Growth Machines: Arkansas Edition

Harvey Molotch coined the term “growth machines” for the coalitions of real estate and other businesses that control local governments and use them as a vehicles to promote the interests of chambers of commerce — and particularly those of the real estate developers. The collusion between business and state and local government is more, not less, blatant in the Sun Belt areas where Tea Party types throw around the most “anti-government” rhetoric. Recent attempts by Republican politicians in my home state of Arkansas to outdo each other in channelling revenues to highway construction and levees are as good an illustration as any.

In Carl Oglesby’s “Yankee and Cowboy” division, the Cowboy faction of the American ruling class represented the landed interests, cheap labor employers and extractive industries of the Sun Belt. Although they hide behind ideological protective coloring of “free enterprise” and talk about  “getting government off our backs,” these economic interests are if anything more directly dependent on government intervention than the traditional old money coalition of finance and heavy industry in the “Yankee” faction.

For a century or more southern members of Congress used the seniority and patronage systems to locate a disproportionate share of military bases and military industry to their states. A major share of the Sun Belt economy is comprised of “Sagebrush Rebel” (i.e. corporate welfare) industries like mining, lumber, ranching and oil, which rely heavily on a model of government land engrossment followed by grants of preferential access to industry. Even in periods of “progressive” dominance like the New Deal, exceptions were carved out for the south as a cheap labor economy centered on textile and migrant farm workers. Far from meaning less government involvement in the economy, this meant interventionist measures like so-called “right-to-work” laws that prohibited employers from entering into union shop contracts — not to mention quasi-private vigilantes, paramilitaries and death squads (the Klan, in which off-duty cops and politicians were heavily represented) to suppress organizing drives by other means.

When you couple it with this, and throw in the “good ol’ boy” style of politics common to the south (those media tropes of private plantations being worked with convict labor from the county prison farm aren’t just fiction), the growth machines that dominate the rest of the US are even more corrupt in the Sun Belt.

Which brings us back to Arkansas. Gov. Asa Hutchinson stated his “expectations… for the state of Arkansas to be creative in [coming up with] additional revenue streams for developing our highway infrastructure.” Given his aversion to funding highways by raising the fuel tax on those who actually use them, that leaves only two alternatives for funding more highway construction to subsidize the real estate developers’ new subdivisions:  shifting general revenues from other purposes, or the local Representative’s traditional primary function of funnelling highway money from Washington. And a major part of those general revenues has already been diverted to bribe Lockheed Martin to locate in this state.

State Sen. Jason Rapert, one of the more virulently right-wing Tea Partiers in Arkansas, called for improvements in levees. The one thing definitely off the table for Rapert is making real estate developers, who build in flood-prone areas, pay the cost of such engineering projects.

The Reaganite/Cowboy model of American capitalism is in no way less government-reliant than the New Deal or Social Democratic variant. To the contrary:  despite the “free enterprise” and “small government” rhetoric, its actual use of government power is even more nakedly brutal. The only “freedom” these people care about is the freedom of the local country club set to make decisions behind closed doors and line their own pockets — along with terrorizing and murdering “uppity” people of color and anyone whose sexual practices they disagree with.

The Cowboys’ “free enterprise” rhetoric is as fake as the Yankees’ “compassion.” In American politics, there is no “small government” side.

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