Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Corporate Power is the Enemy of Democracy

by Robert Jensen

GEORGE W. BUSH says he likes to put things in simple terms. Let’s adopt his strategy and ask: Do Americans want to struggle to create a rich democracy, or are we going to roll over and accept a democracy for the rich?

Never has the question been placed in front of us more starkly. Let’s run down some of the “highlights” of the Bush administration’s first year:

Tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the most wealthy. Environmental regulation gutted in favor of “voluntary” efforts by corporations. An obsession with an unnecessary and unworkable national missile defense, which will defend little except the profits of the weapons industry. An energy policy plotted with the companies that will profit, through a consultation process the administration wants to keep secret.

Could there be a pattern here? Could it be that politicians, who are supposed to represent we the people, sometimes pursue agendas that benefit only the few people and corporations with the resources to put (and keep) them in power?

Could the obvious be true – that a country with an economy dominated by large corporations will find itself stuck with a politics dominated by those same corporations – and that ordinary people don’t fare very well in such a system?

Perhaps we should ask the question from the other angle: So long as corporations rule the economy, how could it be any other way?

When the Enron debacle broke, politicians eager to distance themselves from the mess argued it was a business scandal, not a political one. One lesson of Enron is that there is no distinction: A business scandal involving a large corporation is by definition a political scandal in a nation where corporations dominate the political sphere.

By law and tradition, corporations exist for one reason only: to maximize profit. Neither history nor logic gives any reason to think that profit-maximizing leads to meaningful democracy. Corporations are undemocratic internally and usually hostile to democracy externally.

As anyone who has ever worked in one knows, there is no such thing as democracy within a corporation. Authority is vested in the hands of a small number of directors who empower managers to wield control. Those managers on occasion might solicit the views of folks below; it is usually called “seeking input.” But input does not translate into the power to effect change, implement policy or control our own lives.

U.S. corporations do their best to subvert meaningful democracy at home through bribes to politicians, commonly called campaign contributions. They have shown repeatedly in other countries that they prefer dictatorships and oligarchies to real democracies; authoritarian governments are much easier to cut a deal with.

Although politicians and pundits are often very good at avoiding the obvious, it’s hard not to notice that this concentration of economic power in the hands of a few has long had a corrosive effect on democracy. In the Bush administration, that corrosion has accelerated. It’s not that Bill Clinton was – or the Democrats, in general, are – fundamentally different, only that the Bush boys and many of today’s top Republicans are so brazen about it.

Looking back at the 20th century, we can see two powerful trends: the growth of democracy and the growth of corporate power. People of conscience and principle fought to enrich democracy in the United States by expanding the franchise to women and non-white people, carving out space for free expression and organizing popular movements to pressure politicians. At the same time, corporations went about the business of enriching themselves by expanding their powers through the strategic use of laws and politics. Let’s celebrate the expansion of people’s formal rights, but not be naieve about how concentrations of wealth and power have made those formal rights increasingly irrelevant as corporate money saturates the system.

Borrowing one more time the Bush simple-and-to-the-point style: Are corporations and democracy compatible?

A Business Week survey during the last election showed how clearly people are coming to understand that the answer is no. Nearly three-quarters of the Americans surveyed said business has gained too much power over too many aspects of their lives. The trick now is to use those rights – speaking, organizing, voting – and take back democracy from the corporations.

Campaign-finance reform, while a reasonable first step in and of itself, won’t solve the problem. Like water that finds cracks in a dam, corporate money will find a way to pervert our politics until we deal with the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the corporations.

At its core, democracy is about spreading power as widely as possible, while corporate capitalism is about concentrating power. That means the struggle to make American democracy ever more democratic in practice will have to be a struggle against corporate power.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.

His pamphlet, “Citizens of the Empire,” is available at http://www.nowarcollective.com/citizensoftheempire.pdf. Other writings are available online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~r
jensen/freelance/freelance.htm
. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail