10 June 2012

Progressives' Blind Spot to Progress

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation, made an interesting comment the other day on NPR's Talk of the Nation (I think it was). She casually spoke of the "pro-corporate" crowd. In this I think she highlighted a blind spot of progressives.

The corporation is a fabulous institution. More effectively than any previous institution, it creates wealth and high-paying jobs. It is true that it also has an increasingly powerful influence over politics. It's doubtful that any candidate seriously opposed by the "pro-corporate" crowd could get elected.

If Katrina vanden Heuvel were talking about the social and economic problems of, say, 1600, she might speak dismissively of the pro-state crowd. That, too, was  an emerging force that seemed better able to enrich its elites (back then it was royalty rather than CEOs) than the common person. But the problem was not the state so much as how power over it was concentrated to a few. As it turns out, the nation-state was a wonderful institution, key to progress and prosperity. And its efficacy in increasing quality of life became more clear after democratic revolutions that dispersed the power over it to more people and its policies benefited a wider swath of its citizenry than just the aristocrats.

The modern corporation - in many ways - is at least as impressive as the nation-state. Its problem is that it is at a similar stage of development as the nation-state in about 1650. 

It still seems like media everywhere ignore what should be the biggest story within the West: how corporate policies are creating wealth and improving quality of life for people outside the board room. Communities without corporations or corporate influence are not prosperous enough to matter in conversations about progress; communities with corporations will inevitably be greatly influenced by them, even in the realm of politics. The relevant question is not how we go back in time to when corporations had less power and influence. The relevant question is how we reform corporations so that they - like the nation-state a century or two earlier - are made the tools of communities rather than elites.

Until progressives as savvy as Katrina vanden Heuvel see that we've no more option about being "pro-corporate" than 18th century Europeans had about being "pro nation-state," we're not going to shift the conversation towards the policies that will facilitate rather than de-rail real progress.


nunya said...

Have you ever read "Guns, Germs and Steel" or "The Third Chimpanzee," or "Collapse," all by Jared Diamond? Peruse and tell me they are not relevant to this post. Metinks Katrina is standing too close.

I'm listening to show, this Talk of the Nation is it the one you are referring to?

Ron Davison said...


I have read two of the three. I definitely believe that the big institutions go through two phases: they're created by elites for elites and then the community disperses control over them to a wider swath of people. It happened with the church, state, and bank and is going to happen with the corporation. Or at least that's the story I tried to tell in my book, the Fourth Economy.
And yes, that is the show I was referring to.
Thanks for stopping by.