Clean it up or sweep it out.
The word corporatism seems, in a day when massive corporations occupy so large a part in society, like a natural: It’s short, simple and seems to relate to something specific.
It’s not that simple.
It has been used on the right to attack the left (notably during the Obama Administration) as a big-government approach; some on the left have attacked others on the left using the word to reflect a a too-close consortium with big corporations and the finance sector. It has been used on the left to attack the right for its close association with large business interests.
Author Michael Lind pointed out a few years ago that “there are at least four different and incompatible meanings of ‘corporatism’: political representation by vocational groups; centralized collective bargaining among employers and organized labor; modern industrial capitalism;1 and ‘crony capitalism’ or the corruption of public policy by special interests.”
Benito Mussolini preferred the term to fascism, which was the ideological label that stuck to his regime in Italy, and that might make for a fifth definition. Other dictators, including António de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal, also have used it.
Lind argued that “As an epithet, ‘corporatism’ fits into the worldview of Jeffersonian populists, for whom large corporations have always been suspect. And ‘corporatist’ as an insult also makes sense when deployed by libertarians who insist that they are pro-market, not pro-business.”
One libertarian writer suggests the term can be dated much earlier than a century ago as a reaction to capitalism, proposing a return to the governmentally-controlled guild and mercantile system, to “avoid the ills of laissez-faire capitalism, with its accidental (‘atomistic’) agglomerations of unconnected individuals.”
Lind’s complaint that corporatism has no clear discernible meaning seems well taken.
That doesn’t mean it couldn’t, and the word itself – forking off the base of corporate – offers something the work with. Merriam-Webster defines that original word as “formed into an association and endowed by law with the rights and liabilities of an individual,” and that could offer a concept “corporatism” could be drawn from.
Evidently, though, no one is especially eager to identify themselves with it.