Thomas Frank writes in the latest Baffler:
There was a time when Atlas would frown and the world of nations would tremble. He was as mighty as Zeus and as petulant as a teenager. His wrath was irresistible, and he was easily provoked. Badmouth him and he might just drop his burden and walk away. Elect someone he didn’t approve of and he’d put a lightning bolt up your ass.
Chile learned the hard way about minding the feelings of the business-class god. In 1970 that country selected as president one Salvador Allende, a socialist of the old school who quickly set about nationalizing banks, telecom concerns, and so on. American companies naturally feared these developments and laid plans to push the country down a different path. They would withdraw investments, executives mused; they would halt purchases of Chilean goods; and they would persuade others to do the same. President Richard Nixon, who was clearly thinking along the same lines, told his CIA director to “make the economy scream.”
And scream it did. Still, these were the early days of collective capitalist action, and there was a certain brutality and clumsiness to the proceedings. Not every American firm doing business in Chile went along with the program—the high-minded banks, for example, squealed about their policy of “non-involvement in the political affairs of the countries where they do business.” And in the end, Atlas’s goals for the Southern Cone were achieved only by means of an ugly military coup.
In later years, Atlas would grow more subtle in expressing himself, more refined. When François Mitterrand was elected president of France in 1981—another socialist pursuing an array of nationalizations and expanded rights for labor—there was no need for a junta of generals to intervene. Mitterrand pumped the depressed French economy full of Keynesian stimulus, but his nationalizations were too much to take: the private sector simply refused to play along. The New York Times spoke of an “investment strike,” rich Frenchmen moved abroad, and Mitterrand himself moaned about a guerre sociale conducted by the bosses. This socialist was no Salvador Allende: he came into office at the head of a good-sized majority, he presided over one of the largest economies in the world, and he was fully committed to the American-led security program of the era. But none of that mattered to peevish Atlas.
It took only two years for Mitterrand to capitulate. In 1983 he embarked on his famous economic U-turn, one of the most depressing episodes in the entire gloomy history of the neoliberal conquest. Economic orthodoxy returned to France in triumph. Entrepreneurs were celebrated. Labor unions went into a decline from which they have never recovered.
A similar episode took place in those days in Jamaica, where the socialist prime minister, Michael Manley, pleaded with the business community to invest, but without result: their mistrust was simply too great. Another unfolded in Canada, where large national corporations, according to one witness, threatened to pick up their marbles and go home unless Pierre Trudeau’s government abandoned plans to close certain tax loopholes.
And finally America itself got a taste of Atlas’s power. The immortal remark Bill Clinton addressed to his economic advisers shortly after being elected president in 1992—“You mean to tell me that the success of the program and my reelection hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?”—will stand forever as testimony to the power of the visible hand. Seven years later, the administration had been converted to the cause so utterly that it now rationalized the things Atlas did to states that dared to regulate: “In a global economy where capital can be invested anywhere,” quoth vice president Al Gore in 1999, “red tape is like an economic noose that says: if you send your investments here, we’re going to strangle them with bureaucracy, inefficiency, and forms, fees, and requirements you can barely even understand.” Even for Americans, certain conventional acts of public administration were now beyond the horizon of the permissible. By 1999, not even a red-baiter like Richard Nixon would have been able to escape the wrath of the business god, thanks to his worshipful hours at the altar of Keynesianism. Just let the infidel try his wage and price controls in the decade of “globalization,” and it’d be his economy that would scream.
Read more here.