First, a more methodological point concerning skepticism of contemporary capitalism and the power exercised by its characteristic entities, courtesy of Stratfor's analysis of the Chinese acquisition of a $5 billion stake in Morgan Stanley:
The purchase of $5 billion stake in Morgan Stanley by China's new sovereign fund, the China Investment Corp., was announced Dec. 19. This is the third strategic linkup with an influential U.S. financial major in exchange for an infusion of Chinese cash and mainland business opportunities. The U.S. Congress typically kicks up a fuss each time a Chinese or other foreign company bids for a strategic U.S. asset, but so far not for U.S. banks. Since financial services companies wield significant economic and geopolitical power,(emphasis mine) it probably is only a matter of time before Congress speaks up about such purchases.
The analysis continues by detailing the previous actions of the Chinese Investment Corporation, China's sovereign wealth fund, noting that such funds are availing themselves of the opportunities presented by the subprime mortgage crisis, and the political inability of the U.S. government to bailout each institutions staggering beneath the burden of so much worthless mortgage paper. Furthermore,
...the U.S. banking lobby has a very sophisticated and successful lobbying presence in Washington. It is active in Congress and with regulatory agencies such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., where it works to reduce regulatory burdens for the U.S. finance industry. The lobby's influence is clearly seen in the shaping of the federal government response to rising foreclosures on subprime mortgages.
Ultimately, however, U.S. oil and financial services companies both wield significant economic and geopolitical power.(emphasis mine) So it is only a matter of time, most likely within the next year, before Congress picks up the theme of these huge foreign acquisitions in America's most successful finance players.
There are, of course, entirely legitimate reasons for skepticism concerning these moves on the part of an entity controlled by the Chinese regime. My point is the related one that if indeed there are grounds for concern, rooted in the fact that the Chinese government could be acquiring the means to exercise influence over American corporate institutions, this is worrisome precisely because such institutions already exercise significant political power, and already figure prominently in American geopolitical strategy. As such, there is not merely a threat - albeit one as yet at a great distance, smaller than the compass of a man's hand - to American sovereignty, but a modification of what was already a diminution of actual small-r republican, deliberative self-governance, for what it means to state that such institutions exercise significant political power is simply that they influence policy through the (corrupt) lobbying process, and through administrative and fiduciary (read: Federal Reserve) channels. Which is to say, through means other than the representative ones of a self-governing society. Policies of incalculable import to the ordering of our common good are set less by those who ostensibly represent us acting in our name, than by the interests of concentrated wealth; and wealth, or money, being speech - according to a body of legal precedents - it follows that those possessed of more money speak more liberally, and find their interests more fully secured.
And it's not me saying this; it's an outfit the accuracy of which influential people rely upon for decisionmaking purposes.
The second point concerns the fulminant rhetoric unleashed by the Republican establishment against Huckabee, as well as some of the critiques thereof. Ross Douthat writes in response to George Will's unhinged column on Huckabee, that:
Huckabee explicitly says, while criticizing outsourcing and skyrocketing CEO pay, that "I'm not expecting government to fix it"; rather, he seems to be making the moral point that America's corporate entities should recognize obligations to their employees and communities as well as to their shareholders and bottom lines. This strikes me as a perfectly reasonable way for conservative politicians to address the thorny issue of corporate excess - by scolding, rather than regulating. Will obviously disagrees, which is fair enough. But to suggest that criticizing specific instances of corporate behavior, while disavowing regulation of corporate conduct, is the same as questioning the legitimacy of America's corporations - or the "market system" as a whole - is just ridiculous, and unworthy of a writer of Will's intelligence.
Will's rhetoric is intemperate, and stands as illustrative of that tiresome tendency among some conservatives to perceive in any questioning of the status quo on trade and economics a threat to the entire system, a promise of some sort of statist, dystopian nightmare. Clearly, however, there is something odd about the Huckabee/Douthat position on the proper conservative response to corporations and executives who shirk or evade their obligations to their communities, their countrymen, and the common good. If, after all, any obligations attach to corporate policies, obligations, say, to regard preferentially Americans and American communities, as opposed to the utilitarian measurements of stock valuation and "shareholder value", then, by the nature of the case - involving as it does momentous questions of the common good, of the fundamental ordering of our society, and the nature of our existence as a people, the types of lives we will lead - those obligations are qualitatively different from trivial 'obligations', such as the obligation, say, to bathe regularly so as not to cause offense by one's malodorous effusions. That is, the obligations are such as to implicate questions of ethics and justice, and are therefore, by nature, legitimate objects of the deliberations and policies of a self-governing people. Whereas a failure to bathe is rightly an object of scorn and shaming, and not legal sanction.
The incandescent rhetoric of Will, however, affords the careful observer a window on th soul of the GOP: to suggest that corporations and executives who disregard their obligations ought to be scolded by political figures, but not even regulated, enjoined to fulfill their obligations as their society comprehends them, is to transgress. All the faithful must fall to their knees in unquestioning allegiance - the submission of faith. Onward and upward. The Rising tide. Pangloss with an economic doctrine, positivist of course, and some math. And this faith manifestly preaches the cheap grace, the easy redemption so characteristic of American religion, insofar as, according to its dogmas, one can fail to fulfill ones duties and skate by with a mere scolding; you can do injustice, which is what it is to shirk an obligation, and all we will do is mutter a few words about how sad it all is. It is as if the corporate establishment says, "Here I stand, and by Mammon, I can do no other!", and the only response we consider licit is, "There, there, you really ought not have done it, and we hope you won't do it again, but it's OK, we understand."
If there exists a common good, offenses against it must be subject to discipline, and not mere talking; otherwise, we belie our own affirmations, denying in deed what we nominally affirm in word. But at least this process tells us where our treasure lies.