In what ways is wealth power, and how do the wealthy use it to support capitalism?
To start with, the biggest supporters of capitalism (those with a great deal of wealth) don’t usually refer to their activities as “supporting capitalism.” Instead, they talk about supporting whatever is “good for business.” In every case, what they actually mean is that they support whatever will allow large corporations to receive the greatest profit—and therefore whatever will deliver the most profit to those who own stock.
Because all corporate profit comes from underpaying workers, virtually every piece of “pro-business” legislation is designed to allow corporations to increase the exploitation of the working class in some way. By promoting sympathy for “business” and seeking to make the working class as exploitable as possible, “business interests” work directly against any possible worker movement that would seek to replace capitalism.
Here are the facts:
• Almost every elected government official supports and is supported by “business interests.” This is because political campaigns cost so much money (total spending on the 2012 U.S. elections was $6.3 billion ). Only the best-funded candidates have any kind of realistic chance of actually being elected. Virtually the only way for a candidate to access this kind of money is either by already being rich (and thus already sympathetic to “business interests”) or else by having wealthy supporters. The wealthy don’t even necessarily have to spend any money to see their interests win out: they can merely threaten to fund the opponent of any “anti-business” candidates to discourage them from seeking office. (2)
• Almost every unelected (that is, appointed) government official also supports and is supported by “business interests.” This is because the wealthy have made sure that the most “respectable” think tanks and policy foundations are “pro-business.” They accomplished this simply by creating more, bigger, and better-funded think tanks than anyone else. Virtually all appointed officials are drawn from this network of “pro-business” policy institutions. (2)
• Almost every lobbyist who gets the ear of an elected official represents “business interests.” The overwhelming majority of lobbyists are hired directly by corporate interests to pursue “business-friendly” legislation. (3)
• Almost every expert who is consulted by a government official supports and is supported by “business interests.” This is again because the wealthy have ensured that the most “respectable” policy institutions are “pro-business,” and thus virtually all “respected policy experts” come from the network of “pro-business” institutions. (2)
• Almost all the heads of major universities support and are supported by “business interests.” This is yet again because most top university officials are drawn from that same network of “pro-business” policy institutions. (2)
• Almost all mainstream media companies support and are supported by “business interests.” This is, first, because media companies are giant corporations and thus benefit from “pro-business” legislation like any other corporation. Second, because media companies depend on selling advertisements to survive, they must remain in favor with their biggest customers—other corporations. If any major media company came out as “anti-business,” they would lose virtually all their customers immediately. (4)
• Just as surely, the wealthy set the tone of all the marketing and advertising in the world, which has an enormous effect on the culture of almost every country in the world.
• Because they control the world’s corporations, the wealthy set the culture and tone of the work environments of hundreds of millions of people. This allows them a large amount of influence over workers everywhere.
• Relatedly, because workers need steady jobs, they must wish for the companies they work for to succeed so they can continue to have a job, putting a pressure on them to look out for and take care of the wealthy’s interests. In fact, those who don’t even work for a company and merely live nearby it feel a pressure to take care of business interests, because the livelihood of the local economy depends on the success of nearby businesses.
And that’s not all. When a country passes laws that go against international “business interests,” the owners of capital who had been investing in that country tend to remove their capital and invest it somewhere where it will bring them a greater profit (that is, somewhere where workers are more exploitable). This mass removal of capital causes economic difficulties or even collapse, leading to political instability for any country that passes pro-worker legislation. In this way, knowingly or not, the owners of capital act together to undermine any country or region where workers have acquired some measure of power. (5) This puts a pressure on whole countries to think about and take care of what is best for the wealthy owners of businesses.
The truth is, because the continued global dominance of the United States and its allies depends on the business superiority of U.S. and Western corporations, these countries (especially the United States) have intentionally and methodically helped overthrow many democratically elected governments (and supported many dictators) because international “business interests” desired it. (6) The U.S. government and its allies have used and to this day continue to use massive violence and oppression against many people in the United States and around the world on behalf of “business interests.” (6) (7)
Couldn’t we just pass laws to limit wealth and restrict how it can be used but keep capitalism?
The problem is not the lack of good policies—the problem is that, under capitalism, the people with the political power necessary to implement those policies will never give it up; and if it is taken from them even to a small degree, they will work tirelessly to seize it back. They will never voluntarily allow policies to be implemented that would limit their power.
For instance, tax rates on the super-rich were raised under the New Deal because the people as a whole rose to demand it to such a point that capitalism itself was endangered, but because capitalism itself wasn’t ended, the wealthy slowly and surely used their wealth-power to change the laws and lower the tax rates on themselves again.
Money is the power to control the economy, including through monopolistic or borderline-illegal (or outright illegal) methods. Any capitalist with less money can and will be sunk by a capitalist with more money, because that allows the wealthier capitalist to cheaply acquire the smaller capitalist’s capital and market share. This means that capitalists who pass up unethical or semi-illegal methods of making money will tend to be sunk by capitalists who will use those methods. Hence, the entire business structure is filled with people who are willing to ruthlessly compete, and anyone who is not is pushed down and out.
The eat-or-be-eaten competition for profit and market share that is at the heart of capitalism demands that they work constantly to increase their own wealth, and therefore it also demands that they work constantly to increase their ability to earn wealth, including their power to change the laws and public opinion. Thus, the “business community” is tirelessly trying to become ever more powerful, both politically and economically, and to weaken anything that opposes its interests.
Aren’t the Democrats an anti-business party?
Not at all. The quickest answer is that it doesn’t make sense to judge a politician or a political party by what they say. If you consider the U.S. Democratic Party in terms of what its candidates actually did and continue to do when elected to the highest offices, you find that they support and implement policies cooked up in the “pro-business” think tanks. (2) (8)
1. Open Secrets. “The Money Behind the Elections.”
2. Domhoff, William. Who Rules America? Power and Politics, and Social Change. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
3. Open Secrets. “Lobbying Spending Database: Ranked Sectors.”
4. Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.
5. Schweickart, David. Against Capitalism. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 214–15.
6. Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1995. (read online here)
7. Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492–Present. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. (read online here)
Schultz, Bud, and Ruth Schultz, eds. It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
Churchill, Ward, and Jim Vander Wall. Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2002.
Churchill, Ward. The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars against Domestic Dissent. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2002.
8. Selfa, Lance. Democrats: A Critical History. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008.