Corporate welfare is offensive — drug companies getting Congress to ban Medicare negotiating bulk discounts on prices, Big Oil protecting billions in subsidies, multinationals hoarding a couple of trillion dollars abroad to avoid paying taxes, and much more.
by Katrina van den Heuvel
Bipartisan agreement in Washington usually means citizens should hold on to their wallets or get ready for another threat to peace. In today’s politics, the bipartisan center usually applauds when entrenched interests and big money speak. Beneath all the partisan bickering, bipartisan majorities are solid for a trade policy run by and for multinationals, a health-care system serving insurance and drug companies, an energy policy for Big Oil and King Coal, and finance favoring banks that are too big to fail.
Economist James Galbraithcalls this the “predator state,” one in which large corporate interests rig the rules to protect their subsidies, tax dodges and monopolies. This isn’t the free market; it’s a rigged market.
Wall Street is a classic example. The attorney general announces that some banks are too big to prosecute. Despite what the FBI called an “epidemic of fraud,” not one head of a big bank has gone to jail or paid a major personal fine. Bloomberg News estimated that the subsidy they are provided by being too big to fail adds up to an estimated $83 billion a year.
Corporate welfare is, of course, offensive to progressives. The Nation and other media expose the endless outrages — drug companies getting Congress to ban Medicare negotiating bulk discounts on prices, Big Oil protecting billions in subsidies, multinationals hoarding a couple of trillion dollars abroad to avoid paying taxes, and much more.
But true conservatives are — or should be — offended by corporate welfare as well. Conservative economists Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales argue that it is time to “save capitalism from the capitalists,” urging conservatives to support strong measures to break up monopolies, cartels and the predatory use of political power to distort competition.
Here is where left and right meet, not in a bipartisan big-money fix, but in an odd bedfellows campaign to clean out Washington.
For that to happen, small businesses and community banks will have to develop an independent voice in our politics. Today, they are too often abused as cover for multinational corporations and banks. The Chamber of Commerce exemplifies the scam. It pretends to represent the interests of millions of small businesses, but its issue and electoral campaigns are defined and paid for by big-money interests working to keep the game rigged.
An authentic small-business lobby has finally started to emerge, as William Greider reports in the most recent issue of the Nation. The American Sustainable Business Council, along with the Main Street Alliance and the Small Business Majority, are enlisting small business owners to speak for themselves — and challenging the corporate financed propaganda groups such as the Chamber and the National Federation of Independent Business. Their positions often align with those of progressives. They loathe the big banks and multinationals that work to undermine competition.
Greider reports on the antipathy these small business owners have for the big guys. Camille Moran, president and chief executive of Caramor Industries and Four Seasons Christmas Tree Farm in Natchitoches, La., rails against the “Wall Street wheelers and dealers.” They knew, she argues, that they “ would get no sympathy saying that ending the high-income Bush tax cuts would hurt them, so instead they pretend it would hurt Main Street small business and employment. Don’t fall for it. . . . That’s a trillion dollars less we would have for education, roads, security, small business assistance and all of the other things that actually help our communities.”
ReShonda Young, operations manager of Alpha Express, a family-owned delivery service in Waterloo, Iowa: “We’re not afraid to compete with the biggest delivery companies out here, but it needs to be a fair fight, not one in which big corporations use loopholes to avoid their taxes, stick our business with the tab.”
Polls show these aren’t isolated views. The ASBC, the Main Street Alliance and the Small Business Majority sponsored a poll by Lake Research of small business owners. Ninety percent believe “big corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes that small businesses have to pay,” and three-fourths said their own businesses suffer because of it.
The ASBC and its allies have the potential to become what Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state senator, dubbed a “Chamber of Progress,” a small-business voice that is willing to take on the big guys that tilt the playing field.
The possibilities are endless. Wall Street argues for rolling back financial regulation on the grounds that it hurts community and small banks. What if community and small bankers joined the call of conservative Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher to break up the big banks?
Multinational executives have just launched the “LIFT America” Coalition to push for a territorial tax system that would exempt from U.S. taxes all profits reported abroad. ASBC and its allies could rally small businesses to demand closing down overseas tax havens and imposing a minimum tax on profits sitting abroad, so that they didn’t face a higher tax burden that their global competitors.
In today’s Washington, powerful corporate interests stymie progress on areas vital to our future. Can a right/left, small-business/worker odd bedfellows alliance emerge to counter the predatory interests? We can only hope so.