Monday, December 1, 2008

Business and "Pro-Business" Ideology

Matt Yglesias observes one of the central perversities of American politics:

[I]t’s worth noting how odd it is that the United States has the kind of highly ideological and deeply shortsighted business community. There’s no way a serious climate policy could be anything other than bad for oil companies and catastrophic for coal companies. But for most companies? Well, there shouldn’t really be a general problem. Firms whose operations are more carbon intensive than the average firm would be put at a competitive disadvantage, but by the same token firms whose operations are less carbon intensive than the average firm would be given a leg up. And there should be half of each. You can see why the business community might have good reason to quibble around the margins with the green community about the desirability of using carbon pricing revenue for green investments versus doing a straight rebate or something. But there’s no particular reason, other than sheer solidarity with the adversely effected minority of businesses, to want to take a blinkered attitude to climate/energy policy in general. After all, Florida being under water isn’t going to be good for business.
The ideologically hidebound quality of the US business community can be truly baffling: it's not easy to understand why companies that stand to lose nothing, and perhaps to gain much, from more sustainable energy policies should choose to stand shoulder to shoulder with (say) the petrochemical companies under the rubric of the Chamber of Commerce and assorted pro-business lobbies and think tanks. And yet they do.

At least as far back as 1983, Noam Chomsky commented on these peculiar dynamics, but with a twist:
QUESTION: Does the business elite have an accurate perception of how our system operates?

CHOMSKY: Yes, quite commonly. For example, in business schools and in business journals, one often finds a fairly clear perception of what the world is really like. On the other hand, in the more ideological circles, like the academic social sciences, I think you find much more deep-seated illusion and misunderstanding, which is quite natural. In the business school, they have to deal with the real world and they'd better know what the facts are, what the real properties of the world are. They are training the real managers, not the ideological managers, so the commitment to propaganda is less intense. Across the river from the business school in Cambridge, you have a different story. You have people one of whose functions is to prevent understanding on the part of others.
To whatever extent this ideology predominates, it cuts across this neat boundary Chomsky wants to draw between "real managers" and "ideological managers." If Chomsky is right about the source of the ideology, it must be true that the social sciences and business schools perform all the same indoctrination and to the same degree. Whatever the case, it's difficult to look at either the political alignments of US business or the recent history of (say) US financial firms and automakers and detect a dedication to "the real properties of the world" in their business practices.

1 comment:

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