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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Book review: Supercapitalism by Robert Reich

I just finished reading Robert Reich's new book, Supercapitalism , and I highly recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn how our roles as consumers and investors have created a Democracy that is run by corporate interests and the lawyers and lobbyists that work on their behalf to shape our domestic and foreign policy.

Basically, Mr. Reich, a professor of public policy at Cal Berkley who was President Clinton's Secretary of Labor, says that we "are of two minds." On the one hand, as consumers and investors, we want the best deals. We want to purchase cheap goods we want the companies that we invest in to give us the highest returns by generating higher margins and profits quarter after quarter, year after year. This creates a conflict with the citizen in many of us. Our "wants" as consumers and investors lead to social consequences that do not support, such as jobs moving overseas, small businesses being closed down by the likes of Wal Mart, and millions of Americans who work 40+ hours a week going without health insurance.

The problem, is that our politics in Washington is run by Supercapitalism, which does not give you or me, as citizens, much of say in public policy, because we are drowned out by the money and power of corporate interests. Supercapitalism has rewarded the consumer and investor in us by creating a frenzied competition among companies to win and retain customers. This leads to better and cheaper products for consumers and higher returns for investors. Because of this intensified competition for customers and higher returns, corporations are also in competition for the influence over members of Congress, and they achieve this through their PACs and corporate lobbying offices in Washington, which spend millions of dollars on campaign donations, lunches, and consultants.

Mr. Reich goes on to provide some solutions to Supercapitalism, and believes that the key to returning power back to the people is aggressive and comprehensive campaign finance reform in addition to enforcing rules that permit only people the ability to participate in the democratic decision making process. The power must be taken away from the corporations - since corporations are not citizens.

Finally, it wouldn't be right if I didn't comment on how Supercapitalism has impacted our environment. If you have read any of op-ed pieces from scientists who claimed that Global Warming is a scam or a farce I have news for you: those "experts" were most likely paid consultants to the big energy companies.

From the book, and Exxon's own internal documents:

  • "In 1998, Exxon embarked on a campaign to give 'logistical and moral support' to any dissenter from scientific findings documenting global climate change, 'thereby raising questions about and undercutting the prevailing scientific wisdom,'"

  • In 2002 Stanford University signed a ten year deal with Exxon and other energy companies in return for $225 million for a "Global Climate and Energy Project." Following the agreement Exxon ran ads on the op-ed page of the New York Times announcing that the "best minds" at Stanford agreed with Exxon's position on climate change. One add even featured the signature of a well known Stanford professor.

  • In 2005 ExxonMobil distributed $2.9 million to thirty-nine groups that would raise doubts about climate change.

Wow, I am shocked that Stanford "sold out" for $225 million. Haven't they made enough money off of Google and the numours alumni who have become millionaires and billionaires many times over? Shame on you Stanford. Maybe this means that the "S" in your logo should stand for "Satan"?

Then again, maybe this example is typical of how universities will operate under Supercapitalism? It is frightening to think how easily the integrity of some of our highest of higher education institutions may be "sold down the river" to the energy industry.

To read Mr. Reich's take on this subject, check out his blog entry at Why Democracy?

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