the same, so that careful shoppers would notice the trick, but who could argue? If the kids wanted Cheerios or Chex, you had to buy a package of 12.5 ounces instead of 16. Or, the latest, a package of Minute Maid that now has only 59 ounces of orange juice when two years ago the same size container held a full 64 ounces.
But how did these tricks come to this? And why were most Americans propagandized to believe most of the lies told every day by corporate USA? Read the books.
Hedrick Smith's "Who Stole the American Dream?" outlines how the American ruling class took the lead in a long-term strategic plan to change the way the USA works. Facing the rebellions of the 1960s. Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer who later became a Supreme Court justice, in the 1970s outline a plan under which the wealthiest and most powerful corporations and individuals in the USA would literally change the way the average person in the USA viewed the world, casting the villains of great wealth as wonderful human beings and creating the myth of "wealth creators" and "entrepreneurs" that by 2012 is common vocabulary.
David Cay Johnston's latest work -- the third in what might be called a trilogy exposing the oligarchy and the plutocrats -- lays out in meticulous detail how the nation's largest corporations and wealthiest individuals cheat us every day and make that cheating completely legal.
Johnston's first book was about how corporate America was plundering the USA. His second book, Free Lunch, was about how all the taxes working people pay that do not go to the government but instead are diverted to various companies through programs like TIFs and other subsidies programs (federal, state and local). The book showed how companies and industries get all of their profits from the taxpayers through hidden subsidies like the TIFs.
Johnston's latest book, The Fine Print shows how big businesses have escaping the competitive markets through collusion. Whereas economics courses used to teach the facts of capitalist economics (including, the iron law of oligarchy and the tendency of all corporate capitalist realities to become monopolies), today "economics" at the college and university level is devoted to fantasies like "entrepreneurship" and the kind of propaganda that people have come to expect from National Public Radio and shows like 'Marketplace' .
As the books shows, the corporations have gotten government to pass rules that raise prices, take away the average peoples' rights as a consumer, and in many cases life in danger. (Think, most recently the steroid epidurals polluted in a deregulated combination house). According to David Cay Johnston, corporates also insulate themselves from market forces, damaging the economy, and making the average person worse off. Meanwhile, wages have been flat for years, and partly as a result corporate profits have gone through the roof.
Although Chicago Teachers Union members and other working class people have many things on the agenda, the fact that the working class is finally responding with a coherent and mass-based strategy not only to respond, but to begin building the new world that many have sung about.