Mitt Romney’s Retreat and the Rise of a Post-Corporate World

Mitt Romney’s Retreat and the Rise of a Post-Corporate World

Emanuel Pastreich

February 2, 2015 

Mitt Romney’s Retreat and the Rise of a Post-Corporate World

Journalists across the board have failed to identify the significance of the decision of Mitt Romney not to seek the  Republican nomination for president.

It is no accident that the announcement was made after the brothers David and Charles Koch held their annual winter retreat at Palm Springs on January 25 and announced their intention to spend a staggering $889 million in the 2016 election (probably a fraction of what they will actually spend). These billionaires have been deeply involved in politics for some time, but they are taking the game to a new level by inventing a form of coronation. The Brothers Koch invited three Republican candidates to the retreat to make their arguments for why he should be the candidate: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.

The New York Times announced the decision of the previous Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who was conspicuously uninvited, just three days after the event.  If you look at this New York Times article you will note that the Koch brothers are not even mentioned.

There have been jokes made that there are now three parties: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Billionaire’s Party. But I fear that such comments fail to grasp the full significance of this shift in the political economy.

Interestingly, at almost the same time as the Koch gathering, the US media has closed ranks to present Hillary Clinton as the unassailable candidate for the Democratic Party. An interesting development in that many political analysts see her as a rather weak candidate and there are plenty of voters who would like to see her challenged in the primaries. Elizabeth Warren is generally tossed about as the most likely opponent, but in fact there are certainly other Democrats who think they have a shot if there is a level playing field.

Note that the Time magazine cover “Who Can Stop Hillary” came out exactly on January 27–immediately after the Koch event.

clinton

But the Koch brothers gathering and the promotion for Hillary has effectively eliminated the primary system in American politics. After all, Romney would normally drop out somewhere around the Michigan primaries, and certainly not before the primaries have even started.

Reducing primaries to a ritual is in a sense removing power from the political parties themselves. Political parties are after all made up out of people and have their own bureaucracies and their own inertia. It makes perfect sense that the Koch brothers would want their campaign to remake America start by remodeling the political party to match their own vision for the future.

Particularly valuable reading for understanding this transformation of American politics is the recent book by Darrell West, Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust (Brookings Institution). I had the chance to talk with Darrell at great length when he worked more on science policy about four years back. This book provides some critical insights into how the transfer of wealth that Thomas Piketty has identified in his recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Centuryis transforming the world. West notes that the top one percent in the United States own one third of all assets and that globally the top one third own some 40% of all assets. West identifies a growing “wealthification” of politics and policy in which all decisions are made in within this billionaire’s club. West also provides a useful guide to who the billionaires are and what their political leanings are.

The important lesson we can learn from Romney’s retreat and especially from the analysis by West and Piketty of the rising importance of inherited wealth is that the corporate model of political power, so favored by conspiracy theorists to explain the world, is rapidly changing in its nature. It is no longer corporations, organizations that are bound together by rules and codes of conduct, but rather individual billionaires and billionaire families that are directly pulling the strings in politics.

The final dénouement of this transformation may be ultimately something rather akin to feudalism. Such a system will no doubt feature a new ideology where in it is explained that these billionaires are the wisest and most just of masters for a foolish and ignorant world.

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