Politics Robert Reich

Corporate Seditionists Are No Better Than the Seditionists Who Attacked the Capitol

Corporations continue to undermine democracy.
Photo by Alejandro Barba on Unsplash

By Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

Capitalism and democracy are compatible only if democracy is in the driver’s seat.

That’s why I took some comfort just after the attack on the Capitol when many big corporations solemnly pledged they’d no longer finance the campaigns of the 147 lawmakers who voted to overturn election results.

Well, those days are over. Turns out they were over the moment the public stopped paying attention.

A report published last week by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington shows that over the past year, 717 companies and industry groups have donated more than $18m to 143 of those seditious lawmakers. Businesses that pledged to stop or pause their donations have given nearly $2.4m directly to their campaigns or political action committees.

But there’s a deeper issue here. The whole question of whether corporations do or don’t bankroll the seditionist caucus is a distraction from a more basic problem.

The tsunami of money now flowing from corporations into the swamp of American politics is larger than ever. And this money – bankrolling almost all politicians and financing attacks on their opponents – is undermining American democracy as much as did the 147 seditionist members of Congress. Maybe more.

The Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema – whose vocal opposition to any change in the filibuster is on the verge of dooming voting rights – received almost $2m in campaign donations in 2021 even though she is not up for re-election until 2024. Most of it came from corporate donors outside Arizona, some of which have a history of donating largely to Republicans.

Has the money influenced Sinema? You decide. Besides sandbagging voting rights, she voted down the $15 minimum wage increase, opposed tax increases on corporations and the wealthy and stalled on drug price reform – policies supported by a majority of Democratic senators as well as a majority of Arizonans.

Over the last four decades, corporate PAC spending on congressional elections has more than quadrupled, even adjusting for inflation.

Labor unions no longer provide a counterweight. Forty years ago, union PACs contributed about as much as corporate PACs. Now, corporations are outspending labor by more than three to one.

According to a landmark study published in 2014 by the Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern professor Benjamin Page, the preferences of the typical American have no influence at all on legislation emerging from Congress.

Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups and average citizens. Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Lawmakers mainly listen to the policy demands of big business and wealthy individuals – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns and promote their views.

It’s probably far worse now. Gilens and Page’s data came from the period 1981 to 2002: before the supreme court opened the floodgates to big money in the Citizens United case, before Super Pacs, before “dark money” and before the Wall Street bailout.

The corporate return on this mountain of money has been significant. Over the last 40 years, corporate tax rates have plunged. Regulatory protections for consumers, workers and the environment have been defanged. Antitrust has become so ineffectual that many big corporations face little or no competition.

Corporations have fought off safety nets and public investments that are common in other advanced nations (most recently, Build Back Better). They’ve attacked labor laws, reducing the portion of private-sector workers belonging to a union from a third 40 years ago to just over 6% now.

They’ve collected hundreds of billions in federal subsidies, bailouts, loan guarantees and sole-source contracts. Corporate welfare for big pharma, big oil, big tech, big ag, the largest military contractors and biggest banks now dwarfs the amount of welfare for people.

The profits of big corporations just reached a 70-year high, even during a pandemic. The ratio of CEO pay in large companies to average workers has ballooned from 20-to-1 in the 1960s, to 320-to-1 now.

Meanwhile, most Americans are going nowhere. The typical worker’s wage is only a bit higher today than it was 40 years ago, when adjusted for inflation.

But the biggest casualty is public trust in democracy.

In 1964, just 29% of voters believed government was “run by a few big interests looking out for themselves”. By 2013, 79% of Americans believed it.

Corporate donations to seditious lawmakers are nothing compared with this 40-year record of corporate sedition.

A large portion of the American public has become so frustrated and cynical about democracy they are willing to believe blatant lies of a self-described strongman, and willing to support a political party that no longer believes in democracy.

As I said at the outset, capitalism is compatible with democracy only if democracy is in the driver’s seat. But the absence of democracy doesn’t strengthen capitalism. It fuels despotism.

Despotism is bad for capitalism. Despots don’t respect property rights. They don’t honor the rule of law. They are arbitrary and unpredictable. All of this harms the owners of capital. Despotism also invites civil strife and conflict, which destabilize a society and an economy.

My message to every CEO in America: you need democracy, but you’re actively undermining it.

It’s time for you to join the pro-democracy movement. Get solidly behind voting rights. Actively lobby for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Use your lopsidedly large power in American democracy to protect American democracy – and do it soon. Otherwise, we may lose what’s left of it.

Robert Reich
Robert Reich

Robert Reich writes at robertreich.substack.com. His latest book is “THE SYSTEM: Who Rigged It, How To Fix It.” He is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written 17 other books, including the best sellers “Aftershock,””The Work of Nations,” “Beyond Outrage,” and “The Common Good.” He is a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, founder of Inequality Media, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentaries “Inequality For All,” streaming on YouTube, and “Saving Capitalism,” now streaming on Netflix. 

17 comments

  1. The public accept this criminality as part of life when in fact it is part of their death. A corporate structure is a psychopathic structure hell bent on getting its NON HUMAN way. Time for the public to start a true justice movement toward the prosecution and control all corporations and their criminal congressional representatives

    1. What we saw was a protest-turned-riot, much like the 1968 Dem Convention protest-turned-riot in Chicago. For Democrats to reframe protest in terms of “sedition” is irresponsible and dangerous. The authoritarian bent of today’s Democrat Party is reason for deep concern.

      1. @DH Fabian
        The situation in Chicago was a POLICE riot, as stated by the Walker Report afterward.

  2. Is it true that the voting rights bill HR1 extracts partisan political advantage by increasing the role of big donors and wealthy individuals? It’s also said that HR1 makes it even more difficult for third political parties to succeed in advancing a candidate, making the duopoly stronger than ever. How does this bill promote democracy when it diminishes the role of public financing in our elections? It seems what the bill gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.

  3. My oh my. So, the unarmed mob at the Jan. 6 event are equal to, what? The murderous millionaires and billionaires? Our tax based USA, where you and I pay for drones, missiles, NSA, CIA, DoD, DARPA, and the continuing criminal enterprise that has actually murder millions over the past six decades.

    And, we keep shoveling the mercenaries with money, now offering 50,000 dollar sign on bonus for hitching up in the mercenary armed forces, with certain specialties needed to keep the MIC machine running.

    It is an embarassment, really, Reich.
    Voting?

    How’s that working out for the millionaire Reich? We voting for NASA ramming junk into space? You and I vote on Amazon getting the cloud contract for USA Murder Inc., CIA, et al?

    We voting on those parasites in either dem or rep administration?

    Wow. It’s difficult to be a thinking human and get through his pablum.

  4. Reich’s been in Marin too long….
    He’s absorbed the white supremacist progressive version of
    imitation reality where the Capitol Police didn’t stand down
    under orders from SF HEROINE NANCY.
    Where the FBI agents provacatuers inflitrating the angry
    Trumpster crowd with direct communications to their CIA
    brethren did not arrange for an unarmed crowd to “break
    in” and terrify the progressives cowering under their seats,
    while pretending to be unable to control the false flagging
    event they planned and unleashed in a desparate attempt to
    crucify Trump and delegitimize the 74,000,000 people who
    voted for him and – most crucially – to head off the re-election
    campaign in 2024 that would undermine the permanent war
    state that the Reichians pretend to oppose but never seriously
    confront their weaponmaker funded democrat and republican
    $$ recipient candidates for more filthy funding.

  5. Oh, the things we do not get to vote for, or against!

    Behind its development is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – with support of the Rockefeller Foundation – and others belonging to the sinister all-digitization, depopulation and eugenics agenda.

    It is an alliance of public-private partners, including UN agencies and civil society.

    It’s an electronic ID-program that uses generalized vaccination against Covid-19 as a platform for digital identity.

    It is an all-electronic ID – linking everything to everything of each individual (records of health, criminal, banking, personal and private, etc.), being managed by a state agency or in extremis, by the private sector. – Imagine – an insurance company or bank handling your private records, converted into an electronic and eventually “chipped” ID.

    Privatization of your personal records may sound far-fetched, but the Swiss government tried to get a privatized Agenda ID2020 quietly past the people. But the people found out and launched a referendum against Agenda ID2020. The idea was rejected with a margin of 2:1 in July 2021.

    What will happen next? – Will the Swiss Government respect the vote of the people, or following the mandate from the Deep Dark State above?

    Germany, Austria and France – and probably others, implemented ID2020 through Parliament or by decree – most people have no idea.

    Implementation of Agenda ID2020 links into – or emerged from – Klaus Schwab’s (WEF) infamous “Covid-19 – The Great Reset”- which, by the way, is available from Amazon (or was, when I last checked). If it has been taken off and censored, perhaps by the very author – it would be no surprise.

  6. Oh, that government for, by, because of the people! Oh, what voting doesn’t do!

    Because MLK repeatedly called the United States the “greatest purveyor of violence on earth,” he was universally condemned by the mass media and government that later – once he was long and safely dead – praised him to the heavens. This has continued to the present day of historical amnesia.

    But William Pepper resurrects the revolutionary MLK, and in doing so shows in striking detail why elements within the U.S. government executed him. After reading this book, no fair-minded reader can reach any other conclusion. The Plot to Kill King, the culminating volume of a trilogy that Pepper has written on the assassination, consists of slightly less text than supporting documentation in its appendices, which include numerous depositions and interviews that buttress Pepper’s thesis on the why and how of this horrible murder. It demands a close reading that should put to rest any pseudo-debates about the essentials of the case.

    Pepper, an attorney who represented the King family in the 1999 trial that found U.S. officials of the federal (in particular, the FBI and Army Intelligence), state, and local governments responsible for King’s assassination, has worked on the King case since 1977. He met MLK in 1967, after King had read his Ramparts’ magazine article, “The Children of Vietnam,” that exposed the hideous effects of U.S. napalm and white phosphorous bombing on young and old Vietnamese innocents. The text and photos of that article reduced King to tears and were instrumental in his increased opposition to the war against Vietnam as articulated in his dramatic Riverside Church speech (“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”) on April 4, 1967, one year to the day before his execution in Memphis. That speech, in which King so powerfully and publically linked the war with racism and economic exploitation, foretold his death at the hands of the perpetrators of those abominations.

  7. Our Government has failed to represent the will of the People who vote for it. Is that clear? It continues to fail us and will continue to fail us as long as Corporations have a say in anything. As long as money changes hands, so will evil enterprise. It no secret that every politician makes promises they never keep. One is to uphold the Bill of Rights and Constitution. Any deviation from this promise must be met with termination from office because they are not fit to represent us and have become a traitor to the principles we operate under. Does this make any sense at all?

  8. Darn. Housing saves more than just lives. It saves our communities.

    Between 1999 and 2021, the federal government’s failure to provide safe housing has led to residential fires killing Black people at more than twice the rate of white people.

    Cuts in federal and state funding for affordable housing have drastically reduced availability over the past two decades. This is not by accident. In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed the Faircloth Amendment to the 1937 United States Housing Act, making it illegal for the federal government to build or fund more public housing units than existed on Oct. 1, 1999.

    Since 1999, the U.S. population has grown by around 51 million. The inflation-adjusted median cost of buying a home has risen by 36.83%. At the same time there is a $70 billion backlog in funding to maintain and repair existing public housing. (National Nurse-led Care Consortium, tinyurl.com/46ew9nyh)

    In the 1930s, massive workers’ protests against evictions forced the federal government to respond by establishing the Housing Act, which built millions of new homes. However, most of those publicly funded houses were constructed in predominantly white neighborhoods. Decades later, a majority of public housing residents are Black and Latinx, including immigrants. Single parent households with children comprise over 30%. People with disabilities make up 35%.

    Two years before Clinton abandoned public housing, a 1997 study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that overcrowding in housing would invariably lead to more fire deaths. The study commented: “One way low-income families deal with the lack of affordable housing is by doubling up in homes with extended family members or friends. By increasing the number of people in a given household, the number of potential victims of a fire also rises. This is especially true for households with very young or very old household members, who may be unable to escape flames or smoke on their own.”

  9. Only people who buy into the kabuki theater of Democrats v. Republicans care about this kind of stuff (referring to this specific issue, not democracy & capitalism). Robert Reich is a Democrat, which is just as much the enemy of regular people and the planet as the Republicans.

    Voting in the U.S. has little or nothing to do with democracy. No proportional representation, buying elections with private campaign contributions, and censorship of anti-establishment candidates and parties make U.S. elections an absolute joke.

  10. Thank you for this and Reich has right. He should also reapply the Gilens and Page study to today’s world of cognitive erosion. In a world where computers make things easier and dominant biases makes things easier to understand, do you actually think people know what is good for them?

  11. ruling class reich is predictable—jan 6 opposed the ruling class stolen election…he always sides with power

  12. There is no way out of this without tremendous suffering. There is no continuation of the status quo without tremendous suffering.

    The corporate behemoth becomes weakened by the decline of the US empire, and perhaps actual material concerns can become a priority. Probably millions of americans will die early if this happens.

    People replace ballots with bullets, millions, maybe billions will die.

    We carry on as we have been and the currently immiserated will die faster, and more will fall into this abyss. The next pandemic will kill millions. Environmental degradation and economic precarity will kill millions. The only bright side is that our educational collapse will fail to reproduce the our productive classes and the US’s image overseas will continue to degrade making us unable to drain brains from other countries. (This is currently underway.) So we end up in collapse this way, too, just with less risk of global war.

    There is no path to a bright future for America that doesn’t wind through darkness.

  13. Robert, an excellent piece as usual, but please, how can you end with “It’s time for you to join the pro-democracy movement. Get solidly behind voting rights. Actively lobby for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act” when you’ve stated early “Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups and average citizens. Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Lawmakers mainly listen to the policy demands of big business and wealthy individuals – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns and promote their views?” Clearly, neither party is going to listen to the electorate, and if voting is key, as you and so many other say, should we all be leaving the “Ds” and the “Rs” and forming strong, truly opposition Third Parties?

  14. I’ve had some decent bosses in my life, ever so rarely, but I’ve never come across this creature of capitalism compatible with democracy. Outside of voluntary associations of free labor, whatever workplace I’ve been in has been, in principle and practice, a private tyranny where some form of bosshood has power over the conditions of my work, from micromanaged abuse to illegitmate authority, aka private property rights, over means of access to basic resources of living (‘if you don’t work, you don’t eat,’ etc.), aka human rights.

    Of course, thanks to brainwashing bosses from grade school to grad school, where the ideological likes of Reich make their home in the academic industrial complex, the message remains essentially the same elementary lesson in doublethink for good Amerikaners: Capitalism Is (compatible with) Democracy, War Is (compatible with) Peace, etc., etc.

    When you’ve properly educated general populations to be so numbed and desensitized to their own experience as to no longer recognize the prison cells of jobs, where we spend or waste so much of our living, I suppose it’s not much of a stretch to keep subjects trained with lesser lies, as with the ad nauseam propaganda (on behalf of the state terror out to stretch the meaning of ‘domestic terrorism’ to totalitarian lengths) about the January 6th ‘sedition,’ ‘insurrection,’ etc., etc. etc. (As one example of the design behind this narrative, see Glenn Greenwald’s recent article, “Congress’s 1/6 Committee Claims Absolute Power as it Investigates Citizens With No Judicial Limits.”)

    Ho hum, the world’s a stage of manufactured pseudoevents in this society of spectacle and simulacra. And thanks to useful idiots like Reich, we’ve got short- and long-term narratives to keep us up to our necks in noble lies so predators in power over us, from Crapitali$m to Demokracy, Inc., can tighten the noose until we’re dead.

    Given what they’ve already gotten away with in their pseudopandemic, that may not be much longer. And as always, there are well-educated shills like Riech to keep us moving along to rescue our dear democracy from the excesses of corporate capitalism with such schemes as Build Back Better, brought to us by our ruling class saviors at Davos (now completing their annual planning meeting for the next stage of our governance in the Great Reset).

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