“The Government is US?” Not Unless We’re Citigroup

Jill Lesser, head of the Center for Copyright Information (an intellectual property lobby  posing as an “educational” body), recently assured the public that “six strikes” provisions of an agreement between the music and motion picture industries and several major Internet Service Providers won’t adversely affect provision of free wireless Internet by public libraries, restaurants, coffee houses and other public gathering places.

Nonsense, responded the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Although, as Lesser argued, a small independent coffee house or brew pub might not have its Internet connection terminated over “infringing” activity by a customer, it could easily have its bandwidth cut back to 256kbps for days with every accusation — making it essentially unusable.

And anyway, it’s not like Big Content sees a major blow to free wireless as a bad thing. ISPs, which have been working with the RIAA and MPAA for years in lobbying for totalitarian digital copyright laws, hate free wireless as much as Chris Dodd hates The Pirate Bay. Any harm to free wireless — Lesser’s dodge notwithstanding — is a feature, not a bug, in “six strikes.”

This is fairly typical. In some cases — as with opposition to the draconian SOPA copyright bill by Google and other content aggregators — the corporate ruling clas temporarily divides against itself, and we can exploit those divisions. But more often than not, monopoly capital unites in  lockstep coalition.

Back in the 1950s, John Kenneth Galbraith and Daniel Bell depicted the American political system as one of “countervailing power” or “interest group pluralism.” If the nineteenth century liberal model of public sovereignty was obsolete and the individual no longer counted for anything, at least the state was forced to strike a balance between the major contending interests in society.

But interest group pluralism didn’t bear much looking into, as Power Elite theorists like sociologists C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff demonstrated. Interest group competition took place mostly on the second tier of policy-making. The commanding heights of the power structure were oases of cooperation, not competition: Interlocking directorates of large corporations, banks, regulatory agencies,  political appointees and think tanks, all headed by the same recirculating group of personnel.

The supposed “countervailing power” Galbraith saw Big Government exercising against Big Business turned out to be as genuine as the conflict between the “good cop” and “bad cop” in the interrogation room. New Left historian Gabriel Kolko showed that the primary force behind the much-vaunted “progressive” regulatory agenda at the turn of the 20th century was the regulated industries themselves. They saw federal regulatory cartels as the best protection against ruinous competition and price wars. And Bill Domhoff showed that major portions of the New Deal regulatory/welfare state were backed, even drafted, by the most powerful factions of corporate capital.

If you think the regulatory state works for us, rather than for the regulated industries, you might be interested in one particular of Obama Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew’s employment contract at Citigroup: The clause specifying that Lew would forfeit the “guaranteed retention and incentive bonus” if he quit — that is, unless he quit “as a result of your acceptance of a full-time high level position with the United States government or regulatory body.”

The reasoning behind that should be fairly transparent. Anyone who leaves Citigroup or Goldman Sachs (has a Treasury Secretary come from anywhere else in recent decades?) for the US Treasury Department isn’t really leaving Citigroup at all. He’s just accepting assignment as their man in Washington.

The same is true of most government regulatory agencies. The same crowd shuffles back and forth between the boards and C-suites of Monsanto and ADM and second- and third-tier appointive positions at the USDA with such velocity that they probably can’t remember from one day to the next who their actual employers are — not that it would make that much difference. Ditto the leadership at the FDA and the senior management of Merck and Pfizer.

Don’t fall for the line that state functionaries “work for us.” Take a look at where they worked before they entered “public service” and watch where they go back to afterward. Guess what? They’re working there right now, too.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory