Archive for category: Class Oppression
“Corporate America’s rush to cancel those it dislikes should trouble you,” wrote Sen. Josh Hawley (New York Post, 1/24/21), after leading the charge to overturn the 2020 election cost him a book contract.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R.–Mo.), one of the right-wing ringleaders of the January 6 riot at the Capitol, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity (2/5/21) he is under attack—not by federal law enforcement, civil rights groups or ANTIFA, but by “woke capital,” a cabal of left-wing business elites using their commercial might to silence conservatives and promote cultural liberalism.
In his front-page New York Post rant (1/24/21) against “cancel culture,” Hawley painted a dystopia where an “alliance of leftists and woke capitalists hopes to regulate the innermost thoughts,” and where conservatives’ love of church and the US electoral system is under attack from “left and the corporations.”
It sounds a bit strange; after all, the right usually chastises the left for its anti-corporate politics and for promoting socialism. But Hawley and Hannity are hardly alone: Tucker Carlson of Fox News (10/9/20) sounded the alarm about “woke capital” more than a year ago, and in the middle of the Trump administration, conservative New York Times columnist Rose Douthat (2/28/18) explained that corporate campaigns against the National Rifle Association or the Trump administration’s demagoguery affirm
cultural conservatives in their feeling of general besiegement, their sense that all the major institutions of American life, corporate as well as intellectual and cultural, are arrayed against their mores and values and traditions.
The right-wing Spectator (9/8/20) said that corporate America has “lurched along” with the Democratic Party’s “lurch left on cultural issues.”
Murdoch media is reviving the phrase “woke capitalism” in the early days of the Biden administration. The New York Post (2/6/21) claimed that so-called woke corporations thwarted the “will of the people” in 2016 when the threw their support against state-level anti-LGBT legislation, and that of late they flex their
corporate muscles to deplatform, silence and even bankrupt apps like Parler, where users’ views about politics happen to vary, even slightly, from progressive orthodoxy.
The Wall Street Journal (2/5/21) blames the falling popularity of big business among Republicans to “managers…assign[ing] polarizing left-wing political texts to employees”—not on Donald Trump’s frequent attacks on corporations that anger him.
A Wall Street Journal editorial (2/5/21) lamented that “many Fortune 500 firms took the Black Lives Matter protests as an opportunity to pivot hard to the left,” while “Amazon [and] Nike donated large sums to progressive activist groups.” The editors went on to claim that “managers started to assign polarizing left-wing political texts to employees and adopted new racial hiring preferences.”
No matter that “racial hiring preferences” means ending discrimination, which is justice, not a sop. For the paper, this was an inexcusable sin by the companies: “They were bypassing the political process and intervening directly to transform highly contested parts of American life.”
What many of these pieces get right, especially the Times and Spectator articles, is that many corporate overtures to diversity, racial justice and progress are marketing gimmicks that don’t actually address structural economic inequality, and, at worst, are meant to distract from any kind of class reckoning.
This prompts the question of why, then, does conservative media care so much? After all, none of these pieces ever quantify to what degree the nation’s top firms have thrown their resources behind any kind of progressive agenda. These pieces tick off some names and some examples, but simply never line them up against how much money finance and industry pour into every election cycle.
Oil companies lobby against environmentalist policies, and Wall Street firms want less government regulation. A look at Fortune 500 companies shows names like Walmart, one of the biggest advocates against organized labor, and Home Depot, whose co-founder Bernie Marcus is well-known advocate for the Israeli right.
Or take last year’s vote in California, where a proposition was approved by voters to deny gig workers basic employment protections. According to the Los Angeles Times (10/16/20), these so-called woke companies voted with their economic interests to support the proposition: “Uber with $52 million and Lyft, $49 million. Delivery companies have also kicked in big: DoorDash has spent $48 million and Instacart, $28 million.”
Does corporate promotion of LGBT rights or diversity in hiring outweigh all this? These media don’t tell us.
At first glance, it’s easy to write off this outcry as oversensitive whining: Conservative editorialists and producers are fine with corporate spending and political influence as long as it meets the interests of the Republican Party. Start supporting gay rights or Black Lives Matter, though, and all of a sudden corporate America has gone too far.
One gets a sense of these editorialists’ John Birch Society–style paranoia that even our CEOs and boards of directors have fallen under the spell of “cultural Marxism.” And let’s not forget that for the cultural right, finance (based in New York City), big tech (based in the San Francisco Bay Area) and entertainment (Los Angeles) are capitalist sectors associated with blue state geography that is culturally out of touch with “real America.”
But much like woke signaling for corporations can be read as cynical public relations, so too is this a branding campaign for the right. Since the 1990s, the American left has built its momentum on anti-corporate anger, from the Seattle WTO protests to the college anti-sweatshop movement to Occupy Wall Street. This energy protesting inequality and the influence of big business on policy making gave rise to the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The right is playing catch-up: “We’re anti-business, too!” The Republican Party can’t really afford to defend corporate rapaciousness, like it did under President Ronald Reagan. Instead, it is looking toward a rebranding where it can channel anti-business rage toward standing athwart social progress on race, gender and sexuality.
Does anyone really think that the Murdoch media empire wants to see a politics that unites the poor and underpaid against the ownership class? Take Hawley, who the right-wing media have made their poster child of populist revolt: He has a lifetime legislative scorecard of 5% from the AFL-CIO, supported the anti-union “right to work” campaign and opposes increasing the minimum wage. Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce gives him a 56%, which isn’t that high for a Republican, but compare it to scores for real economic populists like Sanders (18%) or Sen. Ed Markey (26%). Hawley’s top donors include investment firms, manufacturers and the fossil fuel industry.
The overuse of this contradictory phrase “woke capital” is a clear indication that right-wing media are trying to steer anti-corporate animus away from the interests of workers and the poor. Don’t fall for it.
Featured image: Fox News‘ Sean Hannity (2/5/21) interviewing Sen. Josh Hawley.
Image by Clay Banks.
We will soon be a year into the Covid-19 pandemic. Are you rolling in new wealth? No? Too bad you are not a billionaire.
With millions of deaths, unemployment soaring, millions threatened with losing their homes and economies struggling around the world, the world’s billionaires are doing fine. More than fine. So fine that they have added trillions of dollars to their composite wealth.
In other words, capitalism as usual. Or even better than usual, depending on your point of view and bank account.
Before we throw around some numbers, here’s one way of putting the pandemic into perspective: The world’s 10 richest people have seen an increase in their wealth that is larger than the cost would be of vaccinating every person on Earth. That calculation comes courtesy of Oxfam, which reports those 10 people increased their net worth by about US$500 billion since March 2020. They could finance a comprehensive global response to the pandemic and still have all the obscene wealth they possessed a year ago.
Naturally, billionaires in the center of the world capitalist system are no slackers here. In the latest of a series of reports on this issue, the Institute for Policy Studies reported at the end of January that the 660 billionaires of the United States had hoarded a composite total of $4.1 trillion, a nearly 40 percent increase in their wealth from the start of the pandemic. That total is in contrast to the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the 165 million United Statesians who constitute the bottom 50 percent of the country’s population.
As outrageous as this inequality on steroids has been, there are those who believe that billionaires taking advantage of a global crisis is a cause for celebration.
One example is a report issued by one of the world’s biggest banks, UBS, and Big Four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The authors of the report, “Riding the storm: Market turbulence accelerates diverging fortunes,” can hardly contain their enthusiasm at how successful their clients have been during the pandemic. UBS and PwC “have unique insights into” billionaires’ “changing fortunes and needs” and in the report breathlessly extol “a time of exceptional, Schumpeterian creative destruction” by “billionaires [who] live in turbulent but trailblazing times.” As you can already surmise by the tone-deaf writing, the report is intended as a celebration of vast wealth inequality and is written in a style that comes as close to that of Hollywood celebrity publicists as you are likely to find produced by bankers and accountants.
The report breathlessly declares that “Some 209 billionaires have publicly committed a total of USD 7.2 billion” in donations, written within a passage told in solemn tones intended to make us gasp in awe at the selflessness of the international bourgeoisie. Yet we soon enough read that the wealth of the world’s billionaires totaled US$10.2 trillion in July 2020. For those of you scoring at home, that $7.2 billion in proposed donations represents 0.07 percent of their wealth. The average working person donates a significantly bigger portion of their income.
In just three months, from April to July 2020, the world’s billionaires added $2.2 trillion to their wealth! Technology billionaires did particularly well during the pandemic, the UBS/PwC report says, due in large part to the surge in technology stock prices. During the first seven months of 2020 alone, technology and health industry billionaires saw their wealth increase by about $150 billion. Yes, never let a crisis go to waste.
The number of the world’s billionaires, the UBS/PwC report tells us, is 2,189. To put these numbers in some kind of perspective, there are exactly two countries in the world (the United States and China) that have a bigger gross domestic product than the wealth of those 2,189 billionaires. Or, to put it another way, their wealth is greater than the economic output of Japan, Germany and Britain, the countries with the world’s third, fourth and fifth largest GDPs and which have a combined population of 277 million.
Wall Street has been amply taken care of in the current economic crisis, as it was in the wake of the 2008 collapse, and industrialists also have had massive amounts of subsidies and tax cuts thrown their way. For working people, crumbs. The Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, committed US$5.3 trillion to corporations on its own initiative in the first weeks of the pandemic, and most of the $2.5 trillion offered in the two 2020 congressional stimulus packages (the CARES Act of March 27 and the supplement of April 24) went to big business. (There was nothing unique about that as Canada, Britain and the European Union pushed through similar programs.)
There is plenty that could have been done with the towering piles of money thrown at financiers or with the wealth that trickled up to the most wealthy. The $1.1 trillion in gain in billionaire wealth, for example, is double the two-year estimated budget gap of all state and local governments, which is forecast to be at least $500 billion. By June 2020, state and local governments had already laid off 1.5 million workers while public services, especially education, faced steep budget cuts. The Economic Policy Institute predicts that if federal aid is not forthcoming, as many as 5.3 million public-sector jobs — including those of teachers, public safety employees and health care workers — will be lost by the end of 2021.
As difficult as the damage inflicted by the pandemic has been, it is no surprise that the least well off in the advanced capitalist countries and most everybody in the Global South has it the hardest. In the first months of the pandemic, the International Labour Organization issued a report predicting that half of the world’s working people are in danger of disaster, forecasting that “1.6 billion workers in the informal economy — that is nearly half of the global workforce — stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed” and that “The first month of the crisis is estimated to have resulted in a drop of 60 per cent in the income of informal workers globally.”
Destruction this certainly is, but by no rational measure is it “creative,” Schumpeterian or otherwise. Unfortunately, capitalists have usually understood their class interests better than do the world’s working people in what remains a most one-sided class war.
The evidence clearly is that the Covid-crisis has upended the fiscal conservatism that has been the hallmark of the neoliberal era since the 1980s.
Facebook promised to pull political funding from officeholders for the first quarter of the year. | Getty Images
A pause on corporate PAC giving would just be the beginning of real change.
Corporate America on Monday raced to talk tough about how it would punish Republican politicians who sowed the insurrection at the Capitol last week.
A diverse set of companies said they would not donate any more money from their corporate political action committees (PACs) to GOP officeholders involved in obstructing the certification of the Electoral College vote. Some Silicon Valley giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft foreswore all political donations altogether.
It could presage real change. But on its face, it’s not all that it seems.
While donations from PACs sound like a big deal, they reflect an increasingly small proportion of the total money in American elections. That’s especially true in the opening months of an election cycle’s off-year, and some corporations — like the three tech companies — on Monday made clear that their penalization was temporary.
To be sure, the decision has symbolic significance: Corporations from Wall Street to Silicon Valley have long sought to position themselves as honest with brokers with both parties, willing to work with Democrats and Republicans on issues important to their industries. They employ members of both parties in their Washington lobbying offices, and their donations from their corporate PACs were a prong in that strategy and largely bipartisan as well. Many (though not all) of the companies making the announcements on Monday specifically said they would withhold donations from the Republican officeholders specifically.
So the decision to at least temporarily reassess that bipartisan ethos is indeed significant. The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, gave voice to that reconsideration in a tweet on Monday when he said that Facebook does “try and be apolitical, but that’s increasingly difficult.”
But beyond the symbolism, the impact of these corporations’ decisions could prove relatively minor.
Take Facebook, which on Monday said that it would be “pausing all of our PAC contributions for at least the current quarter, while we review our policies.” But in the first quarter of 2017 — the most recent quarter after presidential election — Facebook donated just $64,000 to politicians.
What would matter more, for instance, would be if Facebook board member Peter Thiel, a billionaire funder of conservative outside groups, paused his millions of dollars in annual contributions.
Moves like that matter more because donations from business interests largely flow outside of corporate PACs in America’s campaign-finance system. Corporations and linked individuals these days can finance outside groups that spend on behalf of candidates but are not a candidate-run committee, such as “super PACs” or political nonprofit groups. No company in recent days has said that their decisions will apply to these types of donations, nor could that always be verified given that nonprofits don’t have to disclose the origins of their donations in the first place.
Corporate PACs contributed just 5 percent of the money raised in the 2020 election, down from 9 percent in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s partially because PAC contributions are capped at $5,000-a-donation, a limit that hasn’t been increased since 1974, while super PACs and other outside groups can take in donations of unlimited amounts. Another factor is that savvy politicians on both sides have cultivated small-dollar donor bases that are making up larger and larger percentages of the total money in elections.
Direct corporate donations can add up to real money in some individual down-ballot races, such as for a moderate, backbench House Republican who doesn’t face a competitive race and so takes it easy on fundraising. About 20 percent of the money raised by House Republicans’ campaign committees came from PACs, the Center for Responsive Politics says. But even for them, PACs are playing a smaller and smaller role: That figure was over 40 percent in the 2016 cycle.
Donations from corporate PACs attract a lot of attention — including from a company’s civic-minded employees — because they are public and because the link to the company is so direct, unlike, say, one from an executive in their personal capacity. So in some ways, the donation suspensions after the Capitol riots are a perfect way for a company to loudly register its formal disapproval without inflicting too much pain and rupturing a relationship that it may need when the next tax or trade issue comes up in Washington.
Democratic candidates have increasingly come to a similar conclusion, especially in competitive primaries: Many politicians have promised not to accept corporate PAC money to their committees, equipping them with a powerful line to attack an opponent for a lack of purity that is arguably more important than the few $5,000 checks they otherwise could accept.
So what would really matter? What would probably prove more significant for American elections would be if these donation bans become more permanent, or if corporations dissolve their PACs entirely; if companies’ billionaire executives and board members pledge to follow their corporate policies in their own disclosed and undisclosed personal giving; or if they fundamentally reshaped their lobbying strategies to not engage with GOP legislators or the entire Republican Party in Washington.
Last week could serve as a broader reset in how big business approaches Washington. But the pause in corporate PAC giving would just be the beginning.
Bloomberg’s year-end report on the wealth of the world’s billionaires shows that the richest 500 people on the planet added $1.8 trillion to their combined wealth in 2020, accumulating a total net worth of $7.6 trillion.
The Bloomberg Billionaires Index recorded its largest annual gain in the list’s history last year, with a 31% increase in the wealth of the richest people.
The historic hoarding of wealth came as the world confronted the coronavirus pandemic and its corresponding economic crisis, which the United Nations last month warned is a “tipping point” set to send more than 207 million additional people into extreme poverty in the next decade — bringing the number of people living in extreme poverty to one billion by 2030.
Even in the richest country in the world, the United States, the rapidly widening gap between the richest and poorest people grew especially stark in 2020.
As Dan Price, an entrepreneur and advocate for fair wages, tweeted, the 500 richest people in the world amassed as much wealth in 2020 as “the poorest 165 million Americans have earned in their entire lives.”
The 500 wealthiest people got almost $2 trillion richer in the pandemic, which is what the poorest 165 million Americans have earned in their entire lives, combined
And those 500 pay the lowest tax rate of any group in the countryhttps://t.co/WNaTgVkynA
— Dan Price (@DanPriceSeattle) January 2, 2021
Nine of the top 10 richest people in the world live in the United States and own more than $1.5 trillion. Meanwhile, with more than half of U.S. adults living in households that lost income due to the pandemic, nearly 26 million Americans reported having insufficient food and other groceries in November — contributing to a rise in shop-lifting of essential goods including diapers and baby formula. About 12 million renters were expected to owe nearly $6,000 in back rent after the new year.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk enjoyed an historic growth in wealth last year, becoming the second richest person in the world and knocking Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates down to third place. Musk’s total net worth grew by $142 billion in 2020, to $170 billion — the fastest creation of personal wealth in history, according to Bloomberg.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is at the top of the list, with a net worth of $190 billion. Bezos added more than $75 billion to his wealth in 2020, as the public grew dependent on online shopping due to Covid-19 restrictions and concern for public health.
While Bezos and a select few others in the U.S. have amassed historic gains in personal wealth in the last year, the federal government has yet to extend much in the way of meaningful assistance to struggling Americans. The Republican-led Senate on Friday continued to stonewall a vote on legislation that would send $2,000 checks to many American households.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) denounced the proposal as “socialism for rich people” even though the plan includes a phaseout structure and individuals making only up to $115,000 per year — not those in the highest tax brackets — would receive checks.
“Surging billionaire wealth hits a painful nerve for the millions of people who have lost loved ones and experienced declines in their health, wealth, and livelihoods,” Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Bloomberg this week. “Worse, it undermines any sense that we are ‘in this together’ — the solidarity required to weather the difficult months ahead.”