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Breaking the Stranglehold of Corporate Rule, Big Media, and the Religious Right
By John Buchanan
Trine Day LLCCopyright © 2005 John Buchanan
All rights reserved.
The Rise of the Corporate State
Who Really Owns the U.S. Government?
Walk into any office, classroom, VFW hall, bingo parlor, or 7-Eleven store, and pose a simple question: "Who really owns the U.S. government, 'we the people,' or the Fortune 500?" The overwhelming majority of those present will tell you, without hesitation, that giant corporate interests control early 21st-century America — that you and they are, in effect, slaves to consumerism and debt, and the unbridled greed and dehumanizing competition that deadly duo have engendered.
Go a step further and ask whether "truth and honor" still matter in the "postmodern," pop-culture United States of America, and you will be greeted with a resounding "No," from across the political and demographic spectrums.
Taken together, such grim sentiments, bred of cynicism and reinforced on every front, across generations, spell disaster for the singular vision put forth in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Worse still is the fact that the average American now thinks of his or her government as something apart from the citizenry itself, a cancerous tumor of corporate and political tyranny metastasizing out of control.
The disquieting reality is that any honest American today, from factory worker to farmer, schoolteacher to scientist, knows the truth, at least in his or her social conscience, but is almost helpless to acknowledge it, out of deep-seated fear and frustration. Because the average American no longer has any real sense of how to remedy the ills of the country, the average American today is dysfunctional as a citizen.
Such simple yet undeniable failure is a gross betrayal of the noble, simple concept for which Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and the rest of our Founding Fathers risked dangling at the end of a rope — that the many should not be governed by a greedy, self-interested few, that humankind has a God-given right to govern itself for the good of all.
At the dawn of the 21st century, such once-revered idealism has been abandoned to what appears to be a cold, hard reality. The rights of citizens have been relentlessly usurped and suppressed by transnational corporations motivated by nothing other than profits. The "rights" of corporations — equated to those of "persons" in a still-misinterpreted 1886 U.S. Supreme Court ruling — have been upheld and expanded by federal courts that have betrayed the very citizens they were, in principle, created to protect. The apparatus of government has been reordered from the provision of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" to enforcement of the "economic growth" and "globalization" that sustain the ever-increasing power and wealth of corporations. Meanwhile, citizens — "we the people" — have lost faith in ourselves as sovereign rulers of our own country.
In the process, Thomas Jefferson has been made to look like a liar. Everything our Founding Fathers worried about as unintentional future consequences of their courage and patriotism has come to pass.
"There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honor, power, and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no ... government, nor any real liberty, and this public passion must be superior to all private passions," John Adams observed in 1776.
By that standard, America today is doomed to a destiny the average citizen can hardly imagine.
"The individual owes the exercise of all his faculties to the service of his country," John Quincy Adams wrote in 1818, an ethic of good citizenship that John F. Kennedy tried to re-ignite in the early 1960s with his long-since reality-withered, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
By that standard, the average citizen of early 21st-century America is guilty of treason or at least, gross dereliction of duty.
"Government and the people do not in America constitute distinct bodies," Thomas Paine wrote in 1782. "They are one, and their interests are the same."
By that standard, "we the people" suffer socio-political schizophrenia.
Today, we find, if we look honestly upon ourselves as a nation, that there is little positive passion for the public good, that private passions have alienated us from ourselves and our fellow human beings, that service to one's country is a sort of chore rather than a duty, and — most of all perhaps — that "we the people" have given up on our government as a source of any genuine hope for as-yet-unborn generations.
How did we end up like this? Where did we go wrong?
The simple truth is that "we the people," in return for the promise of a higher standard of living after the horrors of the Great Depression and World War II, have slowly yet steadily surrendered our genuine and enduring human interests to the greed-motivated institutional interests of ever-larger corporations, both as employees and consumers. Most important, we have surrendered our belief that "we the people" do, in fact, own the government and its bounty, in trust for our families and communities.
The ever-worsening imbalance between the artificial "rights" of corporations and the legitimate rights of citizens is nothing new in American political debate. Arguments on the topic among the Founding Fathers and their closest advisers and constituents pre-date the signing of the Constitution, based on a long history of abuses and tyranny by the business interests of the colonial powers, including England.
"Much of America's history has been shaped by a long and continuing struggle for sovereignty between people and corporations," author and economic-reform activist David C. Korten observed in his groundbreaking and enormously important 1995 book, When Corporations Rule the World (Kumarian Press).
Although the problems of "special interests" and corporate privilege can be traced back to the earliest days of the American republic, modern manifestations — such as decimation of the environment, human rights abuses, and virtual abandonment of millions of Americans viewed as "less fortunate" — are a result of social and political developments of the past few decades.
An "Unholy Alliance" of Government and Business
Over the past 30 years, three powerful forces that would each help change, for the worse, the course of America as a nation began to converge: a sudden wave of corporate mergers and acquisitions that created giant transnational corporations and ultimately the predatory phenomenon of "globalization"; a conglomerate-owned media that put "news" and "information" in ever fewer hands and turned them into ever more meaningless and malicious diversions from truth and reality; and a declining turnout of voters at the polls, born of disillusionment and cynicism at the office water cooler and family dinner table.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, in the psychic wake of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the resignation of a U.S. President and Vice President as scoundrels, a large proportion of the U.S. population began to lose faith in the civics lessons we had learned in our youth: that "America the Beautiful" is "the greatest nation in the history of the world," that "all men are created equal," that we are a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."
Instead, we have ended up with government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation — at the expense of the best interests of "we the people" and the world.
"Perhaps the greatest threat to freedom and democracy in the world today comes from the formation of unholy alliances between government and business," billionaire international financier George Soros wrote in Public Affairs in 2000. "This is not a new phenomenon. It used to be called fascism. ... The outward appearances of the democratic process are observed, but the powers of the state are diverted to the benefit of private interests." More than a half-century earlier, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had put it more succinctly: "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism, because it is a merger of state and corporate power."
In the wake of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "The real truth of the matter is ... that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson." On another occasion, FDR noted that "the first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, a group, or by any other controlling power. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing."
But of all the mighty and eloquent voices raised against the rise of the corporate state, perhaps U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it most bluntly: "We can have a democratic society or we can have the concentration of great wealth in the hands of the few. We cannot have both."
Today, in the era of a ruling white corporate dynasty and the private-sector plunder of billions of taxpayer dollars by brazen institutional criminals such as Enron and Halliburton, history's stern warnings have become harsh reality. Yet, few Americans seem to notice or care.
One can only wonder what U.S. legends such as Jefferson, Paine, and FDR, whose thoughts and deeds helped forge our national heritage, would think of the pharmaceutical industry, which fleeces the populace for life-saving drugs, or Halliburton, which is paid billions of dollars to support a fraudulent war in Iraq, only to be caught red-handed stealing from U.S. taxpayers and abusing the trust of U.S. troops. Under the onslaught of such treachery, "we the people" do little to stop our fiscal and psychological rape at the hands of artificial entities called corporations, which are supposedly accountable to a "public" charter in the first place.
The sad truth is, however, that it is neither fair nor reasonable to blame drug companies or war profiteers for stealing. It is our fault because "we the people" let them get away with it. Even worse, it is not as if we don't know that our country has been hijacked, stolen from us by faceless, middle-aged, white, wealthy male "titans of industry" who have but a single goal — the sole purpose of capitalism — the creation of more capital. In When Corporations Rule the World, David C. Korten wrote, "The powerful have consolidated the nation's wealth into their own hands and absolved themselves of the responsibility for their less fortunate neighbors. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, humankind worried about its ultimate destruction by nuclear weapons. Today, a much more realistic worry is our demise through the Armageddon of corporatism's unmitigated global greed, exacerbated by the ignorance and apathy of those they oppress."
A Monolith of "Unprecedented Negative Proportions"
If any positive change is to be accomplished before it is too late, it must be understood that there is no moral, ethical, or ideological component to capitalism other than profit and the progeny of more capital. That is, in fact, its inherent and fatal flaw, the root cause of its long and worsening abuses of the self-interests of human beings. The only purpose to corporations of "we the people" of the U.S., or the people of any nation, is to be affordable "labor" or willing, voracious "consumers." Preferably, we will be both, in debt until the day we die in a new equivalent of indentured servitude.
It is equally important to understand that there is an ample empirical record to support the premise that 21st-century corporate capitalism, as perpetrated by the Fortune 500 with the duplicity of the U.S. government, is among the most destructive evils in the history of mankind.
Even Adam Smith, who published The Wealth of Nations, the Bible of modern economics, in the same fateful year Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, warned of the dangers of capitalism run amok. "It is ironic that corporate libertarians regularly pay homage to Adam Smith as their intellectual patron saint," David C. Korten wrote in When Corporations Rule the World, "since it is obvious to even the most casual reader of his epic work ... that Smith would have vigorously opposed most of their claims and policy positions. For example, corporate libertarians fervently oppose any restraint on corporate size or power. Smith, on the other hand, opposed any form of economic concentration on the ground that it distorts the market's natural ability to establish a price that provides a fair return on land, labor, and capital; to produce a satisfactory outcome for both buyers and sellers; and to optimally allocate society's resources.
"Through trade agreements, corporate libertarians press governments to provide absolute protection for the intellectual property rights of corporations," Korten continued. "Smith was strongly opposed to trade secrets as contrary to market principles, and would have vigorously opposed governments enforcing a person's or corporation's claim to the right to monopolize a lifesaving drug or device and to charge whatever the market would bear."
In addition, Korten noted in the most recent edition of his heroic book, it has been established rather clearly that even the rank-and-file of corporate America are aware of what is happening. In September 2000, Business Week "released survey results that found 72 percent of Americans believe corporations have too much power over too many aspects of American life," Korten reported. "Seventy-three percent feel top executives of U.S. companies are overpaid ... Ninety-five percent believe corporations should sacrifice some profit for the sake of making things better for their workers and communities.
"A related editorial," Korten wrote, "made four recommendations to Business Week's corporate readers that could be copied right off protestor banners: First, get out of politics ... then take responsibility for overseas factories, spread the wealth, and pay attention to social issues."
Unfortunately, however, actions speak louder than words, and the momentarily self-aware readers of Business Week have failed to act on such sentiments. In the meantime, "we the people" have continued to buy the myth that unchecked corporate growth and the higher standard of living it promotes are good for us, under the banner of "economic progress."
"People who celebrate technology say it has brought us an improved standard of living, which means greater choice, greater leisure, and greater luxury," wrote Jerry Mander, another economic reformer, in his 1991 book, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (Sierra Club Books). "None of these benefits informs us about human satisfaction, happiness, security, or the ability to sustain life on earth." In fact, Mander declared, "technological evolution is leading to something new: a worldwide, interlocked, monolithic, technical-political web of unprecedented negative proportions."
It is not as if the average American does not understand what is happening. "A  Kettering Foundation report captured the mood of the American electorate," Korten noted in his book. "Americans describe the present political system as impervious to public direction, a system run by a professional political class and controlled by money, not votes." In philosophical concurrence with Mander's declaration of a negative monolith, Korten wrote, "The things that most of us really want — a secure means of livelihood, a decent place to live, healthy and uncontaminated food to eat, good education and health care for our children, a clean and vital natural environment — seem to slip further from the grasp of most of the world's people with each passing day. ... We find a profound and growing suspicion among thoughtful people the world over that something has gone very wrong. ... Approximately 1.2 billion of the world's people struggle desperately to live on less than $1 a day. ... Nearly a billion people go to bed hungry each night."
As human beings and citizens of "the greatest nation in the history of the world," is that a legacy "we the people" want to leave in our names?
Excerpted from Fixing America by John Buchanan. Copyright © 2005 John Buchanan. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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