Posts Tagged ‘college sports’

Who drives regulation?

May 2, 2011

In a framework where issues must be black and white with no shades of gray, it may make sense from a progressive perspective that any form of regulation on business enacted by government is a “win” on behalf of workers and consumers. However, in the current age when we often hear politicians discuss deregulation, it is important to understand how reality is much more complex than this.

For example, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 made it illegal to form a “combination or conspiracy” to restrain trade in interstate or foreign commerce. However, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the act in such a way as to make it largely harmless with decisions like U.S. v. E.C. Knight Co. in 1895, which held that a monopoly in sugar refining was a monopoly in manufacturing, not commerce, and, thus, could not be regulated through the Sherman Act. During the “progressive era,” meanwhile, Teddy Roosevelt gained a reputation as the “trust-buster” and signed into law such legislation as the Meat Inspection Act, the Hepburn Act to regulate railroads and pipelines, and the Pure Food and Drug Act.1

So, were such cases of regulation “wins” for workers and consumers? Well, certainly many citizens benefited to some extent from these changes. Were these new regulations “losses” for corporations? Well, certainly some corporate elites opposed such regulation. However, in some ways, the reforms of this era were an attempt at achieving stability after the financial panic of 1907, while perhaps being sped up by the growing strength of the Socialist party, the IWW, and other trade unions. As opposed to fighting against regulation, it was a “qualitative shift in outlook” toward “enticements and compromises” among many corporate elites2 that facilitated Roosevelt’s partnership with business leaders to guide relatively modest reform. As Roosevelt explained about his reform strategy to his concerned brother-in-law on Wall Street, “I intend to be most conservative, but in the interests of the corporations themselves and above all in the interests of the country” (p. 351).1 In other words, many reforms of this era can be viewed as proactive measures crafted by corporate and political elites working together in an attempt to achieve stability and ward off the potential for more radical reforms that might be forced upon them if workers organizations continued to gain momentum.

The self-regulation of markets by corporate elites is noted by David Harvey, who explains that “unbridled competition among the capitalists has the potential to destroy the work force, the very source of surplus value itself. From time to time, the capitalists must in their own interest constitute themselves as a class and put limits upon the extent of their own competition” (p. 30).3 He notes that Marx interpreted the early English factory acts as an attempt “made by a state that is ruled by capitalists and landlord” to “curb the passion for a limitless draining of labour power” which had “torn up by the roots the living force of the nation.”4 Harvey suggests, “there is, then, a distinction – often rather hazy – between regulation of this sort and regulation obtained through victories of the working class and its allies in the struggle to obtain a reasonable working day” (p. 30).3 Such complexities are important to consider as we think about regulation in the 21st century and ask questions such as: when republicans and democrats “battle” over reform, does one party represent the interests of corporations and the other the interests of workers, or do the two parties represent slightly different strategies for continuing the conditions for maximum corporate accumulation?

Sports Connection: The NCAA is, perhaps, a useful case study in self-regulation. The NCAA formed, in effect, when Teddy Roosevelt threatened to intervene in college sports if changes were not made (he had summoned college athletics leaders to two White House conferences to encourage reform). In order to ward off external regulations that might be placed upon college athletics from the outside, 62 colleges and universities formed the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (precursor to the NCAA) in 1906.


1. Zinn, H. (2003). A people’s history of the United States: 1942-present. New York: HarperCollins.
2. Wiebe, R. H. (1966). The search for order, 1877-1920. New York: Hill & Wang.
3. Harvey, D. (2006). The limits to capital (new and fully updated edition). New York: Verso.
4. Marx, K. (1887). Capital: vol. 1.

Official recognition of corporate political control?

January 26, 2010

On Thurs., Jan. 21, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling did away with corporate campaign finance limits. Since then, a number of commentators have discussed the concerns such a decision raises. Matthew Yglesias, for example, points out that Bank of America dedicated $2.3 billion to marketing in 2008 and, thus, would have the budget to mount a $100 million series of scathing attacks on a Senator who pisses them off. Once one senator goes down for having crossed BofA, how might this impact other elected officials? Left I on the News points out that in some jurisdictions, judges are elected officials; imagine trying to sue a corporation in a courtroom presided over by a judge who just had his/her campaign financed by that corporation. Newsweek, meanwhile, brings up the question of how this might allow multinational (foreign?) companies to influence elections in the U.S.

Ultimately, an important question is how this will impact politics and government in the U.S. My initial reaction is it probably won’t signal that big of a change. In other words, anyone who thought corporations didn’t have a tremendous amount of influence in politics prior to this ruling would be very mistaken. Will it increase corporate influence and make policies even more favorable to corporations? I would imagine so, but to what extent? In some ways, might it make things more honest (i. e., shifting spending from “front groups” to the corporations themselves)?

SPORT REFERENCE: The NCAA states its core purpose as being “to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” Seemingly, however, another major purpose of the NCAA is to help bring tremendous amounts of money into college sports (e. g., the current 11-year, $6 billion deal between the NCAA and CBS to televise the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament). Despite this, the NCAA’s purpose says nothing about working to maximize revenue. Many would argue that the introduction of such massive amounts of money helps create a situation in which the educational experience of the student-athlete is not paramount, creating a conflict between the NCAA’s stated purpose and its actual role. If the NCAA were to explicitly state that revenue generation is one of its core purposes, this likely wouldn’t do much to address the potential problems caused by commercialization in college sports. It might, however, make the NCAA more honest. Similarly, might the official recognition of corporate political influence at least make things more honest?