Thursday, March 19, 2009
By way of atonement for posting Rushkoff, here's Mike Davis with a truly fine piece of analysis on the shift in the political landscape. Goddamn he's good.
But the promise of Green Keynesianism may turn out differently than imagined by radical economists and environmental activists. A fundamental power-shift seems to be taking place in the business infrastructure of Washington, with ‘New Economy’ corporations rapidly gaining clout through Obama and the Democrats while Old Economy leviathans like General Motors grapple with destitution and welfare, and energy giants temporarily hide in caves. The unprecedented unity of tech firms behind Obama both helped to define and was defined by his campaign. Through his victory, they have acquired the credit balance to ensure that any green infrastructure will also be good industrial policy for their dynamic but ageing and cash-short corporations.
There is an obvious historical analogy. Just as General Electric’s Gerard Swope (the Steve Jobs of his day) and a bloc of advanced, capital-intensive corporations, supported by investment banks, enthusiastically partnered with Roosevelt to create the ill-fated National Recovery Administration (nra) in 1933, so too have Schmidt and his wired peers, together with the ever-more-powerful congressional delegation from California, become the principal stakeholders in Obama’s promise to launch an Apollo programme for renewable energy and new technology.
We should note that this realignment of politics by economics fits awkwardly within the Keys–Burnham paradigm, which asserts the primacy of public opinion and the durability of voter blocs. A ‘silicon presidency’, on the other hand, is perfectly accommodated by Thomas Ferguson’s ‘investment’ theory of political change which privileges political economy and class struggle within capital as modes of explanation. Analysing New Deal case-studies in his 1995 book, Ferguson—an intellectually supercharged descendant of Charles Beard—concluded that business elites, not voters, usually determine both the nature and course of electoral realignments.
The fundamental market for political parties usually is not voters. As a number of recent analysts have documented, most of these possess desperately limited resources and—especially in the United States—exiguous information and interest in politics. The real market for political parties is defined by major investors, who generally have good and clear reasons for investing to control the state . . . During realignments . . . basic changes take place in the core investment blocs which constitute parties. More specifically, realignments occur when cumulative long-run changes in industrial structures (commonly interacting with a variety of short-run factors, notably steep economic downturns) polarize the business community, thus bringing together a new and powerful bloc of investors with durable interests. As this process begins, party competition heats up and at least some differences between parties emerge more clearly.
But what has suddenly mobilized the self-identified New Economy as an ‘investor bloc’ in Ferguson’s sense? And why Obama?