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We Have Been Bewitched By Business 'Magic' And Now Trump May Break The Spell

31/01/2017 12:15

In Britain and America in the past four decades 'business' and 'businessmen' have had an almost mystical status conferred upon them by modern political discourse and popular culture.

It is little surprise then that a 'businessman' (with only six bankruptcies), has been heralded by his supporters as a saviour, ready to work whatever arcane knowledge he has to remedy America's ills.

Good businessmen (and women, though they have been generally marginalised by the creators of this particular myth), possess no greater depths of specialism than good teachers, police officers, deep sea divers or pork butchers.

They know a certain set of processes, protocols and practices very well and understand the risks, limitations and realities of their world. They can't work spells or miracles or turn base metal into lead, and despite what we have heard, they aren't wealth creators either.

Wealth exists in labour, the physical work of extracting resources, turning them into things or providing other human beings with resources and the key to its accumulation in a capitalist society is to extract surplus wealth from labour or in short, pay people less money than the value of their labour generates and keep the difference.

In 2015 I saw a BBC broadcast from a Trump rally in the mid west of America and one attendee enthused about the Republican presidential hopeful.

She said that as he had used his business skills to enrich himself, the possibilities for what he could do for the rest of America were staggering. She believed that if a businessman applied his special skills to the problem of jobs, wages and productivity in America, then a capitalist utopia beckoned.

Tellingly, the interviewee could not say for sure what she thought Trump might actually do, and seemed to adopt an outlook rather similar to an Edwardian maid in Upstairs Downstairs - that is was not the place of the little people to ask such searching questions.

The deification of the business guru (note how this Sanskrit term for a reverential spiritual leader - normally an ascetic - has slipped unquestioned into common usage) is nothing new. Ted Heath in 1970 thought that Britain should be run like a modern efficient corporation and Margaret Thatcher made great use of Derek Rayner to help shake up and undermine the power of the civil service.

In America, corporate managerialism, government and the military frequently overlapped throughout the Cold War. Robert Macnamara revealed in the Erol Morris documentary the Fog Of War, that he introduced Fordist practices (from the Ford Motor Company no less) to the management of the Vietnam War.

Trump is a different beast altogether and comes from a different generation to corporate types like Macnamara and Rayner. His revels in what he sees as 'deal making' which requires virtually no mystical insights, just a fortune left by his father and the will to be as belligerent and aggressive as he sees fit.

This type of capitalist is an entirely different proposition from previous iterations who have been coopted into government and has nothing to teach America or anyone else about prudence and efficiency.

Instead he will sell short term solutions to the questions of immigration, jobs, wages and national security that at first glance appear to be the kind of simple, practical 'common sense' that only a no nonsense entrepreneur can deliver.

In the long run however, he will enrich America's billionaire class and deliver unto America and the world a salutary lesson in what pure unfettered capitalism actually achieves.

Trump has benefitted from an almost hegemonic presumption in the western world that a 'businessman' will be the solution to the ills imposed on society by profligate and idle government.

This notion has gone hand in hand with the transfer of public assets and wealth to private hands and the dominance of neoliberal thinking, first pioneered over half a century ago by the Mont Pelerin Society.

A government devoid of policy experts and instead staffed by billionaire oligarchs is the final expression of this fantasy and it might well be where it is finally dispelled. The absolute faith that Trump's supporters have placed in his 'magic' powers is unlikely to be rewarded with the prosperity he has promised.

At that point no matter how hard he blames China, the UN or Islam, the creeping realisation that instead of a suit and tie wearing saviour with a copy of Ayn Rand in one hand and a briefcase in the other, all that America has voted for and put its faith in, is a serial con artist.

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