A taxonomy of corporate bullshit
Next Tuesday (Oct 31) at 10hPT, the Internet Archive is livestreaming my presentation on my recent book, The Internet Con.
There are six lies that corporations have told since time immemorial, and Nick Hanauer, Joan Walsh and Donald Cohen’s new book Corporate Bullsht: Exposing the Lies and Half-Truths That Protect Profit, Power, and Wealth in America* provides an essential taxonomy of this dirty six:
In his review for The American Prospect, David Dayen summarizes how these six lies “offer a civic-minded, reasonable-sounding justification for positions that in fact are motivated entirely by self-interest”:
I. Pure denial
As far back as the slave trade, corporate apologists and mouthpieces have led by asserting that true things are false, and vice-versa. In 1837, John Calhoun asserted that “Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.” George Fitzhugh called enslaved Africans in America “the freest people in the world.”
This tactic never went away. Children sent to work in factories are “perfectly happy.” Polluted water is “purer than the water that came from the river before we used it.” Poor families “don’t really exist.” Pesticides don’t lead to “illness or death.” Climate change is “beneficial.” Lead “helps guard your health.”
II. Markets can solve problems, governments can’t
Alan Greenspan made a career out of blithely asserting that markets self-correct. It was only after the world economy imploded in 2008 that he admitted that his doctrine had a “flaw”:
No matter how serious a problem is, the market will fix it. In 1973, the US Chamber of Commerce railed against safety regulations, because “safety is good business,” and could be left to the market. If unsafe products persist in the market, it’s because consumers choose to trade safety off “for a lower price tag” (Chamber spox Laurence Kraus). Racism can’t be corrected with anti-discrimination laws. It’s only when “the market” realizes that racism is bad for business that it will finally be abolished.
III. Consumers and workers are to blame
In 1946, the National Coal Association blamed rampant deaths and maimings in the country’s coal-mines on “carelessness on the part of men.” In 2003, the National Restaurant Association sang the same tune, condemning nutritional labels because “there are not good or bad foods. There are good and bad diets.” Reagan’s interior secretary Donald Hodel counseled personal responsibility to address a thinning ozone layer: “people who don’t stand out in the sun — it doesn’t affect them.”
IV. Government cures are always worse than the disease
Lee Iacocca called 1970’s Clean Air Act “a threat to the entire American economy and to every person in America.” Every labor and consumer protection before and since has been damned as a plague on American jobs and prosperity. The incentive to work can’t survive Social Security, welfare or unemployment insurance. Minimum wages kill jobs, etc etc.
V. Helping people only hurts them
Medicare will “destroy private initiative for our aged to protect themselves with insurance” (Republican Senator Milward Simpson, 1965). Covid relief is unfair to people that are currently in the workforce” (Republican Governor Brian Kemp, 2021). Welfare produces “learned helplessness.”
VI. Everyone who disagrees with me is a socialist
Grover Cleveland’s 2% on top incomes is “communistic warfare against rights of property” (NY Tribune, 1895). “Socialized medicine” will leave “our children and our children’s children [asking] what it once was like in America when men were free” (Reagan, 1961).
Everything is “socialism”: anti-child labor laws, Social Security, minimum wages, family and medical leave. Even fascism is socialism! In 1938, the National Association of Manufacturers called labor rights “communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.”
As Dayen says, it’s refreshing to see how the right hasn’t had an original idea in 150 years, and simply relies on repeating the same nonsense with minor updates. Right wing ideological innovation consists of finding new ways to say, “actually, your boss is right.”
The left’s great curse is object permanence: the ability to remember things, like the fact that it used to be possible for a worker to support a family of five on a single income, or that the economy once experienced decades of growth with a 90%+ top rate of income tax (other things the left manages to remember: the “intelligence community” are sociopathic monsters, not Trump-slaying heroes).
When the business lobby rails against long-overdue antitrust action against Amazon and Google, object permanence puts it all in perspective. The talking points about this being job-destroying socialism are the same warmed-over nonsense used to defend rail-barons and Rockefeller. “If you don’t like it, shop elsewhere,” has been the corporate apologist’s line since slavery times.
As Dayen says, Corporate Bullshit is a “reference book for conservative debating points, in an attempt to rob them of their rhetorical power.” It will be out on Halloween:
If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this post to read or share, here’s a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog: