Speaking at a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser hosted by Democratic billionaire Rich Richman, President Obama denounced the GOP as — wait for it — the “party of billionaires” (Douglas Barclay, “Obama blasts Republican billionaires at home of Democratic billionaire,” Rare, Oct. 9). “If Republicans win, we know who they’ll be fighting for. Once again, the interests of billionaires will come before the needs of the middle class.” I always figured Obama had a fairly keen sense of irony, but maybe being in power burns that part of your brain out after a while.
Let’s get something straight: America has no major political party that’s NOT a party of billionaires. No party that takes a principled stance on anything, that doesn’t serve the interest of some faction of billionaires, has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever winning the White House or a congressional majority.
That’s not to say that the plutocratic constituencies of the two parties are identical, or that life might not be more tolerable for working people under one party’s agenda than the other’s. But the difference between the two parties is which particular corporate and plutocratic interests their agendas serve, not whether they serve such interests. And the extent to which life is more or less unpleasant for workers under one party or the other is a side-effect of promoting the interests of its corporate masters.
Thomas Ferguson, in Golden Rule, argues that the Democratic and Republican parties represent two rival, broad coalitions of corporate capital. From the New Deal onward, the Democrats have been the party of large-scale, capital-intensive, exported industry and finance capital. The Republicans have been the party of medium-sized corporations and labor-intensive or extractive industries (the old National Association of Manufacturers coalition), and the Sun Belt country club elites who mostly derive their wealth from such sources. The latter include mining, logging, oil, cotton belt plantation agribusiness and New South real estate. Until recently the Democratic coalition was for globalism and reduced tariffs, and the GOP was comparatively protectionist (reflecting the interests of the domestic textile industry represented by figures like George Wallace and Strom Thurmond); but that mostly went away when the last textile mills moved offshore.
The New Deal liberal coalition was comparatively friendly to a modest welfare state, middle class entitlements, and a labor accord with domesticated, bureaucratic unions on the AFL-CIO model, because it served the interests of the industries it represented. Being capital-intensive, it was most vulnerable to crises of excess industrial capacity resulting from chronic underconsumption, and therefore favorable to at least modest levels of Keynesian aggregate demand management. And being capital-intensive, they regarded labor costs as a comparatively minor part of their total unit costs, and had a long-term planning process highly vulnerable to unpredictability and disruption from worker direct action on the shop floor. This meant they were willing to trade modest, productivity-based wage increases, job security and a grievance process in return for the long-term stability that came from domesticated unions enforcing contracts against wildcats by their own rank and file, and agreeing to “let management manage.”
Don’t get me wrong. I consider the Democratic and Republican models of corporate capitalism equally statist — that’s no exaggeration — and I find the New Deal/Social Democrat model of capitalism a lot less horrible to live under than the Tom Delay/Dick Armey banana republic model. But that’s entirely a side-effect of the Democratic corporate coalition’s own self-interest.
The Republican model of corporate capitalism is an extractive, slash-and-burn model. The Democratic model is geared more toward maximizing the long-term sustainable rate of exploitation. To that extent, the Democratic billionaires are slightly smarter — and even nicer — because they think they’ll come out ahead taking decent care of their livestock, whereas the Republicans think they’re better off working them to death and replacing them.
But both models are based on massive levels of monopoly and rent extraction, and even the “Party of Working People” just gives us back just enough of our labor product from those extracted rents to keep us working. What they give back in “redistribution” is nowhere near what they helped their capitalist masters steal from us in the first place. The only real justice will come, not from electing farmers who are kinder to us “livestock,” but from tearing down the fence.