5th Installment on SuperCapitalism

Perhaps the last Installment on “Supercapitalism”, by Robert Reich. If I missed some key point of the book, please advise and I’ll post again.

The issue is money and influence. Power to move power. It’s as old as governments are in ancient civilizations and as American as apple pie. The difference in the transforming Information Era economy is how much money there is to influence politics and who has access to vast sums of money.

Sidebar: (I didn’t think that big money could matter that much in the very short election season following Rep. Jo Ann Davis’s untimely death last year. Old party horse that I am, I was shocked still to find out how much money could be spent in the 3 weeks I was a politician running for her seat – and how much huge money meant to key activists.)

Consider the problem of scale – big money. The money won’t go away. Prohibiting the sale of alcohol would be more effective (and we know how that worked) than every foolish attempt to ban money from politics. Money can’t be separated from power anymore than sex can be taken out of prostitution.

Virginia can’t fix the dysfunctional federal electoral legislation, like McCain-Feingold (or the extended Voting Rights Act for that matter). Yet, our Commonwealth can keep and improve the openness and easy access to information for our elections. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Consider the problem of concentration of power – who has the money. It can be very wealthy persons, corporations, unions, or advocacy groups (ostensibly yet laughably ‘non-profit’). If it is impossible to prevent them from using their accumulated wealth, then perhaps the remedy is to redistribute the resources they are willing to spend to buy power. Tax every contribution, fund-raising events themselves, services and the assets of every registered lobbying organization. Tax like a Democrat with a grudge.

If you tax at a high rate you increase the opportunity cost to pay to play for power. The government can use those taxes for more audit capabilities to the point of diminishing returns. Perhaps, the rest of the taxes could be put into a pot for a vox populi – to pay for public access multi-media. The rules for access, obviously, will open and close doors for participation in the political process.

As long as humans remain human, buying influence will be part of politics. The real issue is how legislation and moral suasion shape “who gets what” – which is Lasswell’s classic definition of ‘politics.’

Begin with electing Virginians to Congress who will repeal the worst and most odious election laws. Then, push towards openness, freedom and accountability in the pursuit of paying for power. Consider the taxing and redistribution of the resources spent on influence.

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    further exposing my wretched ignorance….

    does Supercapitalism .. delve into the concept of energy with respect to world commodity markets for extraction of fossil fuels?

    Does money and power in Va play a role in the sale of coal?

    How about words that leave the impression that a new power plant is good for Virginia because it will use “Virginia” coal and then a few weeks later – it is admitted that coal is a world commodity and the price of it has nothing to do with it’s use in a Virginia power plant?

    bigger question:

    Is Supercapitalism.. powered by money and influence that undermines/guts the INTENT of Democracy?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “coal is a world commodity and the price of it has nothing to do with it’s use in a Virginia power plant?”

    Coal is a world commodity.

    That has nothing to do with whether using some Virginia coal in a Virginia plant is good for the Virginia Economy. It might even be good for the Virgina economy to export Virginia coal and import other coal to burn here, and by import that might include coal from the Western U.S.


  3. Anonymous Avatar


    You need to read the book.

    James Addicus:

    The is your first post on this topic that actually addresses the issues raised in Riech’s book.

    I tend to agree with your “solution” but how do you square that with the low tax philosphy of the Elephant Clan?

    The Club of Mass OverConsumption (aka, “Growth”) will be all over you with RINO paint.

  4. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    LG: To your several questions –

    The book doesn’t address energy explicitly as much as it talks about a global economy.

    Since coal is a commodity, it is part of the global economy.

    Supercapitalism creates power and influence, not the other way around. And,yes, Reich says it threatens our democracy. Of course , we aren’t a democracy. We are a Republic. I see it puts pressures on our Republic as power and influence always have, differently, in different periods of our history.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon: Ah, I’m wounded. I thought I addressed the book issues in the previous posts.

    Taxing resources used to influence politicians isn’t the same as taxing income. It has a different effect on the economy. All taxes are not equal.

    I am a Republican Conservative. So, folks may call me whatever names they like. I know the proper labels for my ideas. My ‘solution’ is rife with risk – but it’s so with every exercise in politics.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t have a problem with taxing the reosurces used to influence politicians. I think we should tax all cash flow and not tax capital investments (until they are sold and turn into cash flow).

    I don’t see why this is any different. Besides we have a long history of taxing things we recognize as bad influences, smoking, alcohol, pollution. Put this one in the category of sin taxes and move on.


  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’d start with a 75% tax on all “free speech” over $100.

    and I’d give the money to VPAP.

  8. Groveton Avatar

    I read the book cover to cover, stem to stern.

    Reich raises some good points.

    I’d summarize his overall belief set as:

    America has come to believe that the free market is synonymous with national health. Things which are inhibitors to market freedom are perceived as bad. Therefore, regulation has a bad name as do unions. Reich disagrees. He believes that Americans have have gained as consumers but lost as citizens. One consequence of the hyper-competitiveness caused by extremely free markets is a “winner take all” reality among businesses. Small advantages make or break companies and industries under SuperCapitalism. Therefore, companies use their economic clout to affect legislation in order to gain advantage. He cites the growth in lobbyists and lobbying. He thinks the amount of noise made by business-based special interests drowns out the voices of citizens. Registered lobbyists grow while the number of representatives and senators stays the same. By this calculus, the lobbying noise / politician must increase.

    Based on my understanding of Mr. Reich’s book I’d question the effectiveness of taxing contributions. If political influence is really so important I’d suspect that the demand for it is inelastic. Taxing contributions would raise money but might not substantially decrease demand. However, if the money raised through taxing contributions was spent to increase the openness of government – you might have something. Mr. Reich devotes considerably more effort to blaming business than he devotes to blaming the politicians. However, it seems to me, that it takes two to tango. In the end, the vast majority of politicians want votes (rather than to illegally enrich themselves). Special interest money is a way to get votes. It pays for advertising, yard signs, smear campaigns, telephone call operations disguised as polls, etc. If the voters had a source of information beyond the mass media, money for advertising, etc. might not be as effective in getting votes. Money to open government databases would help fuel this transparency in government.

  9. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Groveton: When it comes to paying off pols there are other places to look.

    On the boards of banks, businesses, non-profits…

    A dayjob that is with a law or consulting firm that is not really a job…

    Future employment to pol or family…

    Contracts/loans to friends and family…

  10. Groveton Avatar


    There are a lot of ways to pay off pols. In my opinion, the federal politicians have tighter and better rules than the Virginia state and Fairfax County politicians. I think the state and local politicians should be paid decently and also be forbidden from collecting any active outside income while in office. The idea of part time citizen – legislators who keep another job while serving in office is quaint but antiquated. First, Virginia needs their undivided attention. Second, whatever other job they hold is bound to being them into conflict or the appearance of conflict. The abusive driver law is a classic example. The hike in fines guaranteed a jump in litigation of traffic offenses. How many lawyers in the GA abstained from voting on that matter because it might increase their private practice law fees? How many of the Fairfax County Supervisors have some ongoing entanglement with the land development industry through their “day jobs”?

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