The help is desperately needed. But the trade-off it includes is not one we should welcome.
The just-passed stimulus bill is not only a missed opportunity to permanently give American workers the benefits enjoyed by those in other wealthy countries, but yet another successful cash grab by corporate interests and the wealthiest among us. The bill is, as the Revolving Door Project’s Jeff Hauser told me in an interview Thursday, “facilitating a corporate coup.”
If you are in any doubt, contemplate the fact that the Dow Jones industrial average shot up Thursday by more than 6 percent — even as news dropped that more than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.
The legislation puts Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — who, lest you forget, served as the Trump campaign’s finance chair in in 2016 — in charge of monitoring and administering the Fed’s coronavirus corporate rescue fund, which, with leverage, amounts to an estimated $4 trillion to $4.5 trillion.
With that money, Hauser points out, the nation’s largest corporations can scoop up smaller companies and competitors. “The empowerment of Steve Mnuchin to utilize the Fed’s magnified buying powers to pick winners and losers is unprecedented in American history. He will have $4.2 trillion to extend to would-be corporate allies,” he told me.
Little wonder that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), among others, described that money as a “slush fund.”
Unemployment, at a 50-year low mere weeks ago, is today soaring into the stratosphere. People are frightened for both their health and their finances. They need help now, not a protracted Washington fight.
And Democrats say they did the best they could in difficult circumstances — the difficult circumstances being a Senate led by the Republican Party, which believes in extreme financial discipline for the majority of the citizens while giving corporate miscreants chance after chance after chance. (As recently as the day of the vote, a quartet of Republican senators stepped forward to say the bill’s unemployment provisions were too generous, claiming that they incentivized workers to remain off the job. Meanwhile, the bill could give billions to Boeing, whose corner-cutting ways have come under scrutiny after two airplane crashes that killed more than 300 people.
The circumstances left Democrats at something of a disadvantage, because they actually care about helping Americans. And in a series of tweets Wednesday night, Warren laid out the case for voting yes, despite the fact that the bill lacked many of the significant limits on handing out money to corporations that she had argued for days earlier.
“This is not the bill I wanted, but its immediate investments are vital,” she said. “I will make you this promise: I will spend every waking moment watching the Trump administration and do everything I can to hold it accountable.”
Here’s how that will work in practice: Sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’ll get a few congressional hearings where miscreant CEOs do the walk of shame before continuing on with business as usual.
Journalist Naomi Klein coined the term “shock doctrine” more than a decade ago, to describe how wealthy corporate interests use the disorientation and chaos of mass tragedy to increase their share of the economic pie at the expense of everyone else. The stimulus bill gives us yet another example of how this works.
While millions of Americans are panicking and thrilled to take any scrap of help, corporations and the wealthiest Americans are once again feeding at the trough. We needed a shock doctrine for the people — using the crisis to expand, add and make permanent worker protections that other First World nations take for granted (even with the coronavirus raging, we still can’t get guaranteed paid sick leave for all workers).
Instead, we’re experiencing yet another instance of corporate shock doctrine, which comes in the guise of extending a helping hand. Alas, by the time most of us figure out that we’ve been tricked, it will be too late to do much about it at all.