If you’re unfamiliar with UK geography, then you might not know the difference between “greater London” – where the Queen resides -- and “The City of London” – where the London Stock Exchange is located. Both cities share a common location, and both are part of the United Kingdom, but the stark differences in the way their municipal governments function, and the affect those differences have on their respective residents, can serve as a harbinger of the fate of American democracy.
Greater London covers 607 square miles and incorporates one semi-autonomous city -- The City of London – plus 32 boroughs. The 2011 census tallied the population at 8 million-plus people.
The City of London stands atop one of England’s most historical locations, the original site of Londonium, a medieval settlement that once served as a commercial center for the Romans (circa AD50). Now known as the “Square Mile,” the walled fortress was abandoned in the fifth century, and after the Boudica uprising, the provincial administration of Britain moved to the small village because of its favorable trade location next to the Thames River. The new settlement evolved into greater London.
Unlike the rest of England, which operates under a constitutional monarchy, The City of London exists as a plutocracy. And unlike other English municipalities, the city functions as a corporation. It maintains a separate governing body designed to carry out the wishes of powerful corporations that form the heart of London’s financial district.
Its status as the first independent local authority came about through the city’s role as the centre[sic] of finance and trade in England, it was seen as so important to the national interest that it was given considerable autonomy by the monarch. (Source – City Mayors)The Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange, and Lloyd’s of London are just a few of the companies that exist within the financial district. Businesses operating within the city limits enjoy special privileges and protections, including access to untouchable, offshore tax havens.
The City of London has been described as “England’s “Wall Street” district.
While structured differently, the English system functions pretty much the same as the U.S. democracy with one exception: English voters must elect a party – including the party’s leader – to lead their government, while Americans have the ability to elect a president that is unobligated to a major party (he or she can run as an Independent). On the other hand, the City of London — which contains the bulk of England’s major corporate and financial entities — functions as a plutocracy. In essence, it is a corporation governed by the City of London Corporation.
The City of London’s 7,500 inhabitants pay local taxes and are allowed to cast votes for a symbolic form of representation, but their representatives – like the Queen -- wield little power. The bulk of voters (32,000) who cast votes in the city’s annual elections are non-resident representatives of businesses, many being Londoners who are allowed to cast votes – some say unfairly -- in two different boroughs.
In reality, the corporation has usurped the ability of local citizens to run their own municipality by allowing non-residents to vote (in overwhelming numbers), thus making the corporation the only entity with power to make decisions. (Similar to what happened to our nation after the Supreme Court approved Citizen’s United.)
In addition, there is a Court of Aldermen. There are 25 Aldermen, one elected from each ward. Over time, the role and significance of the office of Alderman has diminished and today officeholders discharge minor judicial functions within the City as magistrates and are allowed to sit on the committees of the Court of Common Council.Even the Queen has limited influence over the City due to the Corporation’s charter. From Wikipedia:
There are no allowances payable to either Aldermen or members of the Court of Common Council. (City of Mayors)
Tax journalist Nicholas Shaxson said, "Whenever the Queen makes a state entry to the City, she meets a red cord raised by City police at Temple Bar, and then engages in a colourful[sic] ceremony involving the lord mayor, his sword, assorted aldermen and sheriffs, and a character called the Remembrancer[sic]. In this ceremony, the lord mayor recognises[sic] the Queen's authority, but the relationship is complex: as the corporation itself says: "The right of the City to run its own affairs was gradually won as concessions were gained from the Crown.""Lessons for the American Middle Class
Author and journalist Nicholas Shaxson argues that, in return for raising loans and finance for the British government, the City "has extracted privileges and freedoms from rules and laws to which the rest of Britain must submit" that have left the corporation "different from any other local authority". He argues that the assistance provided to the institutions based in its jurisdiction, many of which help their rich clients with offshore tax arrangements, mean that the corporation is "a tax haven in its own right". Writing in The Guardian, George Monbiot argued that the corporation's power "helps to explain why regulation of the banks is scarcely better than it was before the crash, why there are no effective curbs on executive pay and bonuses and why successive governments fail to act against the UK's dependent tax havens" and suggested that its privileges could not withstand proper "public scrutiny".
When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder admitted to Congress that some banks were too big to prosecute, he tacitly acknowledged that the corporate world operates outside the jurisdiction of U.S. laws, and subsequently this elitist group has been granted a de facto, autonomous status that is similar to the privileged standing bestowed upon The City of London Corporation:
Its (The City of London) status as the first independent local authority came about through the city’s role as the centre[sic] of finance and trade in England, it was seen as so important to the national interest that it was given considerable autonomy by the monarch. (Source – City Mayors)The same type of recognition for Wall Street’s “special status” was supported in a speech by the DOJ’s head of Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer:
To be clear, the decision of whether to indict a corporation, defer prosecution, or decline altogether is not one that I, or anyone in the Criminal Division, take lightly. We are frequently on the receiving end of presentations from defense counsel, CEOs, and economists who argue that the collateral consequences of an indictment would be devastating for their client. In my conference room, over the years, I have heard sober predictions that a company or bank might fail if we indict, that innocent employees could lose their jobs, that entire industries may be affected, and even that global markets will feel the effects. Sometimes – though, let me stress, not always – these presentations are compelling.Another term for it is blackmail. For most Americans, the consequences of the illegal actions taken by those “clients” have meaning because they devastated much of the global economy causing millions of people to lose their jobs and homes. But as we have witnessed over the last five years, justice never prevails in a plutocracy.
Yesterday, Travis Getty of the New York Review of Books submitted this:
As the five-year statute of limitations nears for crimes that led to the Great Recession, a federal judge wants to know why no high-level executives have been prosecuted.From the same article:
U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff said he could not be sure whether intentional fraud was committed in any particular case, but he pointed out that government agencies had found significant evidence to suggest wrongdoing in their own investigations.
Rakoff expressed outrage that Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, had shown a reluctance to prosecute top-ranking financial executives out of concern for the economy.Anyone who has witnessed the recent murders of innocent Americans committed by police officials can attest that the law does not equally apply “to rich and to poor”.
“To a federal judge, who takes an oath to apply the law equally to rich and to poor, this excuse — sometimes labeled the ‘too big to jail’ excuse — is disturbing, frankly, in what it says about the department’s apparent disregard for equality under the law,” he writes.
The truth is -- like the residents of the City of London -- the majority of Americans no longer have the ability to determine their own fate. Those types of decisions now belong to the top 1% of the people in our nation, and they have made it clear -- through control of our legal and justice systems -- that they no longer will allow anyone to hold them accountable for their crimes.
In a speech delivered in Bonn, Germany, Noam Chomsky made this remark about American democracy:
In the work that's essentially the gold standard in the field, it's concluded that for roughly 70% of the population - the lower 70% on the wealth/income scale - they have no influence on policy whatsoever. They're effectively disenfranchised. As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy. When you get to the top, which is maybe a tenth of one percent, people essentially get what they want, i.e. they determine the policy. So the proper term for that is not democracy; it's plutocracy.In essence, Chomsky is saying that 29.9% of American voters wield a small amount of influence over the decisions that our government makes, while the bulk of real power rests only with the top one-tenth of one-percent of our nation’s residents.
Does his claim hold up under scrutiny?
I think so. Consider the lack of response from members of our government to the wishes of the American people.
Fracking – “A recent Bloomberg National Poll found that 66 percent of Americans want more government oversight of fracking – a big increase over the last three months.”
The Public Option – “A clear majority of Americans – 72 percent – support a government-sponsored health care plan to compete with private insurers, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds.”
Gun Control – “According to the survey, released today, a majority of Americans support a wide array of policies being discussed in Congress: 89 percent support closing the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms sale; 69 percent support banning the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons; while 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent favor prohibiting “high-risk individuals” from having guns, including those convicted of a serious crime as a juvenile or those convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order.”
The Sequestration – “According to the most recent United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, a commanding majority of those surveyed, 61 percent, would undo all or some of the automatic sequester cuts, which remain the law of the land. Just 18 percent favored enacting all of the required cuts.”
Bush Tax Cuts – “A new CNN Poll released today shows that 69 percent of Americans want to let the Bush/Republican tax cuts for the rich expire.”
The War in Afghanistan – “The survey by CNN television and ORC International says just 17 percent of the American public support the Afghan war, while 82 percent oppose it.”
NSA Spying – “Since July, many of the polls not only confirm the American people think the NSA’s actions violates their privacy, but think the surveillance should be stopped. For instance, in an AP poll, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they oppose the NSA collecting data about their telephone and Internet usage. In another national poll by the Washington Post and ABC News, 74 percent of respondents said the NSA’s spying intrudes on their privacy rights.”
Jobless Benefits – “Seventy-three percent of voters want Congress to keep the extended unemployment benefits put in place to fight the recession, according to a new poll commissioned by the National Employment Law Project…”
Chained CPI/Social Security – “In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, 87 percent of the respondents thought Social Security spending should remain the same or be raised. Furthermore this poll shows that 82 percent of Americans support increasing Social Security taxes on workers and 87 percent support raising taxes on the wealthy.”
Global Warming/Big Energy Companies – From NASA: “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”
Even the wishes of the most knowledgeable scientific minds in our nation have been ignored. From an Obama speech delivered at Cushing, Oklahoma last year:
"Over the last three years, I've directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We're opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We've quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We've added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth, and then some. In fact, the problemis that we're actually producing so much oil and gasthat we don't have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needs to go."
Citizen’s United – “More than three-quarters of voters said that they support a Constitutional Amendment if one is necessary to limit the amount that corporations can spend in elections.”
The result: “A study by the Center for Responsive Politics found that in the 2012 election cycle, 536 donors gave $70,800 ($37,948,800 plus) or more to the Obama Victory Fund for Democratic Party Committees. And 721 donors gave $70,800 ($51,046,800 plus) or more to the Romney Victory Fund for Republican Party Committees.”
Wall Street Bailout – “Fifty-three percent think not enough was done to prosecute bankers; 15 percent were satisfied with the effort.”
The will of fifteen-percent of Americans won out…abetted by our own Justice Department.
In The Great American Class War: Plutocracy Versus Democracy, Bill Moyers said:
We are this close – this close! – to losing our democracy to the mercenary class. So close it’s as if we’re leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon waiting for a swift kick in the pants.I think his warning came too late.
From a CNN poll released on December 26, 2013:
According to the survey, 73% say that this Congress has so far done nothing to address the country’s problems, with one in four disagreeing.Seventy-three percent.
The poll also indicates there’s little optimism for the future.
“Negative attitudes extend to both sides of the aisle: 52% believe that the policies of the Democratic leaders in Congress would move the country in the wrong direction; 54% say the same about the policies of congressional Republicans,” Holland said.
And 54% say the same thing about President Barack Obama’s policies
As Chomsky’s said:
“…the proper term for that is not democracy; it's plutocracy.”