Homo Economicus

I go through reading cycle–thematically. I was on a spate of Religious Right, Evangelicalism as well as Islamic theology-jihadism-terrorism over the summer.

Moving onto the post-Cold War globalized economic structure of the world. Reading End of the Line by Barry Lynn from New America. The subtitle is The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation. It is a much better read, less ideologically driven than say the common postmodern opuses (opi?): David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World and The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism (not that those are totally bereft of any merit).

Anyway, I find Lynn’s thesis quite compelling and frightening. He follows how for Americans political wisdom since the New Deal held that the best use of the Sherman anti-trust laws was to allow a few mega-companies, preferably three, in an industry to proliferate. The most famous example being of course the Auto-Industry and the Big Three of Detroit: Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Or if one company managed to get a monopolistic-like share of market to force them to make available their patents in relatively quick succession. Meaning these corporations would then be forced to pour a group measure of their overflow capital back into their own Research and Development.

At the same time the prevailing mindset of American Manufactors–often called Fordism–was to have a veritcally integrated corporate structure. Fords were built on Ford plants. Henry believed in controlling all the processes of production under his own roof.

Lynn’s book examines how both of these common sets of wisdom which had guided American business and political economics for decades came to unravel during the 1980s and then absolutely imploded after the Fall of Communism.

Interestingly for Integral types, he lays most of the blame at the foot of Bill Clinton, who oftherwise is considered by many Integral-types (wrongly in my view) to a sorta hero of the “3rd Way” of the “New Democrats.”

What Clinton did do well I think is he ran the government like a business. He did what a good Republican (excuse me Southern Democrat) is supposed to do: keep the books. But certainly in terms of foreign policy-military issues he was overall in my book a flop. The only issues he was “liberal” in the current sense is probably abortion and Supreme Court Justice nominations (Ruth Bader Ginsberg). He tried to go, I would say, very liberal (almost green) with the Health Care proposal. It blew up in his faee and as a result he lost the House and later the Senate, to The Contract with America folks.

He let the genocide occur in Rwanda.

–He put the US under NATO in Bosnia, as if that was a long-term feasible strategy. (Though he did have Wesley Clark leading the combined forces).
–He got us involved in Somalia and then withdrew quickly during the Blackhawk Down fiasco.
–Worst of all…against loads of strong evidence, he never took al-Qaeda seriously. Not after the Embassy Bombings, Somalia, or the USS Cole.
It was Clinton who de-regulated the media-communications industry which has lead to the abomination that our media world of infotainment, and corporate cruck-moguls like Rupert Murdoch peddling their ideologically driven blather.

It was Clinton, Lynn argues who went against the centuries old wisdom of an Alexander Hamilton up to a Harry Truman that believed the US government must involve itself in market economics.

The US has never had a purely free-market laissez faire economic structure, nor a rapidly instigated “pure democracy”. It is these two that the US is peddling around the world. The result is nothing short of disastrous. Bush has emphasized more the freedom and spread of democracy, Clinton more the “free marketism.” [For the results of this twin policy around the world see Amy Chua: World on Fire].

Lynn uses examples like Dell, Cisco, FedEx, and of course the big daddy Walmart to describe how the rise of “logistics”, “outsourcing”, “insourcing”, multinational monopolies, insane coporate mergerism, has led to a extremely delicate and potentially dangerous worldwide economic structure.

We assume globalization is here to stay. But Lynn rightly questions that assumption. When so many large corporations single-source to a sub-contractor around the world, where sub-specialization–particularly in the technology industry–is so fine-tuned, that many companies no longer recall how to manufacture a great deal of the pieces that go into the finished products (like a Dell PC), and givne the rise of global catastropic possibilies from Avian Bird Flu, to further natural catastrophes, ecological meltdown, and the most precipitous the rising cost of oil (on which the entire economic strcuture is built and running out!!!): there is a recipe for a huge global economic downturn, decade long-global recession or worse depression.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Western Europeans were creating a so-called worldwide economic market that was destined to last for all time. It only took a global pandemic (FLU), a catastrophic World War to set in motion the Cold War, the rise of Fascism, State-controlled Economies, neo-mercantilism.

All of those possibilities are re-emerging. Global virus spreads, rampant poverty on a scale never before imagined in human history, the mass migration since WWII of humans from agricultural to urban dwellings (leading to shanty towns), the upsurge of Isalmo-fascist jihadist ideology, the rising fear on the global oil markets, ecological destruction, and so on.

The possiblity of this phase of globalization distintegrating is quite real. Scarily so in my estimation.

Meanwhile all of which is less and less, as Lynn so forcefully argues, leveraged by government. How is the anti-Trust suit going to be wedged against outsourcing? How is the government to force a corporation to fund their revenues back into their own R&D when they don’t manufacture anything (Cisco)? When they don’t have R&D. Because that involves risk, overhead, investment and so on. Easier to let someone(s) else spend all that time, gobble them up, and them leverage them to your own end. Spend your effort on rationalizing and simplfying supply chains and logistical trackings, then you can like Walmart invert the traditional relationship between manufactur and retailer…giving the retailer the dominant position.

Without legitimate government regulation, the liberal movements around the world flounder in ideological nowheresville. Have a World Social Forum for example and give a standing ovation to f(*#ing Hugo Chavez. Or worse blame excuse the crimes of a Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. There are the profusion of deconstructionist protests–Seattle and Genoa–or Cindy Sheehan style non-sense around the Iraq War.

Roosevelt and Truman saw that linking our economies with former enemies like Germany and Japan was meant to also link us politically, particularly as a bulwark against communism.

What has our economic linking with China accomplished to link our two countries politically or socially? Has the Chinese human rights record improved since joining the WTO? (Again thanks to Bill Clinton).

I am a firm believer in the rising noosphere and the eventual planetization of consciousness. The inter-linking of human community across the globe. But it has to be guided. It can not be reduced simply to exterior forms of communication, manufacturing, consumerism, and technologies. That is why Friedman thinks the World is Flat–because that is mostly what he pays attention to.

In Integral thought the higher depends on the lower for its existence not the reverse. We have seen horrendous examples of that truth recently. The biosphere is within us (the noosphere). We are higher. Therefore, we depend on it. Therefore when the biosphere quakes or storms or flames it is maintaining its own health. When humans move to coastal regions, particularly in poverty, in huge numbers unlike ever before in human history, or decide to build residential housing in and around the Forest of the West, tragedy ensues on a more dramatic and crushing scale than previously. That is a noospheric level choice of how to relate vis a vis the biosphere.

The so-called integrated, globalized market is a higher end version of the noosphere. It depends on a great deal of toil and labor from those who do not receive the lion’s share of the benefits which are hawked by over-paid “celebrity-status” CEOs. And the majority of the human race has no stake in, no connection to, and does not benefit much (if at all) from the globalized info-economy. The information economy exists upon the industrial, the agararian, and primitive hunter-gather economies (in descending order of evolutionary depth respectively). Those other economies do not depend on the information economy to exist.

Again leaving the possibility that the higher will destroy the capacity of the lower to support it. And/or the lower will revolt and slice its connection to the higher. Whether the lower in this case is nature or the oppressed, disconnected, degraded masses of the world.

We will not see, I believe, a true global integrated consciousnsess and certainly not a truly global form of governance in my lifetime. Or for lifetimes to come I fear. The Right-Hand evolution is outstripping the Left-Hand too rapidly. Is out-stripping our conscious evolution, our conscious involvement in the process of globalization. Right now, sadly, the single most important dominating factor is the bottom-line of multi-national, single-sourced, outsourced, susceptible corporations.

To end with a quotation from Lynn’s book–discussing the victory of shareholders against corporate management from the 1960s to the 2000s by ultimately cannibalizing CEOs into the class of shareholders:

The disintegration of the old corporation was now complete. Greed, Adam Smith believed, was a socially valuable passion. But it is a blind and mindless passion. For more than a century, the coporate form had contained a counterbalance to the blind passion, first in the person of the on-site entrepreneur, then in the person of the on-site manager. But now the shareholder, as a class, had at last completed the subversion of the old CEO. Which meant that for the first time in its more than a century of life, the corporation was left truly unguided by any internal rational authority, even as it found itself ever less controlled by the external rational authority of the state. The modern equivalent of the absentee landlord–the nameless and facelss horde of investors–was now in control. And so was completed the transformation of the corporation from an institution designed primarily to commerciliaze new and better products and to maintain the machinery necessary to make these products. From now on, it would be a much more simple mechanism designed mainly to carve wealth from others, entirely without regard to the consequences, entirely without any interest in understanding the social ramifcations of what it is doing.


Published in: on October 14, 2005 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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