The Actual Use of Corporate Capital

Any guesses what this graphic depicts?:

That is the percentage of free cash flow the firms included in the S&P 500 Index spent across the 2010s buying back their own shares, according to Bloomberg Business Week.

This is not an error or an optical illusion.

To say it again: From 2010 through 2019, U.S.-based big businesses, as a group, spent more than half their net profits buying back claims to their own future profits — i.e. helping their future shareholders extract even more wealth from forthcoming corporate endeavors. More than half.

Compare this fact to your Adam Smith model, pro-capitalist friends.

Coronal Thoughts

Those interested in reality and decent survival might ponder how our present pandemic underscores a few key points.

Three initial thoughts strike TCT as interesting:

First, the essential unity of human affairs. The arrival of the corona virus throws a rather bright light on the long-running fallacy of purely “private” enterprise, does it not? As has always been true, but is usually not so obvious as it is at this moment, doing business is always and everywhere a deeply social activity that relies on a host of quite distinct collective arrangements.

Second, risk. One of the cardinal excuses capitalists make for their incomes’ departure from any conceivably reasonable theory of compensation-for-services-rendered is the claim that their willingness to expose their investments to decline and destruction is itself such a service, and therefore justifies the existing flow of wealth. Tell us, then, O Barons of Business: Are you now willing to watch your enterprises go under — to forgo any and all public assistance? If your acceptance of risk really is the basis for your reward, why would you not simply take what fate is now dealing you? Pray, tell us your answer, which will certainly be very interesting…

The third question that seems especially apt right now is that of the exploitation of unpaid personal labor, which remains something, of course, mostly done by women. Given the ongoing fracture of purportedly “natural” routines and perceptions, the connections between what we do for employers and what we do to deliver ourselves to our employers ought to be right up in just about everybody’s grill, in these viral days. Perhaps it has been unwise and unhealthy to allow our overclass to treat our self-care activities as mere appendages to its own singular priority?

Marching Orders

TCT got started by pointing out the relationship between marketing and mainstream politics in the United States. Since power concedes nothing without an adequate demand, this has hardly changed in the past 12 years.

As a service to your own sanity in this latest season of “politics,” TCT encourages all its friends to acquaint themselves with the Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future.

This front group is the obvious-but-unreported locus from which the petty-elite that still runs the Democratic Party takes its main position in the upcoming 2020 marketing contest.

The nature of the thing is not difficult to discern, for those few of us lucky enough to know how to locate the relevant facts within our corporate media ecology’s maelstrom of distractions and diversions.

With Joe Biden, the DP elite is showing itself to be entirely willing to lose the next election by running the most hagged-out candidate in its long history of running hagged-out candidates, rather than sever such ties.

This, in the year 2020, against the supposedly hated Trump.

Shameless

Ah, Procter & Gamble corporation, you know no limits. Truly and completely shameless.

Some actual human beings worked on this campaign to literally turn forests into corporate dividends by researching — can you imagine doing this?!?! — and promoting this uber-self-parody for an entire late-imperial overclass. These people will do absolutely anything for another dollar.

Public Enterprise: Topic Not Completely Verboten

It’s hard to know what to make of such an event, which speaks volumes in several directions, not least being the patent idiocy of Donald John Trump and his many almost-all-white friends.

Nonetheless, Trump’s AG (itself a comical phrase), William Barr, is now talking about the United States purchasing controlling interests in Ericsson and Nokia.

Yahoo reports:

“American ownership of a controlling stake, either directly or through a consortium of private American and allied companies,” [Barr] said.

“Putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a far more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power.”

“We and our closest allies certainly need to be actively considering this approach.”

You, the loyal TCT reader, may have noticed something here: There is no mention, either in Barr’s statement or in the press coverage, of such ownership ruining the resulting endeavors.

How is it, you might wonder, that the public could possibly own and operate a competitive organization endeavoring to supply useful goods and services?

The answer, of course, is that it is possible for the public to own and operate a competitive organization endeavoring to provide useful goods and services.

The problem is that such possibilities are almost always unmentionable, due to the nature of existing power and privilege.

Every once in a while, though, an inept elitist will tip the overclass hand.

Class Paralysis

It’s behind a paywall, but Catalyst, the Jacobin spinoff, has an interesting piece titled “An Agenda for Class Analysis,” by sociologist Göran Therborn.

It is a reworked paper from a conference paying homage to the late, not-so-great Erik Olin Wright, who spent an entire academic career dithering unhelpfully around the edges of the topic of social class. In his prolix and stumbling efforts, Wright set a certain standard for careerist game-playing, for which he was repeatedly, deftly, and humorously (albeit, in effect on the subject, fruitlessly) taken to task by Russell Jacoby.

In this Olin-Wrightishly underwhelming Catalyst piece — which, by the way, provides nothing like an agenda for doing class analysis in this epochally troubled, massively class-oppressed century — Therborn basically admits that Erik Olin Wright spent all his supposedly analytical energy worrying about stillborn ideas like “class boundaries” and “contradictory class locations.” Therborn also comes very close to saying that Wright himself indulged in the very social-scientific “grantsmanship” and reputational grooming he ought to have rejected.

The main point Therborn misses in his near-take-down of Olin Wright is the plain fact that Olin-Wright always steamrolled over superior/classic views of what class analysis was, is, and could be. But such views were never very compatible with the “mainstream quant-sociology” Olin Wright fancied himself cracking into.

As it stands, it remains utterly remarkable how little creativity and insight has gone into the extension and refinement of class analysis, despite the relentless growth and refinement of the actual phenomenon it could and should be trying to explain. Sure, few topics have been less welcome than this one. But we, its supposed exponents, have hardly done much to damn the torpedoes. We have been downright dunderheaded about our own core topic.

Shame, this.