Reviews | Big corporations won’t save us on their own
Today, some of the wealthiest Americans may be increasingly uncomfortable with the political destabilization that can accompany extreme inequality, and some may worry about the impact of climate change on their ability to generate profit. But that doesn’t mean they’re eager to do the kinds of things that could actually tackle inequality or provide a meaningful pathway to a world less in danger of destroying itself. Mr. Fink’s letter may have been partly born out of good intentions, but opposition from the Business Roundtable (whose members run many of the biggest companies in the economy, including BlackRock) to potential increases in l Corporate tax in Build Back Better played a key role in its crushing – and relatively limited climate proposals.
The climate and the world are changing. What challenges will the future bring and how should we respond to them?
As Andrew Perez and David Sirota reported in Jacobin, the US Chamber of Commerce has strongly opposed any filibuster reform, in part because it would make it easier to pass laws that, for example, could make it easier for workers to unionize.
An imaginary capitalism that magically balances the interests of workers, investors, communities, and shareholders has great allure, but pursuing it is a self-defeating strategy — and rooted in political desperation. Focusing political energy on securing the commitment of a group of business elites would undermine the commitment of a broad democratic base that must be the real basis for substantial reform. To solve many of our deepest problems, nothing less than a redistribution of economic and political power will be needed, and this will only happen in the face of opposition from corporations and the wealthy.
The trend towards social responsibility in general undermines the idea of citizenship and of a public sphere as the place where decisions and debates on economic and social policy are played out. Corporate commitment to democratic norms is quite superficial, or at least it emphasizes a narrow understanding of what they are.
You can see this dynamic even at BlackRock. Environmental activists have been protesting BlackRock for years, calling on it to withdraw its investments in oil, gas and coal companies. But despite all of Mr Fink’s rhetoric about the long-term problem of climate change, his company has been unwilling to divest itself of these businesses, despite his company’s 2020 pledge to halt investment in companies that were pulling more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal. . (Corporations, he wrote in defense of his approach, “cannot be climate police,” and he called on governments to do more.)
The reality is that there is no getting around the hard and controversial work of building politics that can support a more democratic culture. The only thing that has made elites support such causes in the past – timid as it is – is pressure from political and social movements.
If they were stronger today, the obstruction of Senators Manchin and Sinema would look like the actions of reactionaries with nowhere to turn rather than an insoluble stranglehold on any reform effort. And even if we hear less about stakeholder capitalism, we would have a public domain that could realize the idea of the common good.
Kim Phillips-Fein, a historian at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, is the author, most recently, of “Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics” and “Invisible Hands : The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal.