Corporate Greed Economy Tom Valovic

The Corporatization of Just About Everything — Including the Climate Crisis and Outer Space

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.
Corporate interests are vigorously employing massive and costly PR and propaganda campaigns to muddy the water. (Photo: Getty/fStop Images-Antenna)

By Tom Valovic / Common Dreams

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.

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 US 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 US 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.

Corporations to the rescue? Don’t hold your breath

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 US 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: The 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.”

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
Tom Valovic

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.

10 comments

  1. If fear is the mind killer then greed is the soul killer.

    We have lost our soul, and that has driven us insane. As night follows day.

  2. Since the 1990s, US media (liberal included) have promoted middle class elitism within the capitalist system, ignoring the consequences (long-growing poverty). The middle class are dependent on the very corporations that have been phasing them out. As individuals, middle classers try to reassure themselves that if they keep “working hard and playing by the rules,” they need never fear being plunged into poverty. They need to believe that.

  3. I wonder if you have to be old to see so clearly the pure nastiness and mega insinuation of the corporate rape of public institutions and most disturbingly of the collective psyche so that the implicit, continuing violence of the act is “normalized.” Public -private projects. Pure. Unadulterated baloney. A terrible joke mapped to leash the citizenry to corporate subjugation. Right to water? Right to clean water? Decent rents? Haa! The thought that the corporate really got its demonic force going when the citizenry was freed from seeing their children coming home dead from wars keeps niggling. More or less all socioecomic classes gave of their lifeblood in the draft. The citizenry had a bloody stake in governmental decisions. The government was more or less ours. Now with a mercenary army (a very big, expensive public-private venture) the corporate war industry (revolving door consultant, lobbyist, governmental big cheese) is untethered to any social contract or experiential obligation to the citizenry.

  4. Corporations don’t have the power to pass carbon taxes. That requires Congress which in turn requires constituent support.

    1. Wake up. What constituent support? Corporates can pass whatever they want as they long time ago hired entire Congress.

      The few years old Princeton study proved that 90%+ of all policies enacted in US in last several decades reflected opinions of top few percent of richest US population.

      The opinions of bottom 90% were simply ignored or policies that were actually enacted were directly aimed against will of majority. The Princeton Study declared US an oligarchy.

      What required constituent support are you talking about?

      The only constituency US Congress has are global corporations. Remember in 2008 when FED bailed out EU banks and corporations in US?

      Were you, a proud constituent, asked in 2008 how they used your US tax contribution? No because they are not required at all.

      We are almost coming to late XIX century reality when corporations were paying senators for their votes with cash straight on the US senate floor. It is simply disgusting sham.

      1. Citizens should wake up. The middleclass majority have the power in a democracy.

        The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

  5. PERPETUATING PROBLEM & CONSCIOUSNESS

    Valovic’s term is “clever PR inversion” and of course he’s right. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see where he’s helping perpetuate these inversions.

    Re: Boomers =/= Yuppies
    Valovic uses that canard about ’60s hippies /radicals (the two are not the same) selling out. NOT TRUE! Demographers may lump everyone born between 1946 and 1964 into the same cohort, but it doesn’t work culturally.
    Very, very few born after 1956 remember the assassination of JFK, Civil Rights marches, the Summer of Love, the anti Vietnam war demonstrations, etc. They, along with the older Gen Xers, were teens and young adults during the ’80s. Whether or not they thought neolib and neocon domination was right, it was for sure real. Unlike the older cohort, they saw activism as useless.

    Re: Soln/Problem
    Add “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” which was puerile even in the ’60s. Ironically, it might have come from an ad campaign. Notice *solution* is singular; implying dissent and difference are problems. It also means either you’re with “us” or you’re against “us.” Nice way to make sure people not fully informed because they lack the tools to do so are immediately cast as enemy Other.

    Re: Consciousness
    Why Valovic’s claim “‘consciousness’ a word that no longer seems to be in vogue”?! Check the NYT best seller lists. There’s a huge argument between the neuroscientists who believe it’s an emergent property of brains and scientists whose philosophy tears apart materialist assumptions. Chief among the latter is David Chalmers, who named it as The Hard Problem (of consciousness) in 1995. There are on-going conferences at Esalen, a name that would have been familiar to Reich, by a diverse younger group of scientists and academics whose interest in consciousness is intense. Papers from these meetings are on the Esalen website. For some high weirdness done well, check out the conference held last Mar. at Rice U. entitled “Archives of the Impossible” and available on YT.

  6. While individual consciousness may be taken out of vogue the class consciousness was effectively eradicated, suppressed or replaced by phony social consciousness of implied corporate social responsibility peddled by corporate funded postmodernist cacophony of logically incongruent ideas.

    From where such corporate approach to producing phony social consciousness that obfuscate corporate greed in last few decades comes from?

    In surprisingly large part of recent corporate social policies comes from works of Hardt and Negri, lapsed revolutionary Marxists, excretions of corrupted postmodernism which tries third synthesis fusing Marx concepts of class consciousness with neo-Freudian concept of individual (sub)consciousness that supposedly significantly and objectively impacts overall politically relevant collective social consciousness of people .

    For starters in their book from 1999 published by Harvard Press ominously entitled “Empire” they are openly denying the very theory of class politics that explicitly rejects individual, psychological source of class consciousness.

    H&N reject Marx interpretation of class consciousness which is no Freudian magic but simply a common response of masses assigned by rulers specific common arbitrary social roles of being exploited regardless of race, sex or gender etc., as their labor is alienated from them and under full control of ruling class.

    This is not to say that individual psychology cannot impact social consciousness of the individual.

    To the contrary it can and does as it is exactly why expensive $billion a day propaganda of word and deed is unleashed to hijack and obfuscate class consciousness with fake fabricated corporate social consciousness often involved playing on psychological fears or fabricated desires or wants, so social reality of class division and historical process of struggle between inherently antagonistic forces of workers and corporates is denied.

    H&N books are part of that very propaganda effort.

    In their utter confusion or willful ignorance H&N want us to believe in absurdity that it is something inherent, internal to human psychology or physical or social attributes (sexual orientation race, gender etc.,) that affects genuine collective class consciousness or rather destroys commonality of it among exploited people .

    In fact there is nothing that affects class consciousness as it is simply manifestation of response to objective social reality of arbitrarily imposed by ruling elite inequality of class division.

    In fact those two former Marxist authors are not simply wrong, confused or misguided about historical process and society at large but what they really want to do is burry Marxism in an effort similar to burying Egyptian pyramids like they never existed, revealing themselves, as simply dirty political players, closeted anti-communists on corporate payroll.

    It is they who promote non existent, even prohibited by law, any meaningful corporate social responsibilities, placing corporate elites as arbiters of artificially instigated conflicts of Identity politics among sliced and diced into thin and politically weak Intersectional assemblages and multitudes of confused sheeple, acting against their own fundamental interests of survival.

    Today it may not be obvious for some on the left but it was empirical discovery of class struggle driven objective Historical Process in context of Materialistic Historiosophy what was Marx’s crown achievement more important than anything else in my opinion.

    Marx saw through the veil of ancient Identity politics of social division applied by ruling elites continuously to corrupt and suppress working people consciousness, which manifestations were reoccurring in a form of class struggles/revolutions throughout the ages and in fact shaped socioeconomic foundations of those ages.

    This truth was hidden from working people who in fact were historically marginalized as having no significant impact on social development supposedly authored solely by ruling elite.

    Marx saw class struggle on all continents all races, all genders, all cultures in all types of society that denied equality, equity and egalitarianism.

    Hardt and Negri corporate propaganda wanted us to forget that stemming from class division fundamental inequality of capitalism is the core of all social problems and to return to ruling class peddled scholasticism of social superficialities of oxymoronic corporate social responsibility for social development.

  7. Corporations are killing the planet so they are moving their show into space. But who would want to see a dead planet from outer space?

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