The four business gangs that run the US
Illustration: Michael Mucci.
IF YOU’VE ever suspected politics is increasingly being run in the interests of big business, I have news: Jeffrey Sachs, a highly respected economist from Columbia University, agrees with you – at least in respect of the United States.
In his book,Â The Price of Civilisation, he says the US economy is caught in a feedback loop. ”Corporate wealth translates into political power through campaign financing, corporate lobbying and the revolving door of jobs between government and industry; and political power translates into further wealth through tax cuts, deregulation and sweetheart contracts between government and industry. Wealth begets power, and power begets wealth,” he says.
Sachs says four key sectors of US business exemplify this feedback loop and the takeover of political power in America by the ”corporatocracy”.
First is the well-known military-industrial complex. ”As [President] Eisenhower famously warned in his farewell address in January 1961, the linkage of the military and private industry created a political power so pervasive that America has been condemned to militarisation, useless wars and fiscal waste on a scale of many tens of trillions of dollars since then,” he says.
Second is the Wall Street-Washington complex, which has steered the financial system towards control by a few politically powerful Wall Street firms, notably Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and a handful of other financial firms.
These days, almost every US Treasury secretary – Republican or Democrat – comes from Wall Street and goes back there when his term ends. The close ties between Wall Street and Washington ”paved the way for the 2008 financial crisis and the mega-bailouts that followed, through reckless deregulation followed by an almost complete lack of oversight by government”.
Third is the Big Oil-transport-military complex, which has put the US on the trajectory of heavy oil-imports dependence and a deepening military trap in the Middle East, he says.
”Since the days of John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Trust a century ago, Big Oil has loomed large in American politics and foreign policy. Big Oil teamed up with the automobile industry to steer America away from mass transit and towards gas-guzzling vehicles driving on a nationally financed highway system.”
Big Oil has consistently and successfully fought the intrusion of competition from non-oil energy sources, including nuclear, wind and solar power.
It has been at the side of the Pentagon in making sure that America defends the sea-lanes to the Persian Gulf, in effect ensuring a $US100 billion-plus annual subsidy for a fuel that is otherwise dangerous for national security, Sachs says.
”And Big Oil has played a notorious role in the fight to keep climate change off the US agenda. Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries and others in the sector have underwritten a generation of anti-scientific propaganda to confuse the American people.”
Fourth is the healthcare industry, America’s largest industry, absorbing no less than 17 per cent of US gross domestic product.