By Jesse Crall
This week, Huffington Post reporter Zach Carter announced that he’s the new writer-in-residence for the Omidyar Network, a self-styled “Social Change Venture” headed by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay. Carter’s news drew well-wishes from across the left-liberal world of economic commentary. Nice guy gets a new gig, what else is there to say?
I think something deeper is going on here, though I have to preface my further arguments with the warning that they lie squarely in the realm of speculation. First, consider Carter’s last significant project: A biography on John Maynard Keynes entitled The Price of Peace. Thanks in part to Carter, Keynes’ legacy enjoyed a boost over the last year, particularly from that same left-liberal realm I mention above. But consider the hallmarks of that legacy: Keynes helped shape the Liberal International Order in the closing months of World War II, most notably at the first Bretton Woods conference in 1944. Though his death just two years later meant Keynes witnessed little of his influence come to light, the post-War developed world remained one heavily determined by his vision into the 1970s. Institutions formed off his ideas included the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Champions of this Liberal International Order will cite its supposed victories, such as how Germany hasn’t invaded Poland in a while and the United States and Soviet Union never nuked each other. They tend to ignore those inconveniently ugly proxy wars throughout the world, vulnerable countries caught in global games of hegemonic advancement. One can simply look at how beloved icons of World War II and the years that followed it, Winston Churchill & Dwight Eisenhower, partnered to destroy democracy in Iran to benefit a British oil company’s bottom line. Keynes may not have supported such events had he lived to see them but he helped cultivate the conditions making them inevitable. Napalm in Vietnam, CIA-backed genocide in Indonesia and the assassination of a left leader in the Congo prove how much blood liberals were willing to spill to preserve & expand their power.
Both the World Bank and IMF proved integral to the ascendancy and dominance of Neoliberalism, forcing developing countries into debt traps and restructuring practices that privatized industry and advanced corporate extraction at the expense of sovereignty and labor. Keynes and other liberals fundamentally believed in a world shaped by “experts,” an international overclass stripping agency away from a broad coalition of citizens in favor a limited number of power brokers. While intentions among this overclass differed, their overall power meant the will of the people in any given country remained subservient to the global systems Keynes and other Bretton Woods stalwarts used the chaos of World War II to create. Keynes was a proud elite, claiming in 1925 that “the Class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie,” who worked to build a world unmoored from democracy. Neoliberalism proved the natural outgrowth.
This dynamic parallels the Omidyar Network and Carter’s proposed role within it. In the press release announcing Carter’s hiring, company CEO Mike Kubzanksy touted the need “to shift our economy toward a more equitable and inclusive form of capitalism.” That Kubzanksy previously worked for the mass corporate consulting firm Deloitte should ring some alarm bells. But this notion of “inclusive capitalism” (or “Equitable Capitalism” or “Conscious Capitalism” or whatever other modifier gets thrown in there) reveals the fundamental nature of Omidyar’s project: to keep economic commentary and developments forever in the hands of elite interests.
Omidyar’s hardly unique in this regard. The Conscious Capitalism movement is headed by Alexander McKibben, a Koch-connected alum of the libertarian Students for Liberty, and John Mackey, the far-right Whole Foods CEO who used the COVID pandemic to force employees to trade off sick days. A longtime union buster, Mackey also drew dubious praise for creating an employee-health plan that deliberately featured high deductibles to pressure customers into rationing care. Mackey naturally opposes expanding public health care programs that could undermine his leverage over low-wage workers.
Inclusive Capitalism is the brain-child of Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a former telecommunications executive who married into the Rothschild banking family and currently manages their wealth. Inclusive Capitalism sells a nice story about, yes, inclusivity, and they’ve recently partnered with the Vatican in an attempt to talk a lot about “sustainability” and “taking action” without actually doing anything. A recent report put out by Inclusive Capitalism purported to reimagine “performance objective.” It featured partnerships with major asset managers as well as Nestle (who profits off child slave labor), Aetna (a healthcare giant funding efforts to oppose Medicare for All), and Johnson & Johnson, leading the wonderful world of Big Pharma. The 122-page report mentioned “workers” only once, to argue that employee stress can hurt profits. Lynn is a longtime ally of Hillary Clinton, who also used the “Inclusive Capitalism” label as a counter to Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism during the 2016 primaries after raking in millions from paid speeches to Wall Street firms.
Notions of “Inclusive Capitalism” or “Conscious Capitalism” don’t need their preceding modifiers. They offer no new vision for how an economy should work, only a shift in branding to preserve an existing status quo. Our economic problems don’t result from the Real Smart Experts in charge needing to re-center morality or commission a new study. Inequality and the decimation of American labor resulted from longtime power dynamics benefitting board rooms and aided by both political systems and the global institutions men like Keynes helped form. Zach Carter, whether he knows it or not, is being paid to offer the veneer of change without any substantive shifts in class power. The press release from his hiring touts Omidyar’s “Reimagining Capitalism practice.” But capitalism can’t be “reimagined” (for the better) by tech billionaires and the executives, operatives and professional strivers making up their circle. Capitalism’s results don’t stem from a lack of creativity and invention; they stem from pure power and political dynamics that preserve and expand profit above all else. Changes will come (if they ever do) from a mass movement of people challenging power structures inherent in global markets, not another collection of elites in business, academia & politics getting together to “solve” presumed problems. Not so long as those problems are profitable and based on a class division that keeps certain people stacked on top of others.
That the country of Nazis and the Holocaust hasn’t since engaged in genocidal behavior gives proponents of the Liberal World Order a touchstone for pride. But the now “civilized” Germany’s actions toward Greece during the debt crisis go strangely ignored. Elizabeth Warren called Angela Merkel her most admired world leader. It’s unsurprising that the woman behind “I’m a capitalist to my bones” would revere a foreign Chancellor who preyed upon another nation’s vulnerability. Capitalism does the same. All the branding exercises and promises to “do better” offered by the Omidyars and Rothchilds of the world serve instead to keep things the way they are. And why not? Capitalism works for the people who have money and firepower behind them.
In addition to his business ventures and suspect philanthropic endeavors, Pierre Omidyar funds The Intercept. Once seen as a prominent left-wing challenge to the militarism of the Obama years, The Intercept’s developed a nasty tendency to burn its sources, including Reality Winner and, more recently, drone whistleblower Daniel Hale. Sloppy journalism, bad luck or something more sinister? Omidyar teamed up with USAID and other state-sponsored regime-change systems to help provoke the Maidan Coup in Ukraine. If The Intercept prides itself on holding the Military Industrial Complex accountable, what in the world is its prime benefactor doing working with CIA cutouts to advance western interests in foreign countries? Likewise, why is Omidyar developing economic initiatives using the same astroturf language of “stakeholder capitalism” as financial tycoons like Jamie Dimon & Larry Fink? Because liberalism, both in Keynes’ last years and today, relies on class stratification inherent to capitalism. And one of the key ways to preserve such ugly systems is to lie about them.
A Los Angeles native, Jesse Crall graduated from UCLA’s English Department before working as a copywriter, script reader and project manager for an engineering firm.