Survival and the Business Class

Capitalists have always claimed that, because they have an intense interest in providing things for which people will pay money, they must be granted free reign to dominate society’s macro-level decisions. Any serious interference with the private business sector’s ability to make and sell whatever makes it the most profit will, the theory goes, only lead to disaster. Only capitalists, it is said, pay careful-enough attention to what people actually want and need. Hence, we must leave them to it.

bomb on dollar image

One of the classic hypotheses stated by Karl Marx was, of course, a converse notion. Capitalists, Marx observed, can and do care about what people want and need only up to a certain point:

“Après moi, le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.”

This thesis is rather interesting in these days of SARS-CoV2, isn’t it?

In this vein, I was struck this morning to learn — somehow for the first time — that, in 1943 — 1943!!! — the business class forced FDR to fire none other than John Kenneth Galbraith from his post as Deputy Director of the Office of Price Administration.

Galbraith’s offense? Doing his job: administering prices and restricting capitalist production of “consumer” doodads so that fascism — the real kind — could be stopped from conquering the world.

According to the excellent book recounting this stunning bit of forgotten history, while ousting Galbraith, the Republican Party also pushed legislation that “would have barred anyone who didn’t have at least five years of experience in ‘business’ from running OPA.”

So, this idea of “run it like a business” is quite a bit older than Ronald Reagan’s epochal and ongoing triumph.

Interestingly, many years later, here is what Galbraith recalled about his experience trying to use the OPA to save the USA from eventual atomic war with Nazi Germany:

“There were weeks when Hitler scarcely entered our minds compared with the business types in Washington.”

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