Observing the tendency of Pragmatist businessmen to seek special favors under statist governments, Ayn Rand once quipped that "It looks like we're going to have to save capitalism from the capitalists." That same short-sighted, suicidal tendency is documented in the article below. Since it is written by a leftist who approves of it, the significance of this trend is almost certainly exaggerated—but it is real.
Note, however, the underlying motive that comes through despite the author's bias. The big businessmen who are lining up to support government regulation are motivated by fear. They are afraid that regulation is going to be imposed on them no matter what they do—so they are trying to negotiate with Democratic politicians for the version of regulation that is most favorable to them. As one observer puts it, "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."
"Revolt of the CEOs," Christopher Hayes, Washington Monthly, June 2007 Years from now, historians will argue over the exact moment at which the Great Conservative Crack-up finally occurred, and they’ll have no shortage of candidates….
But I’d take January 22, 2007. On that date, a who’s who of corporate America—CEOs from such industrial stalwarts as Alcoa, DuPont, Caterpillar, Pacific Gas and Electric, and General Electric—joined environmental leaders at a Washington press conference on global warming. Their surprising message for the president and Congress: please, for the love of God, regulate us.
It’s worth lingering for a moment over just how strange this was. Back in 1997, when the Clinton administration signed the Kyoto Protocol, businesses lobbied the Senate strenuously not to ratify the treaty. And yet here were industry leaders—some with miserable environmental records and decades of experience fighting off the long arm of the law—taking the lead in advocating for a comprehensive, economy-wide regulatory regime to address global warming….
Two and a half weeks later, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott joined Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, to announce his company’s support for some form of universal health care….
In the absence of federal leadership, state governments have rushed in to fill the vacuum, passing rafts of legislation meant to encourage alternative energy use, curb carbon emissions, and provide health insurance for their citizens. The initiatives on both these fronts—from Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s universal health care reform to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s recently unveiled congestion pricing—have triggered fears among corporations that they’ll have to deal with a state-by-state patchwork of fifty different regulatory regimes, giving them a powerful incentive to support a comprehensive nationwide approach.
Whatever public-mindedness there was to [Pacific Gas & Electric CEO Peter] Darbee’s decision to take a lead on carbon regulation, his calculation of the likelihood of future regulation had more than a little to do with his conversion….
“The corporate guys are beginning to think this is going to happen,” said Bill Galston, a senior policy adviser in the Clinton White House and a current fellow at the Brookings Institution, referring to health care and climate change legislation. “They are willing to make their peace with the welfare and regulatory state as long as they can have some say. What they don’t want is for the train to leave the station and they’re not in the first-class car.” The Chamber of Commerce’s Josten summed up his members’ views this way: “You want a seat at the table, because if you’re not at the table you may be on the menu.”