What’s the American “establishment”?
The word is used all the time now, usually very, very loosely and usually in ways to disparage anybody who stands for something the speaker does not like. The term, of course, applies to people who have heaping helpings of power when it comes to public policy, and, yes, that would include the very rich and large corporations.
They do have influence enhanced with donations, for instance, to the Clinton Foundation or for speeches that pay thousands of dollars a minute. When Donald Trump dished out goodies to liberal politicians who crossed his path, was he doing it as a civic duty?
“Crony capitalism” is not a phrase devoid of meaning, and neither is the word “lobbyist.” You’d have to have your eyes closed to think large industries would not try to maximize profits with a big, fat, everywhere government intruding into virtually every other thing they do. But sometimes the politicians slap corporations around, maybe as a practical matter, maybe to accommodate their ideological druthers or maybe to satisfy their constituents.
The voters do count for something among establishmentarian politicians. The folks out there can be tricked, of course, but sometimes they aren’t and turn sour, which bodes poorly for re-election opportunities. And trying to please constituents is the main reason some politicians heed the National Rifle Association. Despite contrary prattle, its power does not come so much from the offerings of gun manufacturers as from the millions of citizen cheerleaders. These are people who believe in gun rights and themselves pay for the NRA’s political activities.
So instead of just moneyed interests at work, we have activist individuals coalescing for some good they believe in, and you see it, too, in the environmental lobbyists. They have whopping power, enough to help instigate a war on coal or delay a Keystone XL Pipeline. Unions — also a huge part of the establishment — did not much like the delay, but unions get their way on a host of issues. They are right now a big opponent of trade deals, and do you see many presidential candidates excited about trade deals?
The establishment also includes an incredibly powerful component of the federal bureaucracy. It takes legislation passed by Congress and fills in the blanks to the tune of tens of thousands of pages of regulations and then it’s harder to start a business or make money from one or fill out tax forms. There are obviously vital regulations, but a few years ago a couple of economists did a study demonstrating how regulations over a period of more than 50 years have resulted in an economy with a gross domestic product something like $39 trillion less than it could be.
We shouldn’t neglect the academic elite who tend toward a liberal ideology and have more than a little say in Washington, D.C. Richard K. Vedder, an economist at Ohio University, wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal about how some of these folks are guiding us in strange directions. He said economists should know about Keynesianism’s failures, the perils of central planning and the dangers of “growing redistributionist welfare states” but apparently don’t.
They thus have been part of the crowd helping to give us Obamacare. The latest news about that program is that the biggest health insurance company in the country, UnitedHealth Group, is deserting it in most of the 34 states the company is in because of the hundreds of millions of dollars it is losing.
So, anyway, why is it that a presidential candidate such as Sen. Bernie Sanders would describe himself as anti-establishment? Doesn’t he also want more regulation and lots more governmental health care spending and manipulation? He is actually part of the establishment more precisely defined, although, it needs to be said, he would alienate the academic elite if he actually got elected. If he then fulfilled his pledge of free public universities, private colleges would die.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.