We Need to Talk About Plutocracy in the 21st Century
Plutocracy or Corporatocracy... yippee.
Where, in American History, did we change from a Democracy to a Plutocracy?
Which decisions made such a change possible?
Democracy means rule by the people.
Plutocracy means governed by the wealthy.
Like many Americans struggling through 2020, I've begun to ask myself: How? How has my country gotten this way? I'd decided that my education had missed something about our history and began to do some cursory research of my own. Several articles and a few books later, I think I've found something worth pointing out.
What went wrong
Four Supreme Court cases that, combined, transformed America:
Buckley v. Valeo(1976)
- The Supreme Court struck down limits on spending by campaigns and citizens.
- Allowed corporations to attempt influencing outcomes of elections in which they have no direct monetary interest.
Citizens United v. FEC(2010)
- Freed corporations/unions to spend money on electioneering communications.
- Directly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate
And allowed the creation of super PACs...
Note: According to the FEC, "Super PACs are independent expenditure-only political committees that may receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, labor unions and other political action committees for the purpose of financing independent expenditures and other independent political activity."
We need the 14th amendment to grant corporations some legal rights and responsibilities as persons(corporate personhood) in order to properly do business. However, it has gotten to the point where corporations, especially those considered "too big to fail", have too many legal rights and not enough responsibility/liability.
The scope of influence that corporations are capable of far outweighs that of the average citizen and, without strong policies, those dominant voices become the only voices.
MONEY CANNOT EQUATE TO SPEECH... if we hope to be a democracy by the people and for the people. It's that simple. The problem is, how do we get the Supreme Court or President to fix this problem when they've become part of the system that benefits from the corruption.
And since monetary donations are protected by the 1st amendment, we, the public, are unable to see the scale of influence these corporations use to "petition the government".
Example of a Major issue:
There's nothing stopping an individual from owning a large number of stocks in, let's say, oil, coal, big pharma, etc.
1. This individual runs for president while being funded by a super PAC whose corporate donors are the same that the individual holds stock in. There are no spending limitations concerning the funding provided by the donors.
(Super PACs are required to report their donors to the FEC but super PACs are a way to get around that pesky First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti ruling that kept corporations limited to influencing things they couldn't benefit from.)
2. The combined wealth of the super PAC proceeds to flood social media, youtube, radio, TV, everything, with advertisements that both advocate for their chosen individual and smears that individual's opponent. (Propaganda)
3. The overwhelming amount of information combined with filter bubbles, creates a division in the general populace's sense of reality.
4. The super PACs funded individual with near-unlimited resources wins and becomes President.
5. Now President, the individual removes several environmental regulations-anything that will increase the stock market, particularly the areas that they personally hold stock in.
6. Profit: the individual and the super PAC both benefit.
As I see it, there are two types of citizens in the US, the corporation and the person. But since corporate wealth far exceeds the wealth of a common citizen and since wealth equates to speech...the corporations have become the only ones allowed to speak. The only voices respected enough to maintain direct and consistent influence over the laws and practices for the majority.
So, we are a mix of two of the worst -cracies out there: Plutocracy and Corporatocracy.
Our current corporate tax rate is 21%. Right now, in 2020, the DOW hit a historic 30,000 while nearly 11 million Americans have become unemployed, 25 million infected with covid-19 and over 406,000 killed by covid-19 as of 01/21/21, mile-long lines at food banks, and 40 million citizens facing eviction. Billionaire wealth in the US has surged past 1 trillion dollars amidst the pandemic. ONE TRILLION.
Corporations are bleeding the American people dry. We can't change the nature of corporations but we can change the laws that have allowed, near guaranteed, corruption within our political system.
An inch has become a mile. Lobbying is legal bribery and it's time for it to end.
The writings of William Gibson were seen as extreme works of fiction when he birthed a new genre of science fiction in 1982: Cyberpunk. Gibson paints a world owned by corporations rather than governments, a world where technology has consumed us. Believe it or not, I've begun to see articles calling Gibson a futurist. Once you've read his work, the idea of him being a futurist becomes absolutely horrifying. I recommend reading Burning Chrome or Neuromancer if you want a real kick in the pants about a very possible and bleak future.
Did you know that America has more prisoners than China or Russia? We've got more prisoners than anyone in the world. Number one at 2.3 million as of 2016. USA USA... What I find most frightening, is not only that the prison system has become a business but that the Rule of Law itself has become corrupt and unjust. Thus, the police have become corrupt.
After what we've seen in 2020, more and more people have begun to see the police as a gang. Corporate thugs here to collect dues for the stockholders and government officials. When I think of Police, I think of abuse of authority and crime quotas. I can't even remember the last time I thought a police officer was doing anything to protect and serve beyond hollow photo ops.
Huge sections of city budgets go into an overworked and undereducated police force (who have little to no oversight) rather than addressing the issues that are leading to crime. Issues like housing, healthcare, education, and criminal reform.
As our culture becomes more black and white about morality, these caricatures of corrupt politicians and police become less and less far-fetched. Tribalism now outweighs rationalism.
Just look at how the United States government handled the Covid-19 Pandemic, they managed to politicize a global health crisis at the cost of American lives, economic collapse for citizens ( while corporations make record profits ), and international relations.
The police state and mass propaganda, combined with new technologies and political division, will be an incredible challenge to overcome. We've had protests and riots and free speech gatherings, all of which have been met with excessive force and malicious manipulation of the narrative.
Not to mention, we've now got right-wing terrorists who the police continue to give more leeway than they should (Exhibit A: the Capitol Riot of 01/06/21). Corrupt officials are allowed to spread false statements and claims without fear of repercussions. They are free to commit sedition without repercussions.
Americans are in trouble, a kind of trouble that will take generations to heal. This pandemic has made too many of us desperate and scared, two key emotions that drive people into doing things they would never normally consider.
How we change
Start with self-education. Learning more about United States history, laws, and culture. We can begin by holding ourselves just 10% more responsible when it comes to personal growth.
Make the time to teach yourself and have discussions about difficult topics. Don't let your beliefs become your identity nor your comfort to become a cage. Read. Read anything and do more of it.
Practice an information diet by limiting the time you expose yourself to news, social media, and entertainment. Learn what it takes to start participating in your local government. Make that dedicated effort to become the positive change you wish to see in the world. Through unity, education, and participation, we can begin to change.
In an era of informational and technological overload, critical thinking becomes a shield. Learning becomes an act of rebellion.
Political participation, a virtue...
What are some of your ideas on what we can do to change things?