Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (英語) ハードカバー – 2007/9/4
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From the greatly admired author of The Work of Nations and The Future of Success, one of America's greatest economic and political thinkers as well as a distinguished public servant in three national administrations, a breakthrough book on the clash between capitalism and democracy.
Mid-twentieth-century capitalism has turned into global capitalism, and global capitalism—turbocharged, Web-based, and able to find and make almost anything just about anywhere—has turned into supercapitalism. But as Robert B. Reich makes clear in this eye-opening book, while supercapitalism is working wonderfully well to enlarge the economic pie, democracy—charged with caring for all citizens—is becoming less and less effective under its influence.
Reich explains how widening inequalities of income and wealth, heightened job insecurity, and the spreading effects of global warming are the logical outcomes of supercapitalism. He shows us why companies, fighting harder than ever to maintain their competitive positions, have become even more deeply involved in politics; and how average citizens, seeking great deals and invested in the stock market to an unprecedented degree, are increasingly loath to stand by their values if it means biting the hands that feed them. He makes clear how the tools traditionally used to temper America's societal problems—fair taxation, well-funded public education, trade unions—have withered as supercapitalism has burgeoned.
Reich sets out a clear course to a vibrant capitalism and a concurrent, equally vibrant democracy. He argues forcefully that the spheres of business and politics must be kept distinct. He calls for an end to the legal fiction that corporations are citizens, as well as the illusion that corporations can be "socially responsible" until laws define social needs. Reich explains why we must stop treating companies as if they were people—and must therefore abolish the corporate income tax and levy it on shareholders instead, hold individuals rather than corporations guilty of criminal conduct, and not expect companies to be "patriotic." For, as Reich says, only people can be citizens, and only citizens should be allowed to participate in democratic decision making.
“Smart and provocative . . . Reich’s proposed responses to supercapitalism are at once bold and surprising . . . [he] challenges us to think deeply about political economy.”
-News & Observer
“The book succeeds brilliantly. Clear-eyed, well-reasoned, and deeply insightful, Supercapitalism is must reading for anyone interested in the fate of our country and its institutions . . . timely and important reading for a country in deep distress.”
“Critically important . . . the value of this book isn’t in proposing a specific policy prescription. It’s about waking up and educating several generations of Americans who can’t seem to understand that you can’t have it all for free . . . It’s the most important message anyone can impart today.”
-San Francisco Bay Guardian
“A grand debunking of the conventional wisdom . . . the main thrust of Reich’s argument is right on target . . Reich documents in lurid detail the explosive growth of corporate lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions since the 1970s.”
-The New York Times Book Review
“Reich is that most exotic of species: an economist who can write.”
-San Francisco magazine
“Supercapitalism is not a polemic or a call to arms. Reich is merely trying to dent capitalism’s rock-star status while suggesting to a dazed citizenry that, as Shakespeare said of Caesar’s Rome, the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves.”
-San Francisco Chronicle
“Surprising . . . Reich paints a disturbing portrait of a world in which corporations have become our quasi-government.”
“An engaging and insightful account.”
-Harvard Business Review
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Robert Reich writes in his book on Supercapitalism that Hierarchy and the Price System have gained supremacy over Polyarchy (democratic governance) and Bargaining. He opines that “[s]upercapitalism has triumphed as power has shifted to consumers and investors. They now have more choice than ever before, and can switch ever more readily to better deals. And competition among companies to lure and keep them continues to intensify.”
Reich artfully describes the road to supercapitalism in the second chapter of the book. He says that new inventions destroyed the large staid oligopolistic systems of the past. The other factors that led to supercapitalism have been technological change, globalization, and deregulation.
Technological change-Pentagon and NASA engineers in a race for better weapons systems—and race to outer space—invented vacuum tubes, and then “semiconductors and then tiny integrated circuits etched on silicon wafers.” Out of those discoveries came smaller and smaller computers, the internet, and ultimately all manner of handheld devices. This change obliterated the oligopolistic barriers to entry that had existed in the economy previously.
Globalization—Transportation costs plummeted as products became smaller and lighter. Reich describes the process of containerization as a case in point in enhancing globalization. “In 1967, no commercial container service linked Japan and America. A year later, seven companies had entered the business. By 2005, more than 3,500 ships plied the seas, loaded with 15 million containers.”
Deregulation—The shift to deregulation actually started ten years before Ronald Reagan took office. But a lot of it occurred under his watch. Technological change and smaller scale economies, created the need to reduce barriers to entry and dismantle the regulated industries. The airlines were deregulated in 1978, transportation (rail and trucking) in 1980; banking and finance in 1980 (mutual funds emerged in that year); and telecommunications in 1982. After the deregulation of trucking, 300 large companies closed their doors. But 10,000 new smaller independent companies opened theirs.
Reich writes about election finance, compensation of CEOs, growth of lobbyists and other factors that fuel the new supercapitalism. He also makes it clear the days of statesmanlike corporations are over. If there is to be a balance of power within the polity then polyarchy (democratic governance) needs to step up. In Reich’s words, the purpose of capitalism is to get great deals for consumers and investors. The purpose of democracy is to accomplish ends we cannot achieve as individuals.” And “it is Illogical to criticize companies for playing by the rules of the game; if we want them to play differently, we have to change the rules.” The book has many interesting facts and charts that further the reader’s understanding of supercapitalism. I recommend the book highly.
Basically, the whole book is about how this country is supposed to run on the dual ideals of capitalism and democracy, but lately, the forces of capitalism have been crushing the democracy part. Reich says it's our own damn fault: our greed for $$$$$$$$$$ and Return On Investment have driven the vast majority of our actions as consumers and investors, causing the very social ills we complain about (job insecurity, massive wage inequality, depraved garbage on TV, etc.)
He makes the point that it's illogical to scapegoat Wal-Mart and friends no matter how big they are, since they're basically playing by the rules and doing exactly what we demand of them. In fact, when a company shows the slightest sign of generosity (i.e. when Costco's CEO lets its employees pay only 8% of their healthcare costs instead of the usual 25%) it instantly gets slammed; any CEO that isn't doing everything to "maximize shareholder value" usually gets the boot. Investors don't care about much else besides the bottom line (and even when they do, their purchasing patterns don't reflect it), which is why they're willing to pay whatever it takes to get the most profit-generating CEO (and then later, of course, everyone gripes about massively overinflated CEO salaries).
Basically, we're all hypocrites and morons, but Reich reminds us that it's not entirely our fault, because the system makes it a lot easier to express your voice via capitalism than via democracy. For example, you can choose where to shop, what companies to invest in, and what CEOs you want in charge, but if you try to speak your mind about something like how the media is debasing society, well, there's no real specific constructive outlet for it, and chances are you won't be heard above the din.
I guess this stuff should be obvious, but I never really thought about it before, and anyway it's rad how he analyzes everything so deeply, fairly, and realistically -- lessons yet to be learned by sycophants like Michael Moore.
As a sidenote, I also picked up on a few interesting nuggets of truth, like:
- Costco's customers have more than 2X the income of Wal-Mart customers. I also heard that Costco's CEO only makes a six-figure income (unheard of for CEOs) and the company pays people about $17/hour vs. Wal-Mart's $10. Sounds like a really thoughtful company.
- Reich thinks it's silly that the 80s was known as the decade of greed, as if that mentality wasn't there before. Plus, a lot of the seeds and statistics of this gaping inequality started in the 70s. Ack, I forgot which ones.
Anyway, definitely recommended.
Reich argues that capitalism has evolved to an overarching business model that is forcing corporate managers to focus solely on the returns, to investors and indirectly to consumers in the form of lower product/service costs. Reich defines the corporation as "nothing more than bundles of contractual agreements" (p. 216). The implication of the hypothesized evolution is that corporate managers, as fiduciaries for their investors, have no obligation to promote social good and no right to use the corporation as a reified person in demanding rights our using the reified status as a protection against personal responsibility.
Reich covers the history of corporate evolution through the 20th century to focus on the change in the economic climate, from oligopolistic national industries to increasingly competitive chaotic global market participants. The result is that all individuals, consumers, investors, politicians, activists, must now recognize the corporation's new role and the fact that this role has resulted in system-mandated corporate political activism that is harming the democratic input of citizens. Corporations are rightfully responding to the consumer and their investors, by necessity, and are corrupting the political process to achieve or maintain competitive advantage in the global market.
Reich finishes the book with a number of recommendations, the first being that citizens accept the fact that corporations are not real actors in the democratic game, they don't pay taxes (the consumer does through higher prices), they don't donate to charity (the investor does through lower dividends), they don't provide health care to employees (the government, the citizen, does through forsaken taxes). Reich recommendations flow logically from his view of the new corporation; eliminate corporate taxes (or restructure earnings as investor partner dividends), remove the corporate tax exemption on health care and provide universal care, eliminate the tax deductibility of non-product related business expenses like political contribution, charity contribution. Reich also makes a case for treating all corporations located within the nation equally, whether US or foreign owned.
Unfortunately this book is a good bit less convincing than his radio interview. The second through fifth chapters are devoted to a litany of scolds about multinational corporations, globalization, outsourcing, Fair Trade laws and other sins of 'supercapitalism.' On nearly every page within these four chapters he mentions Wal-Mart at least once. He rightly blames market forces for the intense competitiveness which drives such corporations to look no further ahead than their next quarterly statement. He correctly places the blame on public ownership for changing corporate focus from customer satisfaction to stock price. There is nothing noteworthy here, and it is 2/3rds of the book.
The first chapter is an excellent summation of the thirty year period 1945-1975, when most of us grew up, when government stimulus and regulatory bite combined to create a hugely-successful economic engine. During this period (our formative) a vibrant Middle Class emerged; educated, financially rewarded, productive, acquisitive and procreative. The new markets thus opened up drove industry to create more and better products, which in turn created more wealth shared among the workers. It was a positive feedback loop that floated all boats.
Chapters 2-5 detail, as mentioned, the change in focus from productivity to profitability but without really explaining how this change came about. It isn't until the sixth and final chapter that Reich begins to lay out his vision of what happened.
The mid-'70s saw the first cracks in the American juggernaut, with the Arab Oil Embargo, the rise of Japanese electronics imports, increasing auto imports, the fall of the U.S. dollar and the strain of the Vietnam War. In response, industry began lobbying Congress for increased freedom from regulation, from union contracts, from environmental responsibilities and from restrictions on overseas outsourcing. By the time Ronald Reagan washed into office the stage was set for major re-ordering of priorities, with the stick-and-carrot of previous regulation-and-stimulus being replaced by carrots alone. Big business took off running, and an unholy alliance of politics and big business suddenly got cozier -- to the point where consumers, citizens & taxpayers are no longer Congress's main constituents.
Reich's solutions to these systemic problems depend, as he admits, on a culture change inside the Washington beltway, and this is unlikely to occur without some sort of intervention to break the dependency on lobbyist dollars. His recommendations on pages 210-211 are:
* publicly finance election campaigns for all major offices
* require broadcasters who use the public airwaves to contribute free campaign advertising to candidates in a general election
* prohibit lobbyists from soliciting and bundling big-check donations from their business clients
* ban gifts to lawmakers from corporations or executives
* prohibit privately financed junkets for legislators and aides
* ban parties staged to "honor" politicians with corporate contributions
* prohibit former legislators and public officials from lobbying for at least five years after they leave office
* require lobbyists to disclose all lobbying expenditures
* mandate that all expert witnesses in legislative and regulatory hearings disclose financial relationships with economically interested parties
I might add term limits would also be helpful. Decoupling legislative elections from lobbyist contributions would help Congress begin to serve the electorate again, and weed out career politicians whose only loyalty is to their own benefit.
To return to Reich's radio recommendations, they have to do with eliminating the fiction that corporations are individuals, with rights and responsibilities. He recommends essentially making all corporations S-type corporations, where all profits and losses are funneled straight through to the shareholders and taxed on the shareholders themselves, rather than waiting for capital gains taxes. This eliminates the tax advantage to corporations to make capital investments (i.e. buy competitors) rather than pay dividends to shareholders. He also recommends that corporate malfeasance, and any fines levied, be charged to corporate officers directly rather than coming out of business profits. Corporations must not be used as proxy people, especially when publicly-held corporations are using shareholder money to enrich the officers of the company without returning an appropriate portion back to the real owners.
In all, I still respect Robert Reich as one of the smartest men in politics, and if he were to run for office I'd vote for him in a heartbeat. Unfortunately (for us) he's probably way too smart to do that.
I enjoyed this book because it made important links between Boards of Management, Big Business, employers, employees and consumers. The name of the game is to make profit and this can be done by driving down the consumer items (but retain profit on the volume of sales) and the end result being lower wages for the employee. It is a worrying trend to see the compliance between these groups for the sake of profit at all costs even if it reduces the individual to work part time at five or six jobs to make ends meet.
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