Matt Yglesias wonders why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has become a global-warming-denialist organization when a majority of its member firms would benefit from controlling global warming and not suffer much from the controls and taxes required to exercise that control. DougJ of Balloon Juice offers the standard Mancur Olsen collective-action explanation: that a small number of actors with intense interests can generally overcome a larger number of actors with diffuse interests. Doug applies the same analysis to health care reform, another case where the corporate sector would, on balance, benefit from change.
That mechanism matters, no doubt, but I’d be surprised if it were the central mechanism involved. The Chamber, and most of its members, have a strong ideological commitment to the idea that the private sector is good and the government bad. Global warming and health care reform both involve government action to rein in the private sector. Therefore the Chamber reflexively takes the anti-government position. Moreover, doing otherwise would hand a victory to liberals and Democrats, thus making it harder to resist other reforms that might benefit workers and consumers against managers and shareholders. To some extent the Republicans in Congress act as enforcers of class solidarity, as when Newt Gingrich threatened that any company backing Hillarycare would find its other interests damaged. But that probably couldn’t work without its ideological underpinnings.
As an economist, Karl Marx mostly managed to decrease the value of a large number of pieces of paper. But as a political psychologist, he was a very, very smart character. Ideology, in Marx’s theory, derives eventually from class interest, but it is not merely a cover story: it is effective because it is believed. Therefore ideology can lead people to act against their immediate self-interest.
For example: The American Dental Association supported fluoridation, which cost its members untold billions of dollars by reducing the incidence of dental caries. Why? Because dentists’ claim to wealth and esteem depends on the idea that dental health is important. Having gotten behind that idea, it’s very hard to resist something that transparently improves dental health, even if it costs you money.