Lobbying America

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Lobbying America –
The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA
By Benjamin C. Waterhouse
Princeton University Press – £27.95

Whilst living in America, I remember reading an article in Time Magazine wherein former President, Richard Nixon, spoke out about how necessary it was to have consciously reached the nadir in one’s life, in order to appreciate having scaled the heights. To a certain degree, he was obviously talking about his time in office; but it should go without saying that his impeachment from said highest office in the USA – if not the world – triggered an introspective re-assessment of his personal, as well as that of his political life.

That his marraige to Pat Nixon remained rock solid throughout the so-called ‘dark years,’ undoubtadly remains a beacon of inspiration with regards the actual institution of marriage. But so far as America’s political and business standing in the world was concerned, his tenure as President ended in well documented, dire disaster.

Without explicitely re-tracing and trudging up the disaster from an erstwhile economic perspective at least, Lobbying America -The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA, endeavours to touch upon the issue form the very word go. At the very outset of the first chapter ‘From Consensus to a Crisis of Confidence’ for instance, Benjamin C. Waterhouse writes: ”Businesspeople should have been happy. The American economy soared during the 1960s, and in 1969 a Republican named Richard Nixon assumed the presidency, promising peace, prosperity, and a retreat from his predecessors’ ”big governemnt” policies. Yet despite that apparently sunny forecast, a collective sense of woe descended across the American business community as the 1970s dawned. Subdued in nervous whispers at first, the ominous refrain grew louder, echoing through boardrooms and conference centers, across golf courses and country clubs. By the middle of the decade, the once-low grumbling reached a fevered pitch, and despondent business leaders let loose a cacophonous scream:

”The American economic system is under broad attack,” cried a jurist/”The American capitalist system is confronting its darkest hour,” bemoaned an executive/”The existence of free institutions which together make up the very fabric of the free society is in jeopardy,” proclaimed a think-tank director/”Yet those institutions are under attack, and the captains of industry stand helplessly by,” complained a senator.”

Within the eight chapters and 264 pages of this comprehensive and more than compellingly well written book, Waterhouse has delved into a relatively uncomfortable period of American business and economics – and not a moment to soon. Especially given the (fundamentally American made) economic disasters of last few years.

So as a late night read, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but given the subject matter, it’s as intrinsically current as it is volatile in persuasion.

Edward Balleisen of Duke University nigh substantiates as much when, on the back cover, he’s quoted as saying: ”Lobbying America explores the fractious history of business influence over American politics and brilliantly charts the business establishment’s post-1970 counteroffensive against what its leaders saw as oppresive taxation, regulatory overreach, and an arrogant union movement. Attuned to the political successes and failures of organized business, Waterhouse has produced a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the United States’ late twentieth-century embrace of free market ideology.”

At the beginning of each and every chapter, the author utilises something a thought provoking quote. Unsurprisingly – given the prime subject matter – there’s a reference to John Maynard Keynes at the beginning of the seventh, who, in his 1936 publication The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, proclaimed: ”Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

Food for thought? Food for doubt?

With such chapter titles as: ‘Every Man His Own Lobbyist,’ A New Life for Old Lobbies’ and ‘The Producer verses the Consumer,’ along with their respective sub-titles as: ‘A Response to Postindustrialization: The Revitalization Campaign,’ ‘The Chamber Gets The Memo’ and ‘A New Front: The Battle For Public Opinion,’ there is indeed oodles of room for many a vexed preponderance.

For other than telling the story of the political mobilization of American buiness in the 1970s and 1980s, Lobbying America quintessentially traverses the yays and the nays of what makes America economically tick.

David Marx

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