New Economy, New Media -- Same Old Power Relations

BISMARCK, ND - MAY 26:  Republican presidential candidateDonald Trump speaks to the media before a rally  on May 26, 2016 in
BISMARCK, ND - MAY 26: Republican presidential candidateDonald Trump speaks to the media before a rally on May 26, 2016 in Bismarck, North Dakota. According to a delegate count released Thursday, Trump has reached the number of delegates needed to win the GOP presidential nomination. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On the business pages in recent weeks we've learned about Amazon's "union avoidance techniques" that violate the spirit of the nation's labor laws (if not the letter); Valeant pharmaceutical corporation buying up the patents on two widely-used heart medicines only to jack up the price 720 percent; and Volkswagen and other automakers violating emissions standards to sell millions of cars that pumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the law allowed.

These examples of moral decrepitude coming from some of the most hyped and admired corporations don't even include the depredations of Wall Street banks, or the practices of for-profit "universities" like Corinthian that ripped-off veterans.

ExxonMobil spent millions of dollars promoting propaganda that knowingly lied about the effects of climate change. The Wall Street banks pay out large fines but never admit criminal wrongdoing while using fraud as a business model. Pharmaceutical giants spend more on marketing than they do on research and development and Valeant and other "Pharma Bros" use their monopolistic power as a license to steal.

Amazon and Wal-Mart deploy underhanded and dishonest techniques to bamboozle their workers into rejecting labor unions. And "sharing economy" companies like Uber and TaskRabbit engineer a workforce of "independent contractors" with no health care, paid leave, retirement, or job security and call it "innovation." (It's not that "innovative." In 1911,the 146 women and girls who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire were also considered "independent contractors.")

The deeper pattern here points to the unchecked and malevolent corporate forces that have used their political power to get away with destroying labor unions, chopping up the social safety net, bilking consumers on health care, education, housing, and other essentials, and destroying the environment.

Such are the "job creators" in 21st Century America.

The evidence of hopelessness and discontent is all around us. A recent study shows that workers across the country have become so beaten down and insecure they're hanging on to jobs that aren't even good for them or the economy at large.

Between 1980 and 2013, economists from the Federal Reserve Board found a 10 to 15 percent drop in the "fluidity" or "dynamism" of the U.S. labor market that cuts across age groups, educational level, and industry.

The study discovered that "a slide in job turnover and relocation rates is undermining the economy's dynamism, damping productivity and wages while making it more difficult for sidelined workers to find their way back into the labor force."

In other words, the harsh neo-liberal order levied on workers has led to millions of people frozen in a permanent state of immobility and clinging to low-paying jobs for dear life, which is a drag on the economy.

We've seen this before during the Gilded Age and the lead up to the Great Depression: Capital becomes so successful at keeping labor cheap and using its political muscle to put downward pressure on wages, which in the 21st Century means outsourcing (or the threat of outsourcing), introducing new technology, shredding the social safety net, and union busting, that eventually the whole exploitative process leads to a crisis in consumer demand and economic stagnation (or worse).

But interpreting and analyzing the interlocking manifestations of runaway corporate power in America today is like looking in a fun house mirror. Everything is distorted and refracted through a corporate media environment with neither the will nor the ability to accurately inform people about what's really going on in their own communities or in the nation at large.

In the nauseatingly long and ongoing presidential campaign of 2015-16, the corporate media have been obsessed with the horse race, the latest polls, and all things Trump, while giving scant attention to the Bernie Sanders campaign and the vital issues at stake.

Like the Olympics, every four years the media conglomerates make enormous amounts of money on ad buys from Super PACs and the political campaigns.

It pays to have their political commentators project the false binary that all Republicans are "conservatives" and all Democrats are "liberals" even though we've seen policies for decades now coming from establishment Republicans that are not "conservative" (such as starting wars while cutting taxes and ballooning the national debt), and from establishment Democrats that are not "liberal" (such as trade deals that outsource jobs and deregulating Wall Street).

Across the board, from Fox News to MSNBC, CNN to the networks, the corporate media encourage this kind of false binary thinking by framing everything as a food fight between "conservative Republicans" and "liberal Democrats." They impose false definitions of "left" and "right," false equivalencies between the actions of politicians representing the two parties, and false balance in the form of "he said/she said" reportage.

Lost in the din are the real problems that millions of Americans endure each day. Is it any mystery why so many people are flocking to "anti-establishment" candidates?

When you combine this rancid corporate media environment with the exploding number of destitute working-class people and a corrupt and dishonest business class you've got fertile soil for the rise of a national (and international) embarrassment like Donald Trump.

But the real embarrassment is that Trump perfectly represents America's political and business elites. It was their arrogance and bluster in the first place that led them to believe they could for decades get away with beating down workers to the bare bones without ever producing a scary countervailing backlash.