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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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.
For this reason, if no other, I think this makes the book a good read.
Reich begins his book by reminding us that capitalism has triumphed over communism/socialism worldwide. Giving capitalism its well-deserved due, he tells us that "Capitalism's role is to enlarge the economic pie." On the other hand, he tells us that "How slices are divided...is up to society to decide. This is the role we assign to democracy."
But an important point that he makes repeatedly in the book is that the relationship between capitalism and democracy has evolved significantly over the past 30-40 years, saying that "Capitalism has become more responsive to what we want as individual purchasers of goods, but democracy has become less responsive to what we want together as citizens." Supercapitalism, he would argue, has been responsible for the soaring stock markets, increased profits of giant corporations, shrinking of labor unions, and increased influence of lobbyists in Washington. In the process, it replaced democratic capitalism, and there simply is no hope at all to return to the democratic capitalism of the `50's and `60's. No, we are left with the situation where "The purpose of companies is to play the economic game as aggressively as possible. The challenge of us as citizens is to stop them from setting the rules."
See what I mean about the book being relevant to the current discussions about health-care reform in the country? What he is saying, I think, is that the doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and others with a stake in the outcome of health reform can be predicted to exhibit ruthless self-interest. That is what they are all about, by definition. But it is still up to us, as citizens, somehow, under our rights in a democracy, to move toward a health care system that is for our common good, whether the various companies and other entities like this or not. But - and here, perhaps, is the crux of the argument -- we are also the collective stockholders and consumers who hold most of the cards. And it is not easy for us to move in directions that may be against OUR self-interests. Whether we want to admit it or not, we "tend" to want to get the best return for our investments, while we "tend" to want to get the best bang for our buck when we shop.
Back to the book, Reich gives us a chapter on the history of government regulation and how it has tried to "ensure that capitalism served the people." And he tells us that up through the 1950's the U.S. was not much of a trading nation. No, it was America's foreign policy, principally the war in Viet Nam, that "created new opportunities for American corporations."
And here we come to the gist of what he has to say in the book: New transportation and communication technologies changed the rules for the big corporations. This was the basis of supercapitalism. No longer could these big corporations be assured to stay in power. They could be overthrown swiftly and completely by a smaller rival, using the latest tools available. And it was easier to enter the marketplace. Suddenly, there were more car companies, television stations, airlines, chain stores, etc. Wal-Mart and the Internet emerged. "All across the American economy, the power of large corporations to set prices had suddenly declined," says Reich. Capitalism was more and more dependent on the demands and whims of investors and consumers, at the expense of individual citizens. The rise of the mutual fund industry empowered individual investors; the spread of malls and big-box stores empowered individual consumers. So, by the late 1970's "a fundamental change has occurred in democratic capitalism in America....Power has shifted to consumers and investors." Competition had reached all time heights. It was fierce.
The good news was that the nation's Gross National Product essentially tripled in the `70's, and the DOW went from 1,000 in 1972 to 11,000 in 1999. Productivity soared and, clearly, Americans were materially better off than before. Cheap imports added to consumer confidence. But there was bad news, as well: Companies closed and factories disappeared. Masses of workers were laid off and/or redeployed. Union membership declined, as did economic security. The spread between average worker wages and the salaries of company CEOs widened spectacularly. The rich got richer, and the super rich did even better. It was all part of the new supercapitalism.
Per Reich, greed is not at fault, nor are the super rich, under supercapitalism. Nor are the companies, themselves. The enemy is, of course, us. As the primary investors and consumers, we hold the cards under supercapitalism, not the companies or the CEOs. They perform as we demand. They succeed or fail, depending on whether we buy their stock and/or buy their products. And, in general, we don't care where things are made or who makes it. We encourage globalization and its goal to reduce costs. We do this, again, by our support, or lack of support, of stocks and products. We act collectively, by default. And, we act without a great deal of individual exposure or identification.
Reich says that the whole world is embracing supercapitalism, in one form or the other. China, he says, "is surging toward supercapitalism with no democracy at all...."
But back to the U.S., he tells us of the growth of lobbyists in Washington over the past 30-40 years. In 1950, he says, there were fewer than 100. By the late `70's, there were more than 5,000, and by the late `90's things really took off. By the end of the decade, "more than 500 American companies maintained offices in Washington D.C., and employed some 61,000 lobbyists...." The reason? "...the demands of corporations seeking to influence the policy process had grown as competition among them has intensified." The corporations would seem to have no choice. Again, because investors and consumers hold most of the cards, any advantage in government policy can be the reason for success or failure. Unfortunately, per Reich, "The result is a broader form of corruption." Companies will do just about anything to gain an advantage. Also unfortunately, per Reich, "Our voices as citizens...are being drowned out."
And, per the author, this "is not the way capitalism and democracy must evolve." The question, however, is who is to balance the new order...and how? What needs to be done, he says, is "to separate capitalism from democracy and guard the border between them." And, in many ways, this is where the author really gets interesting. He does not expect the companies, themselves, to agree to or abide with this solution. No, he says "companies under supercapitalism no longer have the discretion to be virtuous....(and).... Most consumers want good deals, period." And forget about asking corporations to do good things voluntarily. Why should stockholders want a company to donate millions of dollars for some good cause, for example, at the expense of using that money to increase profits?
So, what needs to be done? Says Reich, "The most effective thing reformers can do is to reduce the effects of corporate money on politics and enhance the voices of citizens." This populist view means that somehow, as citizens, we need to stop companies from corrupting democracy in their self-interest. And some things that government can do to accomplish this include:
* Improve our education system
* Provide a more progressive tax system
* Decouple health care from employment
* End big contributions by lobbyists to political candidates or campaigns
* Understand that corporations under supercapitalism are not interested in the public good and should not be
* Abolish corporate income tax and treat income as personal income of shareholders
To end with a word on the health-care reform debate, Reich clearly is in favor of removing the burden of companies to provide health care insurance to employees. As such, he would seem to be favoring a single-payer or public option system, with government setting the rules of the game. How he would propose to pay for such and/or what tax incentives or options he would offer to offset health care insurance premiums, I don't find in the book. What I do find, for the last time, is a sound theory that corporations/companies and lobbyists and politicians who are bound to them should never again be expected to provide, against their self-interests, for the public good.
I enjoyed the book, found it a smooth read, and highly recommend it to others.