HTLGI2013 Big Bad Wolf

May 27, 2013

Anatole Kaletsky,  Phillip Bond, Alex Callinicos were the speakers on this panel so we have a conservative think tank, a Marxist (of the Trotskyite tendency) and an economist all debating if big corporations are good for society.  Phillip is into his doom and despondency mode which I remember well from earlier in the day and last year.  The problem its doom and despondency with bite and his comment on automation replacing middle class labour as it did working class some years ago is chillingly close to reality.   There are some attempts to engage with the wider issue of capitalism and its internal logic but not a substantive one.  The issue of regulation through government also comes up and how to do that with only national governments.  That is also a theme in some of the other sessions coming up tomorrow.  My notes are not as complete as for others, in part because the exchanges were brisker and I was listening harder!

The big questions are taxation and how to stop corporations suborning the political process to their own ends.   Phillip's points on japan and Germany and their maintaining education and some jobs for employment purposes is interesting.  As is the general agreement that red in tooth and claw pseudo-Darwinian capitalism has little utility.  That is my summary by the way no one actually said it!

If I had caught the eye of the chair I was going to challenge the notion that large corporations can be spoken of as if they had directive purpose.  My own direct experience of IBM and indirect experience of others is that they are more loosely coupled networks with an ability to respond and control without having to think too much about it.  Its that, more biological and political aspect which makes them very difficult to deal with.



Alex says that CEOs are among the leading hero's of our culture.  He is editor of International Socialist.  Sees them as one institutional form within capitalism, but real problem is not them but the logic of capitalism, one of exploitation using the labour of others.  Blind process of competition and issues ofaccumulation  that results in things like global warming and the like.  Corporations are a symptom of the logic they don't create it.  They are very powerful politically so they sustain the logic.

Phillip says that corporations are just very successful companies that have escaped capture by national legislatures.  They are under theorised, we cannot explain why they exist and they create problems for neo-liberal accounts of society as they are examples of collectivist endeavour in what is meant to be an individualist field.
Corporates are a form of collaborative knowledge and skill pooling institutes that have unevenly distributed rewards.  Left and right wing criticism of corporations are right and we need to speak to their true nature.  From the left they are politically unaccountable and generally do damage to economies through their management of tax etc.  From the right the idea that they hav becoming rent seeking and rent collecting entities so they fail the model of capitalism that was originally envisaged.  SO now have excessive concentration of power and resource.

Anatole like Phillip agrees with left and right analysis but wants to reshape in another way.  wants to broaden   beyond corporations.  Sees this as an opportunity to rethink.  Question of taxation is just one example about how they link to the logics of capital and markets.  Capitalism is an evolving but not stable system.  Instead of collapsing per Marx it evolves into a new system.   The essential element of this is step and we may be moving to a fourth in the last 100 ears.   1920/30  60/70 then thatcher.  What is changing is the interaction between economics and politics and that will see a larger role for government.  Will be a more intrusive presnce than before.

Do we derive greater economic benefit than we do harm from the corporation as it is now?

Alex again wants to place question in the wider context of capitalism.  They may be under theorised from neoclassical economics but neoclassical economics is bunk.   Mark continues to be relevant is showing that there are certain features in common with all stages of capitalism and one of those is the constant succession of crises.  Even the most organised capitalism cannot avoid tendency to collapse. 

Anatole says there are mechanisms for dampening crisis and creating periods of stability.  Not perfect but has done well in improving quality of life overall. 

Phillip says the most resilient are small businesses and co-operatives.  The real issue is how do we assert political control.  Again interesting left and right solutions.  A left based solution is area based taxation where corporations could not enter without paying a fee.  Thinks that will come soon.  Then more interesting right wing approachs which has failed to create the conditions for genuine competition. So need a different version of competition law which includes innovation and consumer.  We also need to relocalise our economies and the terms of trade.  A small coffee shop pays 30% more tax than Starbucks.   Social value act would have looked at procurement from small business and startups, so attempt to change things in public procurement which will make changes.  Our small choices conflict with our big choices so alignment in private sector would make a difference.

Anatole how do we stop the corporations from co-opting the political process

Alex you can't say capitalism brings people up it only does it for some people, we are seeing a process of impoverishment in Europe.  It does not deliver continuously growing standards.  Need something new.

Phillip we risk being caught between window dressing and utopia.  Capitalism is practiced in very different ways.   Japan and Germany maintain education and employment which is not strictly capitalist. The only thing which changes things are incramental moves revolutions dont work out that well.  How do you do them?  The future is insurgent politics, building new things the basis of the elete will be washed away.  Contrast between racist/facist nationalism and those who believe in nothing.  So the political conditions are in place for a genuine political assault.  

Anatole argued for incremental not even as radical as Phillip repetition of similar solutions though.  Phillip.  Little has happened to stop bubbles. 

Phillip counter revolutions are better they capture change byt get stability back in place.  Says we need a moral revolution creating new moral meta-narratives.  So taking over the east india company and deploying the Royal Navy on anti-slavery.   Unsustainable to think capitalsim ends rthrough ar evolution.  Need ethical revolution.

Phillip what is coming is not good, less and less money to labour value will fall and not recover.  Middle class people will loose their jobs as happneded to the industrial working class in the 70s.  THe levels ofglobal  trend are so extreme that unless we have a systemic response no government will survive.  That means we need to break up monopolies and stop confusing them with successful businesses.   You can stop them from trading by charging on spend not production.

ALL agree that all european politicians are shallow and its in part because of the way that corporations have captured the political shere.

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