The Need to Rebalance Corporate Power in Today’s Democracies

Democracy is a political system of competition for power. Functional democracy is a form of democracy that functions in the interest of the people. Democracy requires the participation of citizens in public life. Citizens have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to watch carefully how their political leaders and representatives use their powers, and to express their own opinions and interests. Voting in elections is a civic duty of all citizens. In a democracy every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them. People should question the decisions of the government, but not reject government authority. The measure of a successful society is the happiness of its people. Today it is the rule of the minority elite. A dysfunctional democracy triggers trust crisis. Once the voters understand the extent of structural inequality in the system, they will possess the knowledge to recognize the need for change.

The Enlightenment writers were concerned about the inequality of the existing system and introduced questioning and critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition, and challenge the blind faith in institutions. The philosophers wanted to understand the rationale behind inequality, were particularly interested if there were natural reasons for it, or if inequality came wholly from social conventions. The process of corporate expansion across borders creates rapid change in many communities with subsequent negative consequences for workers. The fact that there is little international regulation has dire consequences for the safety of the people and the environment. Multinational corporations are responsible for the removal of traditional government accountability to a fixed population for much of politics. This creates a lack of ability of those affected by decisions to protect their legitimate rights and interests. The new corporate values of globalization normalize through a doublespeak – selling commercialization and free market choices as democracy.

In a 1900 article Alfredo Pareto commented on the radical movements at the turn of the century, warned that rather than restoring democracy and promoting social welfare, they were just seeking to replace one elite with another elite, the privileges and structures of power remaining intact. From Pareto’s point of view – socialism, libertarianism – all ideologies are smoke screens foisted by ‘leaders’ who really only aspire to enjoy the privilege and power of governing. He suggested class struggle is eternal, and recognized the predictions of economics fail to correspond to reality. A common complaint against twenty-first century democracy is that it has lost control of corporate power. Big companies hoard wealth and influence. They fuel inequality. They despoil the planet. They don’t pay their taxes. However, democracy remains the best human weapon so far invented for guarding against the ‘illusion of certainty’ and breaking up truth-camouflaged monopolies of power, and create a successful society.

Republicans are using the same baseless lies about voting fraud to push a staggering number of laws to scale back voting rights. The reason they’re willing to weaken American democracy is very simple: it’s all about retaining power. It is about a system corrupted by the influence of big donors and powerful interests, that makes voting more difficult than necessary, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups. The rules being put into place will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for many minority voters to participate in elections. In addition, these states are allowing partisan groups to take over running elections. As a group, Republicans are pushing towards replacing democracy with a system where a powerful minority holds disproportionate and borderline tyrannical control over government and blocks the majority of Americans from having meaningful say over the direction of the country. There is a need for federal legislation to prevent partisan bias from determining whether elections were conducted properly.

Pete Buttigieg notes, “the cornerstone of American identity is democracy, the cornerstone of democracy is trust.” Social media was expected to result in greater transparency, higher accountability and hence, more trust in the political realm. In fact, engagement, a crucial feature of the social media era, magnifies the declines in trust. “Democracies fall apart from within,” Justice Gorsuch warned with Sotomayor: the spread of misinformation on social media is an urgent threat to national security. On the other hand, concepts within the justice system are an issue. Gorsuch has consistently been the friend of big business and monopolies at the expense of competition and open markets, and the friend of big donors at the expense of small donors. In disputes between the employee and employer, he sides with the boss. This is consistent with the fact the Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis and is in desperate need of reform.

In America the crumbling façade of democracy has laid bare the weakness of the Republican Party with its full-throated support of small government and minimal regulations of neoliberalism. To distract voters, they embrace the uncertain populist policies of division and misinformation. Fox News tells viewers they are the only reliable source of political information – re-enforcing the alt-right propaganda in social media. At CPAC they do not debate policy, rather embrace a symbol – Donald Trump as the force to move forward with. Trump in true populist form, sans policies, attacks the “Washington elites” as the problem. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy as justice is now linked to a market logic that divorces itself from social cost.

Cognitive dissonance is the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternate one, which often defies actual reality. Cognitive biases reflect mental patterns that can lead people to form beliefs or make decisions that do not reflect an objective and thorough assessment of the facts. For instance, people tend to seek out information that confirms pre-existing beliefs and reject information that challenges those beliefs. Segregation across the American electorate along economic, political, and social lines contributes to the development of insular and isolated communities, each with its own narrative, worldview, and, increasingly, even “facts.” The growth in the volume of subjective content relative to factual information increases the likelihood that audiences will encounter speculation or downright falsehoods. That makes it more difficult to identify key pieces of factual information. This makes it important that individual citizens understand the debacle around policy or even a good grasp of all the facts.

After the election of Donald Trump, Facebook’s initial attitude was to bluntly deny any involvement in the torrent of misinformation that contributed to the Trump victory. Now it is certain that Facebook, for the sake of short-term profit, turned a blind eye to what was unfolding. Like the approach to Big Tobacco, it is necessary to have as many agencies as possible participate with respect to cross-cutting issues. For example, effective tobacco control required the use of fiscal policies to reduce tobacco consumption, allied with labor and environmental laws to reduce exposure to smoke, and regulation of marketing practice. With respect to the addiction promoted by companies like Facebook it will not be enough to just raise public awareness, rather the response will require a series of regulations and taxes to address the power exploitation of devices. These are important necessary steps to restore the health of democracy.

The trickle-down economics narrative is a grand illusion for those in power to promote to justify dominance over those who are less privileged. Of course, it is based on greed being a virtue, relying on a system to harness the selfishness of people and direct it to public good, thus freeing itself from the need to depend unrealistically upon the uncertain moral virtues of its participants.  Several years ago, a research study published by the IMF provided data that debunked the theory of trickle-down economics. Not only did it find that the benefits of growth within an economy are rarely spread evenly, but also that an unequal rise in incomes can actually slow the rate of economic growth altogether. According to the report, a 1% rise in income for the wealthiest 20% of a society alone is likely to shrink annual growth by 0.1% within five years. By contrast, raising the income of the poorest 20% by a single percentage point increases annual growth by 0.4% over the same time frame.

Since the 2016 presidential race, the Claremont Institute tried to give an intellectual veneer to the frothy mix of nativism and isolationism represented by Donald Trump. Most infamously, one of the group’s legal scholars crafted memos outlining a plan for how then-Vice President Mike Pence could potentially overturn the last election. The donations flowing into Claremont illustrate that although the group’s full-throated support for Trump and fixation on election crimes may be extreme, they’re not fringe views when they have the backing of influential conservative funders. Claremont continues to push the stolen-election myth and has apparently helped state lawmakers draft legislation to make election laws more favorable to the Republican Party. Rather than concentrate on policy like many other think tanks, the Claremont Institute teaches the principles and ideas that shape policy over time to the few that will go on to positions of leadership in media, politics, law, speechwriting, and academia.

The internet was a great idea initially. However, in recent years privacy concerns, data misuse, and more trolls than the underside of a fairy tale bridge have turned the world’s digital community into a bit of a mess. Ideas on the web tend to be about problem solving, while opinions on the web are mostly theatre, in which emotions drive decision-making. The advent of the information age seems to have created individuals who feel they know more than ever before – when their reliance on the internet means they may know ever less about the world around them. Social media has created a movement of validation-hungry users, while shady data practices have opened up pretty much every person on the planet to potential identity theft, and the tech companies in charge of it all are too busy trading caches of personal data like trading cards to do anything about it.

We need to get big business and lobbyists out of our politics. Today they are making voting more difficult than necessary, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups. Republicans are using the same baseless lies about voting fraud to push a staggering number of laws to scale back voting rights. The reason they’re willing to weaken American democracy is very simple: it’s all about retaining power. There is a need for federal legislation to prevent partisan bias from determining whether elections were conducted properly. There is a need for a new model of democratic governance to address the violence of neoliberalism and the happiness gap. It is necessary to rebalance the power of corporations supported by an ideology serving the interest of financial capital and globalized elites – in order to create a successful society. It is necessary to return to laws based on equality of persons rather than laws of the market.

This entry was posted in economic inequality, neoliberalism, The Narcissist's Vocation and the Economic Debacle. Bookmark the permalink.

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