Big Business / General

Barlett, Donald L. and Steele, James B. America: What Went Wrong? Kansas City MO: Andrews and McMeel, 1992. 235 pages.

Barlett and Steele are Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporters for the "Philadelphia Inquirer." Backed by an "Inquirer" team, they spent two years researching the changes that rocked the U.S. economy in the 80s -- a murky subject that the rich would prefer stayed murky. When their nine-part series ran in 1991, it drew 20,000 letters and calls, and later became both a Bill Moyers TV series and the basis for this book.

The authors have the numbers to verify what one can sense all over Middle America. During the 80s, a self-confident American working class ("the middle class," Barlett and Steele call it, bowing to usage) was dismantled as a result of deliberate economic policy. Tax "cuts" transferred money to the rich, jobs were shipped overseas, deregulation gutted healthy industries, pensions disappeared while health costs sky-rocketed, and our political system was sold to corporate bidders. Barlett and Steele make this process intelligible, partly by attaching faces to it. They interview bankruptcy lawyers, who bill for the hours they spend flying coast-to-coast -- but also the hard-working Joes and Sallies shut out of factories the bankruptcy lawyers closed. An angry book that's difficult to brush off.

-- Steve Badrich

Barlett, Donald L. and Steele, James B. America: Who Stole the Dream? Kansas City MO: Andrews and McMeel, 1996. 241 pages.

This is another in a series of articles, which then appeared as books, by these two reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer. This one emphasizes the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs to the global economy, due primarily to slick Washington lobbying by foreign and transnational interests. It's written for the mass market -- sobering statistics are illustrated with attractive graphs, and hard luck stories of little people losing their jobs are coupled with reasonable arguments for "fair trade" rather than "free trade." No problem so far (yawn).

Who's to blame for all this? Apart from lobbyists and transnational corporations, the authors suggest that it's mainly a matter of well- intentioned politicians and bureaucrats who inadvertently sold the American dream to the highest bidder. Darn those incompetent bunglers! Don't expect to find any class analysis here -- this is 1996 and Karl Marx lost the Cold War. Published authors are now required to bracket out the last 150 years of intellectual history; serious ideas that might prove inconvenient for the ruling class are not allowed. It's permissible to moan ineffectually about the poor getting poorer, but just barely. -- D.Brandt

Greider, William. Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 1993. 464 pages.

William Greider lives in Washington DC, and has been a reporter for the Cincinnati Post, an assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, and a writer on politics for Rolling Stone. His most famous previous book is "Secrets of the Temple," which is about the Federal Reserve System. "Who Will Tell the People" was a bestseller in 1992, and was voted one of the ten most notable books of that year by the New York Times Book Review.

Greider presents a populist indictment of Washington political culture on the grounds that it has sold out to corporations, lawyers, lobbyists, money, and special interests. Nothing works anymore, from the regulatory to the legislative process. All you need is slick PR, or the money to buy it. Scientists from polluting corporations bamboozle the EPA with mountains of questionable data, tax cuts for the rich are sold as tax cuts for the little guy, the labor movement gets its head handed to it by corporate lobbyists, and shameless scholars prostitute themselves for a think-tank corner office by promoting clever trickle-down disasters for the middle class. Our rotten one-party system goes on and on this way, because insider journalists are paid big bucks to pretend that this system's subtle two-party nuances are worthy of our exclusive and undivided attention. Film at eleven.

Hawks, John. For a Good Cause? -- How Charitable Institutions Become Powerful Economic Bullies. Secaucus NJ: Birch Lane Press (Carol Publishing Group), 1997. 240 pages.

When you think of the word "nonprofit," what comes to mind? Your local church, PTA raffles, Boy Scouts, Salvation Army bell-ringers? They're all still around, but you're 30 years behind. Since 1970, nonprofit groups have grown four times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. Now there are 1.2 million of them. They control more than $1 trillion in assets, and employ more people than the federal government and all fifty state governments combined. To put it bluntly, the business of operating with a tax exemption has become big business.

Federal tax laws for nonprofits are complex, having evolved over nearly nine decades. Too many interests are at stake by now, and any changes in the laws will be gradual at best. State and local laws almost always defer to federal law; the states don't have enough lawyers to redefine all this complexity. This "trickle-down" has a serious impact on the tax base (such as sales and property taxes). But at the same time, there's almost no enforcement at the federal level. Once a determination is made, it's rare that this status is revoked for cause. The author feels that this lack of regulation has led to serious abuses by nonprofits -- from fat salaries and unlimited expense accounts, to outright swindles.

Higham, Charles. Trading With the Enemy: An Expose of the Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949. New York: Dell Publishing, 1984. 299 pages.

When Charles Higham was going through declassified documents in 1978 for a biography on Errol Flynn and his Nazi associations, he found "numerous cross-references to prominent figures who, I had always assumed, were entirely committed to the American cause, yet who had been marked down for suspected subversive activities." Higham had heard about certain tycoons in American, British, and German commerce and industry who continued their associations during the war. They wanted a negotiated peace with Germany that would preclude any reorganization of Europe, and only when it was clear that Germany would lose did they become more "loyal" to America. After the war they "pushed into Germany, protected their assets, restored Nazi friends to high office, helped provoke the Cold War, and insured the permanent future of The Fraternity."

This book covers documented commercial links, including the Rockefellers' Chase National Bank (later Chase Manhattan), their Standard Oil of New Jersey, ITT, GAF (General Aniline and Film), Ford, General Motors, DuPont, and others. The post-war link between U.S. intelligence and the Nazis is not covered at all, but would no doubt add to an understanding of how the end of the hot war brought on the Cold War. It can all be nicely analyzed, one suspects, by following the big money and its hunger for markets.

Johnston, David. Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win control of the Casino Business. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 312 pages.

As the Atlantic City bureau chief for the Philadelphia Inquirer, David Johnston investigated the casino industry for nearly four years. Casinos were legalized in Atlantic City in 1978, under regulations designed to exclude organized crime. Johnston makes the case that although there were instances of money-laundering by the drug cartels that the regulators failed to pursue, the larger threat to the public welfare came from junk-bond speculators like Donald Trump, Merv Griffin, and Stephen Wynn. From Holiday Inn and Ramada Inn, to Mississippi riverboats and Indian reservations, and including all those state lotteries that have poor people queuing up for sucker bets, gambling as a social phenomenon is more worrisome now than when the mob controlled Las Vegas.

Casino regulators in New Jersey came down hard on minor employees to create the appearance of being tough, while giving the benefit of the doubt to big investors with shaky financing. These investors are the consistent winners in commercial gambling -- casino owners set the odds, and they control a subtle and sophisticated psychological environment. Politicians brag about the jobs created by casinos, even though the industry is not labor-intensive. And it's a poor foundation on which to build a local economy, since gambling transfers wealth but can never create it.

Micklethwait, John and Wooldridge, Adrian. The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus. New York: Times Books - Random House, 1996. 369 pages.

Anyone who was ever forced by their boss to attend something as silly and pointless as a total quality, reengineering, or excellence seminar, will enjoy this book. Management fads come and go in cycles, pushed by highly- paid gurus who are able to say nothing at all, but say it with style. Some 2,000 business books are published annually, most of which are along the lines of "how to succeed." They often contradict the last book by the same author, and some gurus manage to contradict themselves every few pages.

The authors, both of whom are editors for The Economist, look at the history of management theory and examine the writings of some of the big-name consultants and hucksters. They conclude that management is an immature discipline that barely deserves a place in academia. The personal quirks of the gurus provide the material for the books they write, rather than any solid social or economic research. Some of the gurus are pure opportunists, having defected from serous disciplines to join business schools, simply for the big bucks of consulting, speaking tours, and book contracts. One chapter of this book describes a more disturbing development -- the gurus are now infiltrating the public sector, which means that our tax dollars may soon be paying for their drivel.

Mintz, Morton and Cohen, Jerry S. America, Inc.: Who Owns and Operates the United States. New York: Dell Publishing, 1971. 424 pages.

Mintz, Morton and Cohen, Jerry S. Power, Inc.: Public and Private Rulers and How to Make Them Accountable. New York: Bantam Books, 1977. 831 pages.

Morton Mintz, a Washington Post reporter, and Jerry S. Cohen, former chief counsel of the Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee, teamed up in the 1970s to write two blockbuster books -- America, Inc. and Power, Inc. -- on corruption in the U.S. Both cover the same territory: bribery, profiteering, special-interest lobbying, politicians, regulatory agencies, monopolies, concentration of power in the media, white collar crime, lack of accountability, government and corporate secrecy, influence of big money on elections, the national security state, and self-dealing in the professions (doctors, dentists, accountants, banks, unions, insurance). Both also use the same technique of making a point my naming names and giving specific examples culled from news accounts and other sources.

Remember, this was the 1970s when corruption wasn't an issue in America. Two decades later the infrastructure is collapsing, the economy is sick, and the shrinking middle class is wondering how their kids will afford an education and be able to buy their own homes. The dollar value of the examples provided in these books provokes barely a yawn these days -- after the deficits, savings and loan scandals, junk bonds, and golden parachutes of the 1980s. But Mintz and Cohen saw it coming, and it's not their fault that no one addressed the issue while there was still time.

Schiller, Herbert I. Information Inequality: The Deepening Social Crisis in America. New York: Routledge, 1996. 149 pages.

This little book is an important essay on the two powerful forces that Professor Schiller believes are dominating the social sphere in the 1990s: a freewheeling enterprise system that rejects social accountability, and a privately-owned information apparatus devoted to profit and the avoidance of social criticism. Transnational capitalism is less than a century old, but now that the Cold War is over and labor unions are nearly dead, for the first time it exists without powerful, organized opposition. This has resulted in an information crisis that is characterized by the denial of access to media, and the debasement of messages and images.

The corporate takeover of public expression means that culture has become an industry: book publishing is now in the hands of a few giants, and the line between journalism and public relations is increasingly blurred. The legal system defines corporations as individuals, but in the process of granting First Amendment protection to the transnationals, the expressions of real individuals end up as a mere trickle through tiny, constricted public circuits. "What the record reveals is an almost total takeover of the domestic information system for the purpose of selling goods, services, people, and prefabricated opinion." (page 61)

Seldes, George. Iron, Blood and Profits: An Exposure of the World-Wide Munitions Racket. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1934. 397 pages.

In 1921, the League of Nations accused armament manufacturers in Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and America of instigating and profiting from the World War. In this book George Seldes presents the evidence from official sources that the League failed to publish. The arms industry traded with its enemies before and during the war, promoted war scares in the newspapers, and sabotaged disarmament efforts. It supported dictators in Europe, lobbied and bribed government officials and bankers, and financed patriotic, defense, naval, air and army leagues. The war was prolonged for two years by the arms industry, according to military experts. This book was published one year after Hitler's 1933 triumph. Germany had begun rearming, with the approval of Mussolini. Meanwhile, nitrates, powder, airplanes, and airplane motors were shipped from U.S. manufacturers to Japan from 1932-1934. Seldes is worried that the entire pattern might be starting all over again.

"No reason for war remains except sudden profits for the fifty men who run the munitions racket.... History since the arrival of Big Business in armaments is largely the history of preparations for war.... The first real step toward [peace] is the destruction of the world-wide munitions racket. It will cost millions of dollars. It will save millions of lives."

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