Corporatism: Because It’s Impossible to Talk Sensibly about Fascism

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(Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

The CEO of Whole Food, John Mackey, has gotten a lot of the left blogosphere up in arms after stating in an interview earlier this week that “Obamacare is a form of fascism”. Want to unpack that statement and examine it?

First, let’s set some ground rules. Fascism is not identical to Nazism, and it is not necessary to be a proponent of Nazi ideology to be fascist. There were various fascist dictatorships in the 20th century, and not all were Nazi. So let’s get Godwin’s Rule out of the way. However, to give credit where credit is due, I suspect John Mackey was misusing the term ‘fascism’ to mean ‘corporatism’ and not ‘Nazism’.

I happened to be in my car listening to NPR when I heard the interview in question, and because I had enough grounding in the subject to realize the error he was making, I rolled my eyes and shrugged it off, assuming Mackey was going for effect and not particularly wanting to give it to him.

Benito Mussolini supposedly said “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” I say supposedly because despite pages and pages of use of this quote, I was unable to track down the source in the time that I have today.

This quote is popular enough that I would assume that any hardcore libertarian like (what’s his name) would know it, and would feel comfortable freely substituting one term for the other.

So, given that John Mackey meant ‘corporatism’ when he said ‘fascism’, was he wrong? Again, let’s break it down.

The Oxford dictionary defines corporatism as: ‘the control of a state or organization by large interest groups.’ http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/corporatism By that definition, most modern countries are corporatist.

Is the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) corporatist? Throughout the process of passing the bill, those fighting from the left for one payer health care clearly believed so, and argued repeatedly that one of the problems with the law is that it is a ‘giveaway’ to the insurance companies, and other health care companies. Clearly there are some issues with the law as written in that it benefits some industries at the possible expense of those individuals the law is designed to help.

There is a separate, and much longer, conversation to be had regarding the larger issue of corporatism in America, starting with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, meandering through Justice department decisions about who to and not to prosecute in the course of bank bailouts and mortgage crises, and ending standing at the front door of the Capitol building watching the revolving door of people moving back and forth between powerful government jobs and powerful corporate jobs.

So, is Obamacare fascist? No. John Mackey was being inflammatory and inaccurate. Is Obamacare corporatist? Sure. I can accept that argument. While it is better than the system we’ve had in place, the differences between it and ‘Medicare for all’ are stark and convincing in terms of the advantages of the latter.

The making of good government, like the making of good sausage, is a truly nasty business, and it smells bad. If you don’t like looking at the yucky bits, you might want to hang back for the final product. But you miss having the opportunity to put something in the grinder.

  • Dear Whole Foods CEO, This Is What a Fascist Looks Like (alternet.org)
  • Whole Foods CEO John Mackey calls Obamacare ‘Fascism’ and means it. (genomega1.wordpress.com)
  • Corporatism and technocracy (cedarlounge.wordpress.com)
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