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.

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail