Friday, November 2, 2012

The Powell Memo

Below is full text of the memorandum written in 1971 by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, when he was a Richmond, Virginia corporate attorney who primarily represented tobacco companies, for a friend in the upper echelons of the US Chamber of Commerce. It is often cited as the blueprint for Neoliberalism, the class war by the ruling class on the working class (which includes the so-called "Middle Class") formally launched by Ronald Reagan that has led to the stagnation of wages, inflation adjusted, since 1980 and the massive redistribution of wealth upward that has resulted in 1920s levels of inequality.

Powell would be nominated to the Supreme court by Richard Nixon later in 1971. In 1973 the memo was leaked to venerable muckraking columnist Jack Anderson, who thought it called into question Powell's ability to issue fair judgements. History would show that during his time on the high court Powell tended to side with big business on decisions that had economic consequences, but would be a reliable Liberal vote on social issues

Although some of the things most often associated with Neoliberalism, like huge tax cuts for the rich, and trickle down economics, are not explicitly laid out here, much of what became part of Neoliberalism is, such as the attack on academia, the formation of think tanks, where the political justifications for Neoliberlism have been formulated, and the idea that big business and groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, an organization made up of CEOs of the biggest corporations, should aggressively involve themselves in the political arena.

It's also not hard to imagine that as conservatives began to pursue the goals laid out in the memo and began to increase their political power, their ideas about how they could use that power to further their economic interests advanced. The immediate concern of conservatives like Powell was that "the American way," the free enterprise system itself, was in danger, as Powell lays out in the memo.

It is said that Reagan passed out copies of the Powell Memo to all his cabinet members.  It is also said that Ronald Reagan would not be able to win the Republican nomination today because the party has moved radically to the right since his time. Indeed, some of the suggestions here sound tame compared to the way the Republican Party plays politics now. The memo has to thought of in the context of the times, in the early 1970s, when the country had undergone a significant shift to the Left, and as a rallying cry that would set in motion a whole chain of events and convince many people on the right to start thinking in the terms it lays out.

(Note: For younger readers curious about the appearance of the memo, it was written on a mechanical device that was in widespread use at the time called a typewriter.)


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