Who Butters Your Bread?

by Thea Michailides

In the U.S., multinational corporations have become “favored citizens” protected by the state. Tensions between individuals and interest groups mount and serve as a convenient distraction from the fact that politicians and government no longer have any need for, or interest in, individual citizens. Corporate “bailouts”, “too-big-to-fail” corporations, Citizens United vs. FEC, outsourcing protections, as well as numerous other examples illustrate how the state is placing the interests of corporations above individuals. Within the U.S., corporations have used their tremendous economic power as political leverage to further this growing trend.

Politicians and PACs are financed primarily (if not exclusively) by corporations and economic elites whose interests are therefore prioritized. Proposals based on bold, common-sense strategies for change that offer potential solutions for improving the current economic climate seem to be buried from the public eye by Conservative/Republican interest groups. The financial power of these corporations is enhanced when the state is weakened by debilitating deficits and political turmoil; our current domestic situation is a prime example.

The Senate’s failure to pass the recent anti-outsourcing bill illustrates the extent to which U.S. multinationals drive politics and influence legislation.  The bill would have instituted tax incentives for multinational U.S. corporations that shift production and manufacturing to the U.S. from overseas and would have limited the tax advantages for U.S. companies that continue to outsource. It is outrageous to imagine that such a proposal would be opposed. The bill offered the opportunity to create new jobs, promote domestic production, and increase the GDP. Nevertheless, the bill was unsuccessful in the Senate.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the many groups ready to “protect the interests” of corporations, came out against the proposal. The Huffington Post and The Hill quoted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as saying, “the concept of economic growth is not a zero-sum game. Replacing a job that is based in another country with a domestic job does not stimulate economic growth or enhance the competitiveness of American worldwide companies.” Claiming that this bill would harm U.S. multinationals’ ability to compete in the global marketplace is simplistic and misleading. In fact, as the Washington Post outlined, the net tax benefit to U.S. corporations would be $700 million dollars, with tax breaks totaling over $1 billion being given to eligible U.S. multinationals over the next 10 years and taxes being raised by $300 million for others. Really, opposition to the bill stems, in large part, from short-term expenditure and long-term revenue concerns. The bill was initially held up by a Republican filibuster, which was allowed to continue thanks to the defection of four Democrats and the support of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). The Democrats that helped uphold the filibuster—Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) – expressed their agreement with Republicans over the idea that the bill would hamper U.S. industrial competitiveness. The Democratic defection also allows Republicans to characterize President Obama and the Democratic majority as ineffectual.

The bill would have limited the profitability of U.S. multinationals. It would have required those that return operations to the U.S. to finance production facilities and infrastructure with no guarantee that these costs would be justified by future profits. For those corporations that continued to outsource, it would have limited the benefits of a massive low-wage workforce and low overhead costs. Opponents (Republicans) to the bill also suggested that it was proposed merely as a political ploy by Democrats: a desperate effort to maintain their majority in the upcoming midterms. The Huffington Post quoted Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio as saying, “[T]o be honest with you, because of the election, we’re not going to get anything done. We’re just wasting—they’re wasting time.”  The irony here is that Republicans, in not getting “anything done” and “wasting time”, are failing to fulfill their obligations to their constituents. Their aim—project failure on to the Democrats—is accomplished by their failing to work for the people whose votes sent them to D.C. There is no question that the bill is—or was—important to the political interests of Democrats and Republicans. Prior to its failure the bill, and the changes it proposed, received little media attention. This is yet another example of the mass disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens by political interests and the rise of the multinational corporation as the new “favored citizen”.

The freedom and flexibility of corporations has become increasingly more important to politicians, especially—but not exclusively—Republicans. Politicians depend on U.S. multinationals for the increasingly large sums of money needed to fund their campaigns. Campaign financing restrictions, while ridiculously inadequate, impinge upon this funding stream. The recent approval of conservative justices to the Supreme Court by a conservative U.S. government has allowed for the overturn of these funding constraints.  The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC (known as Hillary) only underlined the extent to which corporate needs and interests are protected at the cost of individual or personal interests. The Office of Legislative Research pointed out that the decision would allow corporations (and unions) to be granted the same rights to freedom of speech as individuals. The court’s decision ruled against the government’s anticorruption argument suggesting that direct corporate expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Such a statement should challenge a rational mind.

The Hillary decision and the failure of the anti-outsourcing bill are just two examples of how Republican priorities are expressed in policy. Stories of corporate executives benefiting, causing, and “overcoming” the financial crisis are in the news daily.  Corporations helped contribute to (if not caused) the mortgage crisis and the subsequent recession; they have benefited from questionable investment funds; they have received Federal “bailout” or T.A.R.P. (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funding; and many of their CEOs and CFOs have “earned” obscene bonuses (sometimes after being fired or being charged with fraud). Politicians, purporting to represent the interests of “the people”, are merely corporate agents. Yet the reaction of U.S. voters does not seem rational; they have become increasingly reactionary. The outrage and demands for change are not coming from those interested in improving the conditions of all U.S. residents by limiting the ability of corporations and elites to use their financial resources to influence policy. Not by those promoting justice and cooperation or seeking to improve federal programs so they are able to efficiently and fairly provide services. Rather, it is the social and fiscal conservatives who have been mobilized: those who believe limiting the responsibilities and reach of the federal government is the solution to corporate power, political corruption, the recession, unemployment, and the decline of domestic industry. The “libertarian” or “Tea Party” insurgency offers a convenient outlet for anger and provides a platform for Republican/Conservative politicians to voice their most extreme political opinions while maintaining their viability as candidates.

What has been true of previous “economic downturns/crises” has, once again, come to pass in our own time. The frustration, fear, anxiety, and anger that have arisen as a result of the devastated economy is deposited on the most socially and economically marginalized. The true perpetrators—the corporations and economic elites—may be punished by the courts or admonished by their boards of directors but rarely are the penalties imposed impactful enough to be considered justice. The globalized marketplace and the incestuous nature of multinational corporations makes finding the evidence needed to determine who is responsible for failures, incompetence, fraud, and carelessness more challenging, if not impossible. While individual CEOs may be replaced or singled out for punishment the true villain is usually the corporation that fosters a culture which condones immoral, even criminal, practices in the name of profitability and shareholder interest. Given international interests and our transnational corporate reality, it is no surprise that the financial crisis has spread throughout the world like a virus. ▢

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