We all learned as small children that democracy is the hallmark of the American political system. The word “democracy” has its origins in the Greek language: demos meaning people, and kratos meaning power. If you look up the meaning of the word democracy in a dictionary, you will find definitions indicating that democracy is a system of government in which power is shared among all people equally. And most Americans grow up regarding themselves as fortunate to partake in such a system of government, and feeling we are some how special among all the nations of the earth because of that democratic government.
I am of the belief that we have been witness over the past few decades to a shift in our government away from democracy and towards corporatocracy. This brief article will describe what I mean with the term “corporatocracy”, how that change in government has come about and what that shift might mean for our country.
Many Americans have noticed this change in our system of government even if they can't quite recognize exactly what has happened. American notice that our government seems dysfunctional, and almost everyone complains that our law-makers do not seem to be listening or paying attention to the voters. Well, let me assure you that our legislators are listening very carefully to their constituents and are doing their utmost to cater to the smallest whim of their constituents. But you and I the voters are not the important constituents to whom those legislators are listening, corporations are. And yes, legislators are listening very closely to those important corporate constituents.
If democracy is government in which the people hold the power, corporatocracy is government in which corporations hold the power. Corporatocracy is government by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations. The corporatocracy is made up of large and hugely wealthy corporate interests, including those in the banking, insurance, energy, media and communications, and manufacturing sectors of the economy, wealthy individuals in the stratospheric reaches of the income scale, and the bought-and-paid-for politicians who carry the water for these corporate and wealthy interests.
Indeed, the NY Times ran a recent front-page headline: “Obama Seeks To Win Back Wall St. Cash” to describe a meeting Pres. Obama held at the White House with Wall St. banking and investment executives. Apparently, the topic under discussion was not the 2 years of 9% unemployment, or regulation to discourage investment firms from promoting investment instruments designed to lose money, or even feeding and clothing homeless veterans. Instead, the president wanted to know what kinds of things Wall St. execs want in exchange for their generous donations to Pres. Obama re-election campaign. Today, the corporatocracy is so well-entrenched, we get to read about it on the front-page of the NY Times when the president sells himself to the highest bidders.
How has the corporatocracy gained such influence? To win elections requires money, and the more money you have, the greater the likelihood of your electoral success. Politicians get that money by asking supporters for donations to help them win office. Corporations want their businesses to grow and prosper, and seek laws and governmental policies that promote business profitability. The corporatocracy is simply politicians and businesses joining together for mutual benefit: the politicians get the large amounts of money and the electoral office they want, and the businesses get the laws, policies, and the profits they want. Everybody wins, except the 300 million or so of us formerly proud participants of a democracy that no longer exists who are not members of the corporatocracy.
The 2010 Supreme Court “Citizens United” ruling banned limitations on the amount of money corporations can give to political campaigns. The Supreme Court ruled that to limit the amounts corporations can spend on political ads was a restriction of the rights of corporations. The Supreme Court did not define what the rights of corporations are (except to indicate that freedom of speech was one of them), and what kind of entity a corporation is to benefit from constitutionally-derived personal civil liberties. This is our and democracy's loss. The “Citizen's United” ruling is a dangerous precedent giving corporations a status similar to citizens; albeit citizens of extreme wealth and with different priorities. Living, breathing citizens tend to vote for better healthcare, safer workplaces, job security, access to educational opportunities, clean water and air, home goods that are safe and free of toxins, and better living standards. Corporate citizens want one thing and one thing only; greater profits. Greater profits require weaker labor laws, cheaper labor, reduced legal and regulatory restrictions, and minimal oversight, and that is how corporations vote.
Beyond simply giving money to law-makers, the corporatocracy has other methods to wield influence in government. Someone needs to explain issues and upcoming votes to the politicians that make the laws. The corporatocracy has an extensive fleet of lobbyists in Washington, ready to parse and define complex issues and feed pre-digested information to the harried law-makers. And to tell those law-makers what is the best way to vote. The corporatocracy is ever-ready to explain to law-makers how laws should be written and enforced, and how “Americans” want the legislator to vote. As one clever commentator put it, we could streamline our system of government and get rid of the middlemen, and simply allow the corporations to write laws and vote on legislation.
The giving of money to politicians is not a new idea, but it has become the central focus of political life. Dwight D Eisnehower himself warned Americans about the dangers of corporatocracy when he derided the power of the “military-industrial complex” back in the 1950s. Since then, both the left and the right have made use of corporate donations. The GOP was quicker than the Democratic Party to specifically target corporate sponsorship, and took an early lead in turning corporate dollars into electoral victories duing the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Since the 1980s, democrats have caught up with the GOP in seeking and accepting corporate donations. The corporations themselves care primarily about getting the laws they favor rather than political ideals, and will frequent donate to candidates on both the left and the right in the same race.
If you understand what the corporatocracy is and how it works, many seemingly strange political activities of the recent past become clear:
**Have you wondered why the effort to capture a bunch of terrorists in the steppes of Asia turned into a full-on invasion of an oil-producing nation in the middle east? That's because the petroleum industry make up a large share of the corporatocracy.
**Have you wondered why the US did nothing about the uprisings in oil-free Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Syria, but felt the need to intercede in the uprising in oil-producing Libya? Again, the petroleum industry is a major player in the corporatocracy
**Have you wondered why states like Wisconsin have passed legislation weakening unions and worker rights? And did you notice that no one in Washington has stood up for worker rights? The corporatocracy wants cheap labor and to get rid worker unions for all time.
**Did you notice that the recent debate about healthcare reform turned into a bill guaranteeing more business for insurance companies, despite the public popularity of the “public option” of government-operated healthcare? The insurance industry is also a big player in the corporatocracy.
**Have you noticed that only one person from the banking or investment industry, lone-wolf frauster Bernie Madoff, has been prosecuted in the wake of the great banking and securities collapse of 2008, and that in fact bonuses for top execs in that industry are as great as ever, proving once again that collapsing banks is nice work if you can get it? That's because banking and the financial investment sectors are also part of the corporatocracy.
**Have you noticed that budget plans calling for greater reductions in corporate tax rates are a consistent feature in Washington? That's what the corporatocracy wants.
**Have you wondered why no one in Washington has brought forth a plan to put Americans back to work, beyond offering up greater tax cuts for corporations? Even when many corporations pay nothing at all in taxes in the US? Again, that's what the corporatocracy wants.
**Have you wondered why so many seemingly sober and serious law-makers refute and deny the findings of the world-wide community of environmental and climate scientists regarding the facts of global climate change and how human activity is accelerating that change? That's because companies that make huge profits from selling fossil fuels make up a large share of the corporatocracy, and want to continuing make those huge profits from selling fossil fuels, even if that means destroying the human habitat of the only planet on which profit-making takes place in the known universe .
**Have you wondered why nothing has been done about the problem of illegal immigration into the US? That's because the corporatocracy would prefer to hire illegal and cheap laborers who will not complain to authorities about receiving below-minimum wages or working in unsafe conditions.
**Have you wondered why a major television news organization seems committed to promoting fictions and fantasies over facts and reality? Because that “news” organization is the propaganda wing of the corporatocracy, dedicated to explaining to viewers why wealth and corporate profits are more important than the constitutional mandates of life and liberty.
**Have you ever wondered why no law-makers are interested in reducing gun and ammo sales, even as police and law-enforcement officials tell us we should reduce gun and ammo sales and Americans are slaughtered 10 and 20 at a time in broad daylight on American streets? Go ahead: guess what other industry is a card-carrying member of the corporatocracy.
And have you wondered why Pres. Obama turns out to be a lot less progressive than he sounded when he was campaigning for president? The fact is, Pres. Obama is a bought-and-paid for member of the corporatocracy. As is everyone in Washington, inlcuding the most stalwart of liberals. Chris Dodd was a famous “Friend of Angelo” (Angelo Mozilo, CEO of CountryWide Financial), and received many bribes (sorry, I mean “contributions”) from the banking and mortgage industries, and was given loans under very generous conditions. In return, Dodd sponsored tax-payer bail-outs for CountryWide Financial and the mortgage industry during the 2008 mortgage banking crisis. Pres. Bill Clinton signed into law the Gramm-Leach-Biley Act, repealing the Glass-Steagall Act that had blocked the unholy marriage of lending and investment banking since its inception in the aftermath of the Great Depression of the 1930's. Indeed, the number of law-makers who have refused to accept money from corporate donors and are willing to stand up to the corporations for the sake of the public welfare can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The fact is, both left and fight are now part of the corporatocracy. The Democratic Party has been largely co-opted within the corporatocracy, and is not therefore a friend or ally of progressive causes. The Tea Party famously shouted “We want our Government back!” They focused their anger and upset on the black man in the White House, rather than the loss of our democracy to a corporatocracy. I too want my government back: our democratic system of government. As Abraham Lincoln once asked us, we must resolve that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.
Next up: how to remove the corporatocracy and restore democracy.