“The big fish eat the little fish.” My grandfather’s words ring truer today than when he spoke them in 1956. The metaphor, meant as instruction, was the final sentence in the final chapter of our lives as dairy farmers, ending our independent struggle for market share against the dominant dairy producers.
The phrase haunts me every time I see a big fish make a big splash in the news, for example, Jeff Bezos’ recent selection of Long Island, New York and Crystal City, Virginia for Amazon’s second headquarters. Much has been written by Amy Goodman, Stacy Mitchell and others about Bezos’ shakedown of 238 cities to bid up his desired locations. In the old days, a truly free market would have businesses actually competing for the attention of politicians. That was before corporations ruled our country. Today, desperate cities, states and their leaders compete with each other in offering unconscionable public subsidies and tax breaks to these behemoths. It is another symptom of what Oregon’s political theorist Sheldon Wolin describes as “inverted totalitarianism.”
Journalist Chris Hedges, who interviewed Wolin, explains: “Inverted totalitarianism ... does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader but in the faceless anonymity of the corporate state ... pays outward fealty to the façade of electoral politics, the Constitution, civil liberties, freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary and the iconography, traditions and language of American patriotism, but it has effectively seized all of the mechanisms of power ...”
American cities and states spend upwards of 90 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to woo companies to their states, more money than our government spends on the education, housing or infrastructure. The figure doesn’t include the added burden of external costs (education, housing, infrastructure) from the influx of new, low-wage workers that this blatant bribery imposes upon the taxpayers.
While the Republican Party is known as the party of big business, it is increasingly obvious that establishment Democrats, like Amazon’s New York benefactors DeBlasio and Cuomo, are quite content with the incestuous relationship between government and corporations. At a time when the political divide commands negative media attention, bipartisanship for corporate largesse wins applause. The current Democratic leadership’s capitulation to corporate interests, a betrayal of middle-class, working families and small business owners, finds its nexus in the administration of Bill Clinton who succumbed to the lure of corporate campaign contributions, trading American jobs for a new world order.
Fast forward to today where, on the Mail Tribune’s recent Sunday opinion page, two pundits squared off on whether Nancy Pelosi should remain speaker of the House, providing a perfect example of the inauthentic controversy we are benumbed to. Both writers ignore the “new normal,” quid-pro-quo underpinnings of our politics; in fact, the pro-Pelosi writer takes pride in saying, “Pelosi has excelled as a fundraiser, raking in millions in campaign contributions, without which many of her would-be challengers would have never made it to Washington.” (Evidently the ingrates should also be worshipping the golden calf.)
The corporate coup, completed with the 2010 Citizens United decision, allows unlimited corporate campaign contributions to political candidates, equating money with free speech. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in dissent: “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation ... A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”
How do little fish contend with predatory big fish? They organize in schools. For us non-aquatics, schools of thought. Schools that reject an ideology willing to sacrifice democratic principles for the sake of meaningless Democratic Party victories. Schools that support candidates not beholden to corporate interests. Schools willing to push their elected officials to enforce long-neglected anti-trust laws to break up monopolies. Schools that teach their children the value of community and small businesses and that reject mindless consumerism.
Andy Seles lives in Ashland.