Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Farhad Manjoo sees revolution on the horizon, around the bend, and at the end of the tunnel


Here's his NYTimes column, "C.E.O.s Should Fear a Recession. It Could Mean Revolution." He's been reflecting on the recent announcement by the Business Roundtable (CEO's of 200 megacorporations):
that the era of soulless corporatism was over. The Business Roundtable once held that a corporation’s “paramount duty” was to its shareholders. Now, the Roundtable is singing a new, more inclusive tune. A corporation, it says, should balance the interests of its shareholders with those of other “stakeholders,” including customers, employees, suppliers and local communities.
He think's that's empty PR nonsense. I think he's right.

He believes they're scared: "A recession looms". And they may well be scared. But revolution? He points out that, while many people lost their homes and rural areas were devastated in the wake of the 2008 financial implosion,
Corporate profits grew as if there were no tomorrow, but they didn’t trickle down to everyone else. Instead, dividends and stock buybacks got bigger while C.E.O. pay went through the rose-gold roof. The rest of us got smartphones, money-losing conveniences — Uber, WeWork, Netflix and meal delivery apps — and mountains of student debt.
What happens when the next recession hits? Who knows, but we'll find out soon enough. But here's what Manjoo thinks/hopes:
And so, when recession comes, we’ll be right to ask: Was that it? Is this the best it gets? And if so, isn’t it time to go full Elizabeth Warren — to make some fundamental, radical changes to how the American economy works, so that we might prevent decades more of growth that disproportionally benefits the titans among us?
And, so he thinks, we the people will revolt. Just how we'll do that, he doesn't say.

Now, as some of you may know, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a book about that, New York 2140. As the title indicates, it's set in the future, a very different world where the seas have risen 50 feet. But the institutional structure of that (imagined) world is much like that of our current world. Disaster strikes and millions of people are saddled with housing debt they can't pay. They go on rents strikes and so forth and this time the banks get nationalized as a condition of bailout (p 602): "Finance was now for the most part a privately operated public utility." The revolt worked. Perhaps. Robinson ends the book at that point, so we don't know how things worked out. 

But I don't see that happening now. I don't think the organizational infrastructure is in place to make it happen.


But who knows?

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