Or just call it the New Obama Constitution.
“I’m going to get everybody concerned around a big table where all can express their views and their needs. And I’ll express mine, and that will make sense of them all because I’ll be president.”
-Barack Obama, candidate
OBAMA WAS NOT KIDDING. Ever since he became president the media have carried accounts of him and his closest officials meeting with “everybody,” meaning executives of banks, auto makers, insurance companies, medical suppliers, energy producers, indeed of major corporations in each sector of American life. They meet for no less a purpose than to mandate new ways for Americans to go to the doctor; to change the kinds of cars we drive, the kinds of places we live, and the work we do; to decide how much we should pay for electricity; and many more things. Corporations that had grown by providing their customers ever more attractive choices now negotiate with the U.S. government and each other about how collectively to structure (read, restrict) their customers’ choices in ways that will suit the government while guaranteeing their profits. To object that there is nothing in our Constitution that empowers the government to make deals with some private citizens at the expense of other private citizens or otherwise to shape citizens’ lives involuntarily is to have failed to notice that a new constitution has largely superseded the one ratified in 1789. Here is a primer on it.
The Obama administration develops laws and practices toward any sector of American life by holding “summit” meetings with what it calls the “stakeholders” in that sector, satisfying and modifying the stakeholders’ interests into a scheme that supports its own political standing and objectives. For each sector, it appoints what it calls a “czar,” who shepherds the stakeholders into line, binding both the government and the stakeholders. It expects Congress to follow, and the people to consent. Thus in July 2009 Obama argued that since “the doctors, the nurses, the hospitals” (meaning the leaders of some associations with whom he had been meeting) had agreed to his plans for restructuring America’s health care system, “including even Wal-Mart” (more on this below), any wholesale objection to his plan was somehow illegitimate. Although in America this way of governing has grown gradually only over the past half-century, it is common around the world.
First developed in 1920s Italy, what we are coming to know as stakeholder government is akin to the regimes of Argentina, Mexico, and the European Union. Herein I explain what should be obvious: Unelected “stakeholders” gathered by “czars” around big tables make for bodies politic very different from officials elected and removed by the general public. Recall Aristotle’s lesson: Any polity’s character and identity depend on who makes the rules. Stakeholder government must make America different from what it has ever been, and more in the image of the countries where it has been practiced.
UNDER THE U.S. CONSTITUTION, whose form if not substance has been copied around the world, laws are made by legislators, each of whom represents voters with diverse interests and views about their own and the common good. Such legislators arbitrate conflicts within and among interests. As well, they “enlarge and refine” the public’s views of the common good. The voters, for their part, may accept or reject the legislators’ or executors’ actions by voting them out. Crucially, this Constitution limits the extent of the government’s role in people’s lives. By contrast, under the constitution that is now fast waxing solid among us, decisions about what cars we will drive, how we will go to the doctor, how much and what kind of energy we will use and at what price are no longer up to individual consumers, nor even subject to our collective judgment as citizens. Rather, they are being made by stakeholders around the big table under the guidance of their czars. Crucially, no constitution limits what they may agree to impose on their fellow citizens.
By governing explicitly through “summits” with “stakeholders” rather than through representative institutions, the Obama administration is leaving no doubt that, in the new American constitution, “stakeholders” are the only citizens, and that neither voting nor taxpaying qualifies as stakeholders the individuals who used to be known as citizens.
Mere interest in any field does not qualify anyone or any group as a stakeholder. Thus, for example, while our government considers teachers’ unions and state governments and certain nonprofit groups as stakeholders in the field of education, it does not recognize parents as stakeholders. Nor are car buyers stakeholders in the auto industry, whereas bondholders, labor unions, and management are. Whereas citizens are supposed to be created equal, stakeholders have only such status as the sovereign authority manages to give or take from them. Thus, in the auto industry, the Obama administration chose to rank the unions first, management second, and some bondholders ahead of others. The energy business’s stakeholders include the various companies involved in the production of energy plus farmers and environmentalists. But not consumers. By definition, non-stakeholders have no stake.
Our Not-So-New Constitution
BARACK OBAMA IS BY NO MEANS the first American to believe that minimally intrusive government based on representation of individuals in localities is a barrier to doing what needs to be done to improve people’s lives, and that it does not fulfill people’s spiritual need to feel part of things bigger than themselves.
Woodrow Wilson’s 1885 book, Congressional Government, faulted the U.S. Constitution for not creating a power able to deal in detail with the reality of “modern industrial organization, including banks, corporations, joint-stock companies, financial devices, national debts, paper currency, national systems of taxation…so that the play of the civil institutions shall not alter the play of the economic forces, [and thus accurately to regulate] the complication and delicacy of the industrial system.” Wilson wrote that competent government must be like “a foreman [who] take[s] a hand in the work which he guides; and so I suppose our legislation must be likened to a poor foreman, because it stands altogether apart from that work which it is set to see well done.” A competent government must also have full power “to remedy the mistakes of the legislation of the past.” In short, according to Wilson, a new constitution that reaches over citizen-voters and their elected representatives should transcend the Constitution of 1789. This new constitution should run the nation’s vital organs directly, with full power over details. Planted by Wilson, this Progressive dream continued to grow in the minds of America’s ruling class.
The version of that dream that Obama named “The New Foundation” in 2009 had been gestating since the 1930s creation of “independent” agencies endowed with powers “quasi-legislative and quasijudicial” to govern broad areas of national life. With each passing year, Congress has given broader and less defined authority to these agencies, and ever less defined mandates. Bureaucracies with names like the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency exist on the state level as well, and take their cues from their kindred on the federal level. Almost half of state funds come from the federal government. At all levels and in each of the fields they cover, these agencies are and cannot be but the sum, the expression, the guarantors, the regulators, of the interest groups in their field. Presidents Clinton and Bush held “White House Summits” on all manner of subjects, to develop policies in concert with interest groups and then to get Congress to ratify faits accomplis. Obama means to bring these developments to their logical conclusion.
Stakeholders Are Artificial
WHAT EXACTLY IS A “STAKEHOLDER”? How does anyone qualify as a stakeholder?
What is the difference between a society organized on the basis of stakeholders rather than of citizens, families, localities, states?
Because the Constitution of 1789 (and its imitators) is based neither on socioeconomic classes nor on socioeconomic functions, it takes no position on the relative value of medicine, mining, banking, or farming, or of the individuals and corporations who perform these functions. Much less is our Constitution about arranging and rearranging functions, making some in any given field into winners and others into losers. That is because our Constitution and its imitators presuppose that government exists by the consent of the individuals who live under it, all of whom are “created equal.” By sharp contrast, stakeholders are not equal individuals, but rather unequal collective entities.
In the 19th century the word “stake,” which had meant a bet, also came to mean a share, a claim, or an interest. A 1975 British management textbook defines “stakeholders” as “the persons and groups having a direct stake in our organization: the owners, employees… customers, suppliers, financiers, managers, the area in which the organization is established, etc.” But as used currently in the U.S., the term is hardly distinguishable from “interest groups” or “corporations.” Hence “stakeholder primacy” is close to what one might call in economics “producer primacy” and is diametrically opposed to “consumer primacy.” Under the new constitution, privileged access to power defines any corporation’s socioeconomic functions, its status as a stakeholder, and constantly readjusts that status vis-à-vis other stakeholders. Government rightly arranges and rearranges each group’s roles and functions, deciding who and what are to be on top or below, because modern stakeholders, interests, or corporations have no natural or customary right to exist as they do.
Indeed, when such as Obama gather “everybody around a big table,” they mean in practice that they will choose those in any given function, field, or sector whom they think counts or should count. That is why everybody does not include you. Those who are chosen to be around the ruler’s table will count if they had not counted before, and those whom the government chooses to leave out will not count as much afterward as they had before. Thus each automaker, health care provider, producer of various kinds of energy, etc. has enormous incentives to beat out others in their field for a seat at the table. For stakeholders, the price of privilege is to lend themselves, and their increasingly captive customers, to the rulers’ agenda. The stakeholders pay in the coin of political support, and receive in return the privilege to profit from the rules they help to shape. Privilege flows down, support flows up. As stakeholders serve the rulers’ agenda with the rulers’ support, they function as parts of the ruling party. This is the nature of the beast, and has been so everywhere that this form of rule has manifested itself.
WHAT DO SUCH REGIMES OFFER to the vast majority of persons who are not around the big table, the non-rulers and nonstakeholders who are necessarily on the wrong end of the special deals? After all, even the rank-and-file members of government-connected labor unions or ordinary shareholders of favored industries get only the crumbs that fall from the big table. Somehow, such regimes must divert the many from measuring daily reality against largely unrealistic hopes of material benefit. Hence such regimes try to transcend the facts of daily life, typically by presenting themselves as agents of national enterprises—the less well-defined the better—that will raise the nation to a new, higher moral and spiritual level, as well as eventually fulfill everyone’s private dreams. Cynically or not, these oligarchies live by filling voids in the non-favored masses’ souls. The bigger these voids, the better.
Though the Obama administration and its supporters represent disproportionately American society’s most secular elements, there is no mistaking its claim to righteousness and its followers’ faithful commitment to transcendent ends, including, prominently, controlling the earth’s climate. Thus Michael Knox Beran wrote: “In rejecting the Anglo-American politics of limits, Obama revives a political tradition” of seeking “a communitarian paradise” in which “citizens forsaking their own swinish pursuits would become happy in the pursuit of a common good” and end up loving one another. The charismatic leader would cause their sinful society to do penance and fill their spiritual emptiness. That such attitudes could support a constitution that consists of trading privilege for political support is strange to reason. But, in America as elsewhere, reason often counts less than passions, especially partisan ones.
Mutatis mutandis, what is happening in America is just another variation of a well-known phenomenon with many local names.
THROUGHOUT THE LATE 19th and early 20th centuries, progressive critique of representative constitutions was all the rage among Western intellectuals. But it was summed up most coherently in Italy in the 1920s. Along with Joseph Schumpeter, the Italians argued that mature capitalism naturally produces large entities in capital, labor, and endeavors of all sorts. Because the most successful of these want to secure themselves from competition, they demand protection and coordination from the state. The state grants these demands ostensibly because the public good demands that producers and consumers, creditors and debtors be harmonized to their own good. Not incidentally, those who run the state draw power from their role as harmonizers. Hence, beginning in 1925 the Italian government established in each sector of public life a corporazione, and pressed the principal industries in that field to join it. It also pressed workers to join that sector’s labor unions. Business and labor then worked out their modus vivendi in meetings with their senior partners in the Ministry of Corporations.
As Benito Mussolini explained at the Ministry’s inauguration, “The Ministry of Corporations is an institution…where balance is achieved between interests and forces of the economic world. This is only possible within the sphere of the state, because the state alone transcends the contrasting interests of groups and individuals, co-coordinating them to achieve higher aims. The achievement of these aims is speeded up by the fact that all economic organizations [are] acknowledged, safeguarded and supported by the Corporative State….” (sic) In sum, the state nominally ratified the decisions of the workers’ and of the owners’ representatives. In reality, all such representatives worked under the watchful eye of the state, which mediated and shaped their decisions, and sometimes dictated them. Moreover, the participants in these arrangements of “cooperative consultation” valued their status because they knew they were privileged to have been chosen for it, and because they profited from the privilege. The core of Mussolini’s party consisted of persons moved by interest, not ideology. Privilege ran the system, not force.
Mussolini gave this amoral system moral cover with the general population by mocking the liberal pretense that man can find secular meaning individually. The state, he wrote, can fulfill human imagination by letting individuals feel part of things that are obviously beyond the power of any person to achieve. By hoping together, cheering together, believing together in things so big that they can only be accomplished together, through shared rituals, through faith in the truth of science of which the state is the effective arbiter, individuals are fulfilled more than through any intellection.
So while Italy’s regime in the 1920s and '30s empowered hundreds and enriched thousands, millions of ordinary Italians celebrated with parades, sound and light, oaths, subsidized art and literature, the myth that they were the reincarnation of glorious Romans. The regime talked a lot about “faith” and “religion.” But the place that the regime allotted to the Catholic Church in the official culture was just a place; the state led the people in self-worship, and the Church was to be just another acolyte.
WHEREAS IN 1890 ARGENTINA’S per capita income was 81 percent that of America’s, by 1913 it was only 70 percent. As the Argentine people continued to grow relatively poorer amidst arguably the world’s grandest natural resources, the presidents and congresses produced by elections under their liberal constitution increasingly became vehicles for citizens expressing mutual grievances.
In 1943 the army staged a coup d’état to stop the strife and integrate contrasting grievances into a social whole. The minister in charge of the labor movement, Col. Juan Perón, quickly dominated the government, became president, and instituted “a new human solution, a third philosophical position.” This new arrangement would avoid “the extremes of proletarian domination, of social immobility, of vengeance for past wrongs, of abuse of wealth.” The new order “institutionalized existing labor organizations, thus placing them within an order of social peace, converting them into a constituent of state power…constituting one of its pillars, adding to the nation’s equilibrium and harmony.” Note well that while labor leaders exercised more power than ever under Perón, they now held their offices by his leave.
The same was true of other social entities. Perón established an industrial bank, which engaged explicitly in preferential lending. Some sectors—e.g., agricultural export—had a harder time getting loans because they did not fit his view that Argentina should disengage from Britain as much as possible. Others, especially industrialists whose plans fit with his economic nationalism, got easy terms. Especially favored were vehicles, machinery, pharmaceuticals, plastics. Tariff policy served the same ends. Within each sector, executives who showed themselves most harmonious got preferential treatment for government contracts. In sum, the partnership of management, labor, and government yielded impressive profits to the partners while impoverishing the nonpartners and disempowering all but the Perónists.
The Argentine regime of the 1940s and '50s, the echoes of which endure in our time, was possible only because it was upheld by the pseudo-religious worship of Juan Perón’s wife, Evita—a phenomenon all the more significant for being so unlikely. Only because millions of otherwise intelligent people were so emotionally addled as to importune the Vatican to declare Evita a saint could they overlook the ruin that her husband’s regime was bringing upon them. Privilege kept the regime together at the top, while enthusiasm about Juan and veneration of Evita made the unprivileged feel good about themselves.
THE INSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTIONARY PARTY (PRI) that stamped its character on Mexico from 1934 to 1990 developed out of the circumstances of the Mexican revolution of 1910, not from ideas. Nevertheless, that shape belongs to the same genus as that of the constitutions we are considering, and as such sheds further light on the nature of that genus.
For more than three decades prior to the revolution, Mexico had been ruled by the technocratic dictator Porfirio Díaz, under the forms of a U.S.-style constitution. But neither Díaz, nor his technocrats, nor the figurehead congressmen really represented the country’s increasingly antagonistic prominent citizens, some based on the land, some in industry, others in the army, all well armed. From start to finish, the revolution was about which of these claimants would be left standing, and what he would do with the others’ retinues. After nearly 14 bloody years, the winner was Plutarco Elías Calles who, having physically eliminated his opponents’ retinues, spent the next four years persecuting Christians with fire and sword. In 1934 Calles made Lázaro Cárdenas president, thinking he would be his tool, but who arrested him and pacified the country by institutionalizing the ruling party. In sum, the PRI, as it was named in 1938, was all about Mexico’s barons agreeing to share the loot in peace under any given president, while jockeying for a better share under the next one—including the labor and peasant leaders who kept their charges in line and passed the crumbs to them.
The PRI made small farmers members of the National Peasant Confederation (CNC), and enrolled wage workers, by sector, into the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). Each of these became a “sector” of the party, along with the “military sector” and the “popular sector.” The military sector was then folded into the popular one, and that effectively subdivided into interest groups both functional and geographic. That the party secured the loyalty of each group’s leaders by franchising to them the power to extort from those below their level, which power subsequent levels franchised further down in ways that we characterize as corrupt, is less interesting than the fact that the PRI’s essence is unremarkable in the modern world: Government power organizes society into groups that agree to be thus organized in exchange for the wealth that comes from privileged power over their subordinates, subject only to demonstrating loyalty to the system.
Officially anti-Christian, the PRI tried to build an official culture for Mexico that would legitimize its rule and fulfill the people’s longing for moral meaning. That culture had three components, touted on murals, in curricula, and in subsidized literature: “We are all Indians, and ours is the continuation of a glorious pre-Columbian history.” “The Gringos stole our land, try to oppress us in countless ways, but we resist them heroically.” “Unlike and against the Gringos, we are part of the world’s progressive movement, and believe that the state exists to take care of the people.” These myths, along with patronage backed by force, made modern Mexico what it is.
The European Union
THE EUROPEAN UNION uses the word harmony arguably more than any
other to describe what it is about. The ideas of Jean Monnet and
friends in the 1920s that germinated into the
1956 Treaty of Rome and eventually the EU arose out of the desire to restore some of the harmony that World War I had destroyed. It is difficult to overstate the contrast between how freely persons, goods, and ideas moved throughout Europe before 1914 and the passports and protectionism that persisted after the war. It is just as difficult to argue against the widespread sense that, prior to 1914, increased popular representation had made governments throughout Europe more bloody-minded than they had ever been. For Monnet and other heirs to the 18th-century Physiocratic tradition of Diderot, the path to peace and prosperity lay in de-emphasizing political repre sentation. If people could be habituated to treating each other as valued suppliers and customers rather than as political adversaries, then they would live in peace and prosperity once again.
World War II flattened the remaining obstacles in the way of Monnet’s vision by discrediting what was left of nationalism in Europe. By the late 1940s the need to eat and to be warm had overwhelmed all political questions except whether to align with America or with Stalin—for most, not much of a question. Moreover Germany’s Konrad Adenauer, France’s Charles de Gaulle, and Italy’s Alcide de Gasperi, the principal figures of postwar Europe, advocated both siding with America and European integration. As Catholics and patriots, they envisaged a Europe of nations governed by elected representatives. Theirs would have been a chastened, wiser version of pre-1914 Europe. They supported the Treaty of Rome’s integration of European markets, sector by sector, under a European Commission, as part of a “political Europe.” Their vision failed because there was little political substance left in European hearts and minds, and no sentiment for common, purposeful political existence. Hence the technocratic work of the Commission ended up being all the Europe that’s there.
The fact that the EU deals with people’s lives technocratically does not negate the political character of the things it touches. Who is to rule over whom? Who will gain and who will lose? What kinds of activities, what sort of life do we encourage, what do we discourage, and what do we prohibit? What do we honor and what do we dishonor? What, if anything, do we kill and die to protect, or to destroy? Since 1993 the European Union’s Commission, courts, and parliament have made countless decisions about such matters as well as about the length of condoms and the specifications of lawnmowers. Their decisions about energy have made scores of billionaires, while other decisions about agriculture and fishing have put thousands out of business. Their decisions about what constitutes human rights have effectively promulgated a moral code common to Europe’s ruling class but alien to all of Europe’s nations. Nor does anyone pretend that these decisions emanate from “the people” of Europe, since perhaps the sole item concerning European affairs on which there is unanimity is that the European Union suffers from a “democratic deficit.” Lack of popular mandate notwithstanding, the EU is especially active in cultural affairs, specifically rejecting Christianity as even one among the bases for its legitimacy. The EU is very loud in affirming its own moral superiority, but this substantively empty claim moves no hearts.
Our New Foundation?
SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES between the New Foundation that President Obama is instituting and the regimes of the European Union, or of 1920s Italy, PRI Mexico, or Perón’s Argentina are beside the fact that all are variants of one kind of rejection of liberal representative government. What does this rejection mean in America? Here is how it works among us.
Arguably the main American constitutional event of 2008-09 was the passage under the Bush administration, with support from future president Obama as well as from virtually all the nation’s major interest groups, of a $700 billion bill to purchase “troubled assets” from big banks. All agreed that unless the government were given this huge sum with unprecedented latitude and in a hurry, the average American would see his life’s savings disappear. By 2008 the hurried demand for large, unspecified powers under the threat of imminent disaster was no longer exceptional. The Obama administration made it the rule, and used the money to build its “New Foundation.”
The Obama team (different from its predecessor only in degree) purchased few “troubled assets.” With most of the money it bought stakes in the biggest banks, with which it leveraged them to support its political agenda, including the takeover of General Motors and Chrysler, which Obama had also made dependent on the government by lending them “troubled asset” money. Chrysler (with GM to follow) having failed financially, the Obama administration forced it to give a 55 percent stake in itself to the United Auto Workers union, a major constituent of the Democratic Party. The government took the next 30 percent, and gave the remainder to Italy’s Fiat, in exchange for management and technology. In so doing and against bedrock bankruptcy law, it gave some 43 cents on the dollar to the UAW’s unsecured interest in the company and only 28 cents to secured creditors. Meanwhile, part of the deal worked out with the favored stakeholders was that they would produce mainly small cars, with better fuel economy. But few believed that the American public would buy them. Doing this lent support to the administration’s claim of moral authority as savior of the earth from global warming. In an event that would have been unremarkable in Europe or the Third World, the Obama administration took assets from persons independent of it, transferred them to political allies, and bolstered in the popular mind the rationale for its rule.
What does it take to become a stakeholder in our new constitution, and what does it yield? Consider the Service Employees International Union. Andy Stern, its president, said, “We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama—$60.7 million to be exact—and we’re proud of it.” Stern claimed that he hired people who “knocked on 1.87 million doors, made 4.4 million phone calls, and sent more than 2.5 million pieces of mail in support of Obama.” He had borrowed some 20 of those millions. But he is reaping fabulous returns on his investment.
The union has 2 million dues-paying members whom Stern and his associates got, according to the Los Angeles Times, by forceful or fraudulent takeover of locals as well as by bribery and intimidation. But Stern is now a stakeholder in just about any matter he chooses. Most visibly, on April 15, 2009, his lawyer and lobbyist were part of an administration virtual “round table” that decided to withhold $6.8 billion of “stimulus money” appropriated for the state of California unless the state restored a $7.4 million (1.4 percent) cut it made in one of its programs, which happens to be serviced by Stern’s union. Surprised, California secretary of health and human services Kim Belshe said, “The involvement of a stakeholder in this kind of state-federal deliberative process is unusual at best…outside any norm I am familiar with.” Alas, this sort of thing is becoming the new rule.
One corollary of that rule is that powerful stakeholders like the SEIU can help turn former opponents into new stakeholders. Thus when President Obama said, wryly and proudly, that even Wal-Mart was supporting his health care plan—the very Wal-Mart that the Democratic Party had demonized for its resistance to unionization—he was in fact acknowledging yet another debt to the SEIU. Stern’s union, along with liberal groups, had so harassed Wal-Mart that it agreed, in exchange for peace, to endorse the Obama health plan’s requirement that employers provide health insurance or pay the government 8 percent of gross income. Not incidentally, if the plan became law, Wal-Mart would be insulated against potential competitors who did not offer health insurance.
Whereas the big banks, GM, and Chrysler became stakeholders by accepting partnership with the Democratic Party and the United Auto Workers union, and the SEIU did it by brute force and money, even as Wal-Mart was forced into an auxiliary role, an outfit by the name of Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society did it by presenting the administration with a plan for a single electronic registry of all American health care records. The company had tried to sell its plan to Congress as a cost-saving measure. But it then realized that the plan would help the Obama administration grasp the whole of the U.S. health care system in order to impose its priorities on it. Hence, HIMSS got a $36.5 billon contract, for starters. Its money and its status as a stakeholder came from pure lobbying and networking with vendors and customers, who saw opportunity in the administration’s proclivities.
In sum, in America as elsewhere, stakeholder government grows by its essential internal dynamic: the more the rulers’ power grows over more matters, the greater the incentives of people to do whatever they can to become stakeholders.
Where does stakeholder government hit those of us who are part of the general public? Consider colonoscopies. In May 2009, after consultation with stakeholders, Medicare proposed no longer paying for the electronic, noninvasive, “virtual” kind, and only for the kind that involves insertions into your colon. The makers of the electronic equipment for the virtual ones disputed this immediately. What will and will not go up your colon depends on to which part of the industry the money will go. Under our new constitution such questions, regardless of how important to you they may be, are reserved for stakeholders.
Hence it is poignant to read William Greider, an enthusiastic supporter of Obama’s New Foundation, expressing shock in the Nation about its results. Greider wrote that Obama’s actions had taught people such as himself “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide.”
Greider continued, “If the largest bank holding companies are given privileged proximity to the source of government protection, then everyone in finance and commerce will want to become a bank holding company, too. We are already seeing this happening as former investment houses like Goldman Sachs and non-bank financial firms decide to join the system. Why not General Electric and Microsoft? Where does this end? What does it mean for smaller enterprises that lack the scale and influence?” He concluded, “Government and politics would become even more responsive to big money, but also able to tamper intimately with private enterprise, picking winners and losers based on political loyalties, not on performance.”
Why should Greider or anyone else have expected that government, especially one made up of bankers and bank regulators, would not have plenty of money for them? Why should anyone expect that a government that has the United Auto Workers as a constituency, or that wants to harness the auto industry or the energy industry to its plans, would not pay to support and shape them according to its vision? Why should anyone expect that persons who watch government dispense privilege to its supporters and enablers would not want to pay the price to join their ranks? Why be surprised that the bigger the government, the bigger a friend it is to those connected with it, and the more indifferent to the unconnected? It would be just as unreasonable to expect water to flow uphill.
Nor does it make sense, under this genus of constitutions, to rue the substitution of political loyalty for performance, because in these constitutions, political loyalty is the only kind of performance that counts.
What’s It to Us?
THE MORAL BASIS OF OUR “New Foundation” consists of the desire that many have to support it, whatever it might be. For many, the will to affirm collective action is much less a matter of ideology than of eagerness to escape what they experience as a meaningless America. Thus in an influential 1997 Wall Street Journal article, prominent neoconservatives William Kristol and David Brooks regretted that so many Americans had chosen to elect Republicans who pledged to get government off their backs. “Wishing to be left alone is not a government doctrine,” they wrote. They argued for government that would lead America to “a grand destiny,” to “national greatness.” What would that look like? Candidly, Brooks explained elsewhere, “It almost doesn’t matter what task government sets for itself as long as it does some tangible thing with energy and effectiveness…. Energetic government is good for its own sake. It raises the sight of the individual. It strengthens common bonds. It boosts national pride. It continues the great national project.” Italians, Argentineans, Mexicans, and others are familiar with such pseudospiritual summonses to what the French intellectual bureaucrat Jean-Marie Guéhenno calls “religions without God.”
Adherence to the regime’s official truths and refusal to challenge their moral substance is a prerequisite for working within the system wherever political loyalty also becomes the measure of cultural, spiritual matters, whether in the European Union, in 1920s Italy, 1950s Argentina, in Obamaland, or in PRI Mexico. In practice, however, such moral bases of government are but thin cover over the raw trade of privilege for power.
Moreover, in America as elsewhere, while giving lip service to official truths enhances one’s self-image, actually taking them as moral authority is another matter. In this regard, the moral basis of our “New Foundation” is emptier and engages hearts less than that of Mussolini’s Italy, Juan Perón’s Argentina, and Mexico’s PRI’s dinosaurs. Encouraging people to think of themselves as saviors of Planet Earth by driving small cars is thin stuff by comparison with images of glorious Rome, of saintly Evita, of the great Montezuma. Our New Foundation requires either habituating oneself to be enraptured by empty words, or getting used to swallowing questions that naturally come to mind (e.g., how can the world be burning up when the last decade has been colder than the previous?), or uttering official lies. In sum, if you are not a stakeholder—and odds are you won’t be, can’t be—the Stakeholder Constitution will impoverish you morally as well as materially.
Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University.
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