The U.S. Chamber of Commerce instantiates Marx’s theory of ideology

They’re denying global warming not because inaction serves the interests of their members, but because they hate the thought that the government can do anything useful.

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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

6 thoughts on “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce instantiates Marx’s theory of ideology”

  1. The ADA's selfless advocacy of fluoridation, which pretty much wrecked the economics of dentistry because filling cavities was the bread and butter of a typical practice, is underadmired and underappreciated as an example of professionals acting like professionals rather than entrepreneurs. More remarkable, when it looked as though gingivitis and gum disease might restore the viability of the business, they did it again by telling people to floss.

    Be nice to your dentist; his tribe was nice to you, and their good deeds were not unpunished.

  2. "As an economist, Karl Marx mostly managed to decrease the value of a large number of pieces of paper."

    He did a bit more than that I'm afraid, whether you like to admit or not.

  3. Capitalists in the US, it seems to me, have always clung to marxist interpretations of their role in society. Anything that smacks of cooperation with the working class or even recognition that capitalists, by virtue of being actual human beings living on this planet, have many interests in common with the rest of humanity, is pretty much anathema.

  4. Every word in Mark's post is true, but I believe it is still incomplete. The Chamber of Commerce (and the NRA, for that matter) have evolved from interest groups–replete with ideologies, of course–to auxiliaries of the Republican Party.

    Unfortunately, my hypothesis is difficult to falsify. One would test it by seeing where the interests of the Republican Party diverges from pro-business ideology. Looking at the issues list on their website, that's hard to find. Maybe immigration?

  5. And fluoridation was a Communist Plot, according to the John Birch Society. Brain dead right wing politics: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

  6. Dental journals HAVE professed that fluoridation is their ticket to political viability. But it's been a win win situation for dentists because as fluoridation rates when up so did their income. Evidence now shows that ingesting fluoride does not reduce tooth decay but does discolor teeth – which has actually created a large population of Americans looking for cosmetic dentistry to cover dental fluorosis – white spotted, yellow, brown and/or pitted teeth.

    Dentists, no experts in toxicology, have no idea of all the ill health effects they have caused by instigating water fluoridation for their own political gain. See http://www.FluorideAction.Net/health

    More fluoride = more money for dentists?

    Despite 60+ years of water fluoridation, Americans are spending more than ever on dental care. "between 1998 and 2008 the increase in the cost of dental services exceeded that of medical care and far exceeded the overall rate of inflation," according to Slate Magazine. Americans paid 44.2 percent of dental bills themselves compared to 10.3 percent of physician costs, Slate reports.

    Dentists pat themselves on the back claiming they are the only profession endorsing something that would put them out of business. But apparently the more fluoride people get, the more money dentists make.

    Dentists' Nominal Net Income for 2000 was $533,000 up from $141,000 in 1982, according to the American Dental Association Survey published in the March 2005 Journal of the American Dental Association. During the same time period, the number of Americans living in fluoridated communities went from 116 million to 172 million.

    Dentists make so much money treating wealthier Americans that they neglect people who need them the most. American children have actually died from untreated tooth decay as 80% of dentists refuse Medicaid patients and 130 million Americans lack dental insurance.

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