Knowing the Real Enemy

Article by Kevin Carson.
In an article in Tikkun last year, Rabbi Michael Lerner argued that “[f]rom the standpoint of the large corporate interests, nothing could be better than to de-fund government or dramatically downsize it, because then it can’t constrain their economic power.” (“After the Health Care Legislation,” April 5, 2010).

And now Corey Robin, writing in The Nation, challenges the claim — which he dismissively calls a “right-wing idea” — that “the market equals freedom and government is the threat to freedom” (“Reclaiming the Politics of Freedom,” April 6). What’s more, he equates a belief in free markets to a prescription to “let the men of money decide.” In response, Robinson proposes a liberal counter-framing: “change the argument from the abstractions of the free market to the very real power of the businessman.” For example: “Without a strong government hand in the economy, men and women are at the mercy of their employer….”

These writers have things exactly backward. All power that is wielded by corporate interests and employers is exercised with the help of government.

Lerner and Robin take a decidedly naive liberal view of the historic role of government in the corporate economy. Their real enemy is not so much the Right as the genuine Left. Historically, Marx’s view of the state as “executive committee of the ruling class” is much closer to the truth than the liberal view of it as a “countervailing power.”

As New Left historian Gabriel Kolko argued in The Triumph of Conservatism, the main political force behind the Progressive Era regulatory agenda was big business. The corporate economy, even before Progressive regulatory legislation, was virtually a creature of the state. The economic model of large national manufacturers serving a continent-sized market was the direct result of land grants and other direct subsidies to the railroad system, that hammered the country together into a single national market. The pooling and exchange of patents — government-enforced monopolies — was a powerful tool for the leading firms in an industry to cartelize their market. And the industrial tariff was called — with good reason — “the Mother of Cartels.”

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