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July 1, 2014

Per Harpers, Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) was founded in 1945 and was designed “to improve industrial and labor conditions. . . through the provision of instruction, the conduct of research, and the dissemination of information.” Its first dean, Irving Ives, dreamed of a school that “could be both pro-labor and pro-management,” a tall order indeed. Cornell’s ILR was never a hotbed of labor radicalism, but its curriculum was rooted in collective bargaining and union history, and ever since its business school opened its doors, Wall Street and big business have sought to tilt the school’s pedagogical balance back in their favor.
Frances Perkins, who as I recall was the first woman ever to serve in a presidential cabinet, served as Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a tough and trying job during the Great Depression with much of our workforce standing on street corners and/or in soup lines due to Wall Street’s unregulated excesses during the so-called Roaring Twenties following the election of three consecutive Republican presidents. Professor Perkins joined the ILR faculty at Cornell in 1952, and immediately noted that the role of labor relations in the curriculum was being whittled down – a process that was, as she put it, “wrecking the school.” That was some sixty years ago; if she were around today she would witness Wall Street’s takeover of America’s business schools carte blanche – even to a point where our business schools are selling “naming rights” to buildings, classrooms and even professorships to corporate America. The takeover is nearly complete as this cog (like advertising space) is taken over in the larger and expanding general takeover of America by the corporate culture.
I can recall, for instance, that I was required to take two semesters of Labor Economics as a degree requirement in the late 1940s, years before Secretary Perkins made her bleak academic assessment at Cornell. I wonder if such a course is even offered now, much less required for an economics degree, or whether it has been erased from the curriculum in favor of a study of the virtues of the Rockefellers, Astors and Vanderbilts during the Gilded Age with a more up to date elective credit given to studies of the victories of capitalism personified in the life stories of Jack Welch and Jamie Dimon.
Whether Secretary Perkins’s conclusion that Cornell’s ILR has been wrecked is open for debate; what isn’t open for debate is that Cornell is wearing corporate influence on its sleeve these days; it is selling naming rights to ILR classrooms. Shades of Enron Field! Let’s hope that none of the names sold (Dimon Hall, as a possible for instance) belongs to those who might go to jail, where Bush’s old Enron buddie “Ken” was scheduled to go before he killed himself.
I mention Dimon over some of the other CEOs of Wall Street banks because his bank, RJ Morgan Chase, recently admitted to bribing Chinese officials to secure lucrative banking contracts there in clear contravention of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, violation of which is a federal felony punishable with jail time. Since RJ Morgan Chase is the biggest of the big banks on Wall Street and (we are told) is too big to fail (and since there are too many layers of plausible deniability between the bankers who pulled off the bribes in China and Dimon’s corner office on Wall Street), expect a fine in settlement – if it hasn’t been settled already – with no jail time for anybody.
Some of us (and I am one of them) are furious that our regulators and prosecutors (the SEC and Office of the Comptroller and our AG) are so timid in selectively enforcing the law as it applies to the big Wall Street banks. The Justice Department (headed by the AG) is not timid when it comes to indicting and incarcerating those who rob the banks, a clear felony; why is he so timid when it comes to indicting and incarcerating those who have admitted guilt under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, also a clear felony?
There is more to selective enforcement of the law than merely immunizing the superrich from going to the jailhouse. A broader objection to such prosecutorial policy goes like this: One of the reasons why people respect the law is that they are told it will be evenly applied (in constitutional lore – Equal Protection of the Laws) across the board, that it makes no difference who you are or what you do, that everyone must follow the law or face the consequences, whether you go through a red light or bribe a foreign official in order to get a leg up on the competition.
Accompanying such a view (whether it is grounded in fact or fable) is a logical corollary – that one loses respect for the law and may feel entitled to break the law if he/she sees that the law is being selectively applied (whether by reason of too big to fail or the defendant is the nephew of the prosecutor or whatever). Is that the sort of resentful and disrespectful and law-breaking society we want to foster? I hope not, but selective prosecution has consequences.
One more even broader point in legal philosophy to make here before I launch into Part III and the grotesque naming of a space in the Cornell’s ILA business school as “Pepsico Lecture Hall,” is this: Just what aspect of democracy are we reinforcing when we blatantly refuse to prosecute the rich while simultaneously putting away the poor in our “tough on crime” effort of pretense and bluster to elect or reelect politicians who aren’t going to do anything about reforming the current system of favoritism because the putative jailbirds fill their campaign coffers with stacks of money, especially now that the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates for corporate cash distribution with its recent inane holdings that money is speech and corporations are people. Huh? See any problems?
Wall Street chicanery and capitalism as currently practiced are already involved in the daily destruction of our dwindling democracy; we need not assist them in the process. More naming rights atrocities and identification of corporate felons are en route in Part III. Stay tuned. GERALD E


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