Jokers to the Left of Me, Clowns to the Right: Bernie and Business Rhetoric

BigBusiness

There is one thing in particular that concerns me about the Bern Revolution: the carelessness of thought exhibited by many of its followers.  More exactly, the disregard for understanding the many facets of business that are currently being demonized, particularly with the rhetoric used by Bernie’s campaign.

All of a sudden, folks that have claimed to think with nuance (college students and self proclaimed enlightened folk) have lost all nuances and are drowning in Bernie’s talking points.  They are rehearsing the talking points of intelligent people, but the intelligent people that articulated these ideas never did so at the expense of nuance.  The masses have embraced catch phrases.

Just look at the news or language of protesters…even Facebook posts.  It is mimesis ad nauseum.

Some of the more popular phrases are:

“we are the 1%”

“profits over people”

“wall street and big business”

“Fighting for the middle class”

“common good”

“working wage”

I could go on.

Do the people using these phrases know what they mean or are these just talking points?  Easily rehearsed bible verses if you will?

In case you want to immediately object, or quit reading at this point, I must be like the Apostle Paul and remind you that I have a few liberal credentials, progressive credentials even.  This post is not written by some conservative lackey looking to uphold the status quo though I want to be honest about my own career which is in business and in vocational Christian ministry.  I hope such does not disqualify me from speaking.

By all accounts I am a moderate…in other words a “sell out” to many of you who might read this post.  I will not die on Adam Smith’s sword nor will I hoist Marx into the pantheon of economic Gods.  They are referent points, which at first blush, may seem to be in stark contrast, but in reality are only different teleologically.

In 2012 I attended LEFT Forum, the single largest gathering of Leftists on the planet for their annual conference in NYC.  I was surrounded by real life Leninists, Trotskyists and those who think Rosa Luxemburg is a saint.  These are folks who think Obama is a conservative.  What’s more?  I sat on a panel, presented a paper on a critique of capitalism, and that said paper was published in the Review and Expositor journal, Spring 2013 issue.  My paper’s title, “A Wesleyan Critique of the Leviathan of Capitalism.”  Yes, I used a historically evangelical figure to write a critique of capitalism, private property, liberal republicanism and I was even able to work in the doctrine of sanctification to boot.  What’s more?  For that same issue I wrote a book review on David Harvey’s excellent analysis of capital called The Enigma of Capital, which is a Marxist critique of the function of capital.  I am familiar with, have read, and sympathize with much of these critiques.  I find David Harvey refreshing and honest…though I am not sure he is any closer to the answers of our systemic problem than the next brilliant analyst.

On this very blog I have written on economics.  They aren’t exactly Ayn Rand’s type, though they don’t half-wittedly embrace Marx as the economic savior many claim him to be.  Just check me out HERE if you’d like to see some of my past analysis or search this blog under economics.  Or if you doubt my leftist theoretical credentials, THIS should clear that up (Lacan surfaces elsewhere on my blog as well)

My personal book shelves have more leftist economics and theory than I have books on Saint Paul and his letters, and I’m a minister!   On those shelves one will find Alain Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis, William Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, David Graeber’s monumental book Debt, and for some twisted levity Slavoj Zizek’s Living in the End Times to name a few.

To be even more stereo-typical, I have 2 degrees from liberal arts universities (a BA and an MDiv and I’m working on a DMin) so of course I am a Lib.  I have even voted democratic in elections past.

(My own continued research interests intersect around economics, faith and constructive political theology…flavored with Continental Philosophy, particularly phenomenology.  Currently, I am exploring ethongraphy as a tool that can help engage disbelief structures/secularity with the faith.  Not exactly fundie brain food.)

While these credentials do not mean I am a card-carrying Leftist, they do mean I have given thought to a range of ideas outside of the normative ones with which I was raised (conservative, republican, evangelical, religiously fundamentalist, pro-capitalism…the typical WASP).  Being exposed to lots of thought and passionate people on different perspectives has taught me that nuance is important and that a simple reduction of one movement or idea to a villianized phrase is not very helpful.  Likewise, Sean Hannity can get on the radio and use the word “intellectual dishonesty” or “socialist” or “besmirched” and he thinks he’s defining something.  All he’s doing is galvanizing a base.  He is not educating or informing anyone.  He’s just drawing a line in the sand.

For the record, I think Hannity is an idiot.

Back to Bern.

Bern’s supporters are passionate, mobilized, and they want to see change in America.  I have intelligent friends who are supporters of Bernie.  Some of his support is from rigorously thoughtful people that know history and contemporary politics quiet well.   The problem is that the rigor of thought and careful attention does not “trickle down” from the intelligent people to the masses.  The masses key in on these catch phrases the way Sean Hannity does and they end up saying things they do not even understand…just like Sean Hannity (sorry if that stings).

For example, I have seen interview after interview where random reporters ask supporters of Bernie to define democratic socialism.  They have been asked to define the difference between fascism, socialism and communism.  They have been asked to define capitalism.  They have been asked to denote the differences between theoretical taxation under a socialist or capitalist system.

Do you know how many folks have been able to answer with a modicum of intelligence?   Shockingly few.  With stuttering…many have no idea.

(To be fair, I think many conservative people would be equally ignorant of their most “valued” principles if they had to write a few paragraphs as well)

Many of my friends have answers to these questions.  Further, many people I know can articulate actual policy and contrast it with the current policy of Obama or past Republican governments.  Many Bern supporters are thoughtful BUT many many more are clueless as to what they are supporting.  They are supporting sound bites just like dense Republicans who have fallen for Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” sound bite.

The problem with sound bite politics is that it generalizes too much.  It tends to lump entire groups of people into the same category, when in fact, it has reduced all plurality of nuance to a oneness of the same.  Not only does it generalize too broadly but it categorizes just as broadly.

For example, when Bernie uses the phrase “Big Business” or “profits over people” he is thinking about BIG Business, like huge hedge funds and banks that literally run the globe via interest rates and pushing policy agendas (and we all know how important these big banks must be if even Washington DC had to go all in and bail them out during the Great Recession).  Bernie is talking about establishments that pay their CEO 200 times what the average hourly worker makes.  He is talking about multimillion dollar corporations who’s havoc spans the spectrum of ecological and financial excess.

Bernie is not talking about a family that might own 4 hardware stores.  But the masses do not know the difference.  Do the masses not hear the words “big business” and lump all business into this category, castigating business owners as if they are the vampires of the economy?  I am sure some don’t but far too many do.

This current climate has given way to a demonization of business and capital endeavors.  (for my Leftist friends, lets not forget even Lenin harnassed capitalism to pull Russia out of depression via the New Economic Policy in the 20’s…and he took flak from his own party for doing so).

While we should all be angry at the large banks that placed the entire economy at risk a few years ago, and the politicians that continue to empower them, and the FED who’s fiscal policies are in the business of creating bubble after bubble and fair trade deals that have made the West drunk on cheap Chinese imports…the American public has directed their hatred and political angst on the one thing they all deal with daily: a business.

Ironically, business is both the problem, and the solution, since all the funding for any utopia would start with business or the “rich” people who own the businesses.

Bernie is not an idiot.  He knows the economy needs business.  If anything, it needs business to pay for his programs and utopia.  He would not be so stupid as to confuse big business with ALL business, but many of his followers don’t know the difference.

The average person sees a Wal-Mart, a CitiBank, an ACE Hardware, a McDonalds, a Starbucks, a local tire company, or a mom and pop outdoor outfitter that sells experiences on the Ocoee River as one and the same.  These are businesses floating in cash, with lots of top heavy administration who are pillaging the labor of others to get rich.  These businesses can, should and need to do more for the average citizen (if you need a list of what businesses already pay for and their tax rates hit me up and I’ll gladly bore you) and if they don’t do it out of their own volition then the government will pass laws to confiscate it (see, that’s my anarcho-libertarianism coming through).

At least these are the assumptions that negate the particularities of the climates and markets in which a business operates.

Allow  me to offer this illustration as a means of delineating small and large businesses and why placing every business under a generic business category is misleading.

Wal-mart has huge buying power because of their size.  They can singlehandedly negotiate a price with Coca-Cola for its products.  If Coke wants exposure to Wal-Mart customers, then Wal-Mart can pretty much set that table.  So go into Walmart and you can buy a 2 liter Pepsi for $1.25.  Not bad.  However, go into a pizza joint and try to purchase a 2 Liter.  You’ll find the cost could be as high as a dollar or $1.50 more.  Why?

Well, of course, the pizza joint guy wants to rip you off!

Wrong.

Coke doesn’t sell its products at the same price to the smaller buyer as the larger buyer because the smaller buyer doesn’t have as much leverage to drive down the cost of the good.  Leverage meaning customer exposure and sales.  So the small retailer pays MORE than Wal-Mart even though Wal-Mart can actually afford to pay more for the product!  Thus the small guy has to sell it for more to make money and STAY in business.  Even more, its highly likely Wal-Mart can sell for less and make more profit than the guy that sells it for more at a smaller business.

Some people think that you pay more at a pizza place for a soda because of the “convenience” factor, but that’s wrong too.  Why would a pizza place not want to sell you three 2 liters products for $1.25 if it could make a profit?  It  would be dumb to jack a price up just to jack a price up and it wouldn’t be an optimal way to make use of customer traffic if a business could make more money selling 3 cokes rather than 1.

Does the average voter even understand or pause to think about these pricing idiosyncrasies or is everything reduced to “business is bad and wants to rip me off?”

Does the average voter understand that when Bernie says “profits over people” he isn’t discussing the owner of this singular pizza shop…or the family that operates 1 restaurant…but instead he refers to the large corporations that stand behind these franchises or even the large banks that make this small business family dream possible?  Perhaps we should get a list of the good and bad businesses so we can at least arbitrate those morally suspicious too large businesses from the small ones and the small ones from the medium size ones…that way the citizens of America know who to hate and who to encourage.

We need a list of the corporate and independent businesses, the small, medium and large that exist within these facets and we need to pass a law that requires all businesses to post, like a health department score, their type of business so that consumers can know who they are giving their money too and who to hate on Facebook.

We all like David, but Goliath be damned.

Or how about the types and sizes of business?  Are these considered when lighting the passions of the masses with the catch phrases “profits over people” and “big business?”

When Bernie says “business” which one is he talking about and is he being clear to his audience?

Perhaps you didn’t know but there are differences between BIG business, franchised businesses and small independent businesses (not to mention monopolies, trusts or corporations in general).

Franchised businesses can be BIG business but they need not be.

An owner of 1 McDonalds can be an owner of only 1 or an owner of 20.  And there is a difference.  Similarly, a McDonalds may not have an independent owner, it may be owned by the corporation.  Likewise, an owner of a Smoothie King can be an owner of 1 or 20, but you better believe the operating income of a single Smooth King is not in the same ballpark as the operating income of a single McDonalds.  Yet when the government or folks who “feel the Bern” want to enact legislation that businesses pay for…or the National Board of Labor Relations makes rules on salary pay…they do not consider the differences of these vastly different business models , revenue differentiations, their particular markets, or capital flow.

Laws are passed with sweeping generalities.

Votes are won with sweeping generalites.

In addition, franchised businesses, so long as they operate within their franchise agreements, are typically free to set their own operating particulars.  They can set benefit and pay structure, holiday and sick leave ( I know my progressive friends would like this mandated but to do so would require government support either via staffing or subsidization since not all businesses have excess labor from which to draw while folks take months off of work), as well as the way they organize their administrative tasks.

Thus, one franchise can offer lots of cool perks and another, even the same franchise just a different owner, can offer much less.  A franchise is part of a large business, but it isn’t; it’s typically run by a group of people or person who pays a fee to the Brand in order to operate under the Brands business model.   It has a connection to a large business but may not see any financial contributions, by way of profits, from the Brand itself.

Large Businesses, however, often dictate their markets.  They call the shots.  They ARE awash in cash and because of all the cash they can drive the business agenda and MAKE markets move.  (note to readers, all BIG or large business was once a small independent business).  These businesses usually employ hundreds to thousands of employees.  They have lots of capital to spread around if they have made good business decisions (good is a relative definition here since some might call this good a “bad” if it has been exploitative).  These are the big banks and international corporations that you hear about in the media.  The Occupy Movement was about protesting this category of business.  The “average Joe” cannot join this business as an owner.  There is no way to buy into them except via the stock market or if you’re a famous person for whom Starbucks will make an exception.  These businesses offer lots of perks to employees and have such a large work force they can afford the PTO and benefits lots of people earn from them.

Then, there are small independent businesses.  These are “start up” businesses without attachment to a corporate structure.  These businesses begin with an idea and attempt to bring it to the market.  It can be something small like Apple that began in a garage and becomes something much larger or it can be a beauty boutique opened by someone who wants to be their own boss, market the uniqueness of their salon and is willing to take the investment risk that operating a business would incur.

Some small business cost more than others.

In my hometown, I have witnessed multiple restaurants open up with original menus and marketing plans.  These businesses had to find inventory suppliers, determine wages, determine proper inventory usage, configure their books to meet state and federal regulations, develop a marketing plan, etc., all on their own.  There was no corporate entity to help them.  And they had to invest in equipment in order to bring their product to a customer’s table.  Obviously, this costs more than a beauty boutique, but they are both small independent business.

These three types of business are all different.  Each one requires unique particularities to sustain their business model.  Each one has different cash flow, capital costs, employee costs.

The take away is this: NOT ALL business is big business.  NOT ALL business has the same cash.  NOT ALL business owners are millionaires.  Many business owners make enough to pay their bills and provide a better life for their family than they would otherwise…yet they are still well below Obama’s tax increase on couples making $250,000 or more.  Yes, its a real life version of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Business as a category of understanding is much more diverse than this political season has insinuated.  So when Bernie invokes “business” and crowds chant mantras of hate against “business” are all of these even being considered?

Businesses know their market and operating strategies better than government and better than any politician or keyboard warrior.  When foreign elements attempt to lump all business together or create a large paradigm by which every TYPE of business must operate it  creates fissures in the system that may have unintended consequences.

Unfortunately, these consequences cannot be seen until they start to take effect.

When all business is reduced to the same by politicians without any qualification it galvanizes a misplaced hatred toward business in general and creates unrealistic expectations on just how much and in what way businesses can pay for utopian dreams and visions.

Unless, of course, the dream is to have a full confiscation of business at the government level…this may not be too far from the truth.  Not being a conspiracy theorist here…just saying.

This would also be another fantastic way to have a large ruling elitist political class while shrinking the middle class.

These are just a few examples of the things that typify the wide-spread misunderstanding among the masses. These nuances and contextualities extend much further than the price of a Coke or whether a business is independent or corporate, small, medium or large.

They extend to inventory, labor and government regulation.  It extends to intricacies within small, medium and large businesses.  All businesses are different because they inhabit different markets, operate with different philosophies and are at different levels of success or failure.

When politicians fail to teach their adherents the nuances across business climate (or at least tacitly acknowledge these nuances in speeches) they are creating false generalities in order to prop up a false perception that can include every business everywhere.   Further, when politicians tap into the willful ignorance of the masses their crime of misrepresenting business in general, and their exploitation of ignorant voters, is no less egregious than the business that exploits its workers for profit. 

Both are committing sin and both will profit from it…but only one can get voted into office.

This is the production of class warfare at the expense of the truth and its only solution is to change our culture from one of distraction to one of interaction.

So please, do the world a favor.  Turn off FOX NEWS, quit reading Politico as your only news source, don’t drink Chomsky’s kool-aid unless you know why its flavored and don’t believe capitalist fairy tales of infinite production.   And please, when you talk about business or anything else…know what you are talking about.

An uneducated opinion is like an ass…and we all know what comes from those.

 

 

 

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