Political philosophy – section two

Also see Political philosophy – section one

The Other Big Surprise of 2016 Is the Return of Democratic Socialism By Lawrence Wittner, History News Network, commondreams.org, May 25, 2016  Democratic socialism used to be a vibrant force in American life. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Socialist Party of America, headed by the charismatic union leader, Eugene V. Debs, grew rapidly, much like its sister parties in Europe and elsewhere: the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Australian Labor Party, and dozens of similar parties that voters chose to govern their countries

The rise of American authoritarianism by Amanda Taub, VOX.com, March 1, 2016  A niche group of political scientists may have uncovered what’s driving Donald Trump’s ascent. What they found has implications that go well beyond 2016. Trump has found the key to appealing to authoritarians, which makes him dangerous. The ability of any political party to respond to the anxieties of this group of people is very limited. Do we have institutions and structures in place to prevent the dark side of this growing trend?

Radical Politics in the Age of American Authoritarianism: Connecting the Dots By Henry A. Giroux,  truth-out.org, April 10, 2016, There has never been a more pressing time to rethink the meaning of politics, justice, struggle and collective action.

The New Populism Is A Fight For America’s Values by Elizabeth Warren, The New Populism conference, May 22, 2014  populism –  the power of the people to make change in this country… In every fight to build opportunity in this country, in every fight to level the playing field, in every fight for working families, the path has been steep. Throughout our history, powerful interests have tried to capture Washington and rig the system in their favor. From tax policy to retirement security, the voices of hard-working people get drowned out by powerful industries and well-financed front groups. Those with power fight to make sure that every rule tilts in their favor. Everyone else just gets left behind…We – the people – decide the future of this country.

Trump-Sanders Phenomenon Signals an Oligarchy on the Brink of a Civilization-Threatening Collapse By Sally Goerner, Evonomics,  May 29, 2016    Oligarchies win except when society enacts effective reforms   Scientifically speaking, oligarchies always collapse because they are designed to extract wealth from the lower levels of society, concentrate it at the top, and block adaptation by concentrating oligarchic power as well. Though it may take some time, extraction eventually eviscerates the productive levels of society, and the system becomes increasingly brittle.

America’s New Normal By Robert Zaretsky, THE STONE, New York Times, JUNE 22, 2016

These Americans Are Fighting for an Actual, Legitimate Democracy, By and For the People

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret FlowersAlterNet, April 18, 2014

Two weeks ago in reaction to the McCutcheon decision we touched on an issue that will become central to our movement [3]: Has the democratic legitimacy of the US government been lost?

We raised this issue by quoting a Supreme Court Justice, former US president and a sitting US Senator:

“The legitimacy of the US government is now in question. By illegitimate we mean it is ruled by the 1%, not a democracy ‘of, by and for the people.’ The US has become a carefully designed plutocracy that creates laws to favor the few. As Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissenting opinion [4], American law is now ‘incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy.’ Or, as former president, Jimmy Carter said [5] on July 16, 2013 “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.”

“Even members of Congress admit there is a problem. Long before the McCutcheon decision Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) described the impact of the big banks [6] on the government saying: ‘They own the place.’ We have moved into an era of a predatory form of capitalism rooted in big finance where profits are more important than people’s needs or protection of the planet.”

The legitimacy of the US government derives from rule by the people. If the US government has lost its democratic legitimacy, what does that mean? What is the impact? And, what is our responsibility in these circumstances?

We can go back to the founding document of this nation, the Declaration of Independence for guidance. This revolutionary document begins by noting all humans are born with “inalienable rights” and explains “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted” and that government derives its “powers from the consent of the governed.”  Further, when the government “becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government….”

After we wrote about the lost democratic legitimacy of the United States, this new academic study [7], which will be published in Perspectives on Politics, revealed that a review of a unique data set of 1,779 policy issues found:

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

And, this was not the only study to reach this conclusion this week. Another study [8] published in the Political Research Quarterly [9] found that only the rich get represented in the US senate. The researchers studied the voting records of senators in five Congresses and found the Senators were consistently aligned with their wealthiest constituents and lower-class constituents never appeared to influence the Senators’ voting behavior. This oligarchic tendency was even truer when the senate was controlled by Democrats.

Large Majorities of Americans Do Not Rule

Let the enormity of the finding sink in – “the majority does not rule” and “even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Now, for many of us this is not news, but to have an academic study document it by looking at 1,779 policy issues and empirically proving the lack of democratic legitimacy, is a major step forward for people understanding what is really happening in the United States and what we must do.

Before the occupy movement began we published an article, We Stand With the Majority [10], that showed super majorities of the American people consistently support the following agenda:

-       Tax the rich and corporations

-       End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending

-       Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and provide  improved Medicare to everyone in the United States

-       End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests

-       Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation

-       Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages

-       Get money out of politics

While there was over 60% support for each item on this agenda, the supposed ‘representatives’ of the people were taking the opposite approach on each issue.  On September 18, the day after OWS began we followed up with a second article dealing with additional issues that showed, the American people would rule better than the political and economic elites [11].

While many Americans think that the government representing wealthy interests is new, in fact it goes back to the founding of the country. Historian Charles Beard [12] wrote in the early 1900’s that the chief aim of the authors of the U.S. Constitution was to protect private property, favoring the economic interests of wealthy merchants and plantation owners rather than the interests of the majority of Americans who were small farmers, laborers, and craft workers.

The person who is credited with being the primary author of the Constitution, James Madison, believed [13] that the primary goal of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” He recognized that “if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure.” As a result of these oligarchic views, only 6% of the US population was originally given the right to vote [14]. And, the first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, John Jay believed [15] that “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

This resulted in the wealth of the nation being concentrated among a small percentage of the population and their wealth being created by slaves and other low-paid workers who had no political participation in government. The many creating wealth for the few has continued throughout US history through sweat shops, child labor and now, poverty workers, like those at the nation’s largest employer, Walmart. By putting property ahead of human rights, the Constitution put in place a predatory economic system of wealth creation.

In fact, Sheldon Wolin describes [16] the Constitutional Convention as blocking the colonists desire for democracy, as economic elites “organize[d] a counter-revolution aimed at institutionalizing a counterforce to challenge the prevailing decentralized system of thirteen sovereign states in which some state legislatures were controlled by ‘popular’ forces.” The Constitution was written “to minimize the direct expression of a popular will” and block the “American demos.” For more see our article, Lifting the Veil of Mirage Democracy in the United States [17].

In many respects, since the founding, the people of the United States have been working to democratize the United States. Gradually, the right to vote expanded to include all adults [14], direct election of US Senators was added as a constitutional amendment but these changes do not mean we have a real democracy. The work is not done. The legitimacy of people ruling has not been achieved.

While we have the right to vote, our carefully managed elections consistently give Americans a choice of candidates approved by the wealthiest; and through campaign financing, media coverage, ballot access, managing who participates in debates and other means, the ruling elite ensure an outcome that will not challenge the power of the wealthiest Americans and the country’s biggest businesses.

This week, Nomi Prins, a former managing partner at Goldman Sachs wrote [18] about the long history of how the nation’s biggest bankers have controlled presidents throughout the last century. She writes: “With so much power in the hands of an elite few, America operates more as a plutocracy on behalf of the upper caste than a democracy or a republic. Voters are caught in the crossfire of two political parties vying to run Washington in a manner that benefits the banking caste, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is sitting in the Oval.”

In many respects, our task is to complete the American Revolution and create a real democracy where the people rule through fair elections of representatives and there is increased direct and participatory democracy.

The Impact: The Status Quo Reigns

The actions of the illegitimate, corrupt government adversely impact every aspect of our lives [19]. In order to protect the status quo the government takes extreme anti-democratic measures to keep the public uninformed about what they are doing so they can push the agenda of transnational corporations and the wealthiest.

A current example is the Trans Pacific Partnership [20], this trade agreement has been negotiated in secret for more than four years except for 600 corporate advisers who help write the agreement. The media and public have only seen leaked portions and Congress has to jump through hoops to see it and because the TPP is classified as a secret, they cannot discuss it with their staff or constituents. Now, Obama is pushing to fast track it through Congress with little congressional oversight and while stalled because of citizen pressure [21], both parties want to find a way to pass fast track [22]. Can anything be more anti-democratic than a secret negotiation, with virtually no congressional review on an agreement that will affect every aspect of our lives and change numerous domestic laws? European nations may not even be able to protect themselves from NSA [23] spying because of trade agreements.

On issue after issue, the American people want change but they get the status quo.  There are so many examples. The choreographed political battle over healthcare is one; the US did not end up with change [24], we ended up with a healthcare system dominated by the insurance industry [25] expanding the neoliberal model of healthcare designed for investors [26] not patients. Despite the industry being among the most hated by Americans, the Affordable Care Act further entrenched its domination of healthcare. Americans were even forced to buy this hated product.

On energy, polls have shown people want a clean energy economy [27], want subsidies to big oil and nuclear energy ended, but instead they get the opposite. When people protest against pipelines, fracking, coal, off-shore oil and nuclear energy what do they get? They get more pipelines, fracking, coal, off-shore oil and nuclear energy and they get infiltrated and arrested for trying to get the government to respond to their demands.

And, this extreme extraction is directly tied to climate change. The most recent IPCC report [28] shows that if we act now, we can minimize the impact [29] of climate and do so inexpensively – but will the status quo powers that profit from climate change-causing energy allow the government to do what is necessary?

On banking, when the people want bankers to be held accountable, oppose bailing out the big banks when their derivative gambles fail and want transparency in the private corporation known as the Federal Reserve, we get minimal regulation, no criminal prosecutions, expansion of the big banks and minimal audit of the Fed.

These are just a few examples of many. A lot could be written about college tuition [30], corporatization of education [31], housing [32] bubbles, lack of GMO [33] labeling and more.

And, the lack of legitimacy is also highlighted by the lawlessness of the government. The soon-to-be-released (at least in part) CIA torture report is already showing through leaks that, among other things [34], the CIA had black-site [35] torture centers around the world, lied to the Congress and American people [31] about what they were doing and continued torturing despite its failure to protect the country. Despite the seriousness of the crime of torture under both domestic and international law, the only person to go to jail for torture was John Kiriakou [36] who exposed it. Is this how a legitimate government behaves?

We also see the lawlessness approach to government in the dragnet surveillance program of the NSA. Does the Fourth Amendment mean nothing to the illegitimate government? Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, after being threatened by politicians and pundits with arrest, refused to be cowered by threats and returned to the United States [37] this week and were not arrested. Instead, they came back to receive multiple awards [38], including the Pulitizer [39]. All of these journalism awards show how out of step the US security state is with the thinking of journalists and is a vindication for Edward Snowden [40].

But, journalism is threatened. As Chelsea Manning’s appellate lawyers pointed out [41] this week, the fact that Manning was convicted under the Espionage Act without being shown to have any intent to commit espionage puts all journalism at risk. The media better join in helping Manning challenge this issue on appeal or critical reporting will risk an espionage conviction.

Control of the government by big business and the wealthy means we get policies designed to enrich the already wealthy at the expense of the poor, working and middle classes. It means an expanding wealth divide and increasing poverty; a smaller share of profit going to workers while corporations make record profits; and destruction of the planet while a few profit from fracked gas, tar sands, nuclear energy and oil.

How Do We End Plutocracy?

Now that we know we live in a plutocracy – a government ruled by the richest people – with only a false veneer of democracy, not a legitimate government where the people rule, what do we do about it?

The reality that the government has no democratic legitimacy is liberating. Our civil resistance, sit-ins, marches, protests and disobedience of their authority should escalate. At the same time, our efforts to build alternative democratic institutions where we can participate in decision making should also increase. From the community level up we now know we need to build institutions that are legitimate, i.e. that ensure our participation in deciding our future.

We essentially have to remake society, or as President Lincoln said in Gettysburg in 1863 we need “a new birth of freedom.” Lincoln thought we needed to ensure that a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” did “not perish from the earth.” In fact, our task is different – we need to create a government that is of, by and for the people; and we need to do so from the ground up, requiring transformation of the role of people in the economy and government.

Jerome Roos writes in ROAR Magazine [42] that finding the US is not a real democracy is not the real issue. The real issue is “an even thornier question: what if oligarchy, as opposed to democracy, is actually the natural political form in capitalist society? What if the capitalist state is by its very definition an oligarchic form of government? If that’s the case, the authors have merely proved the obvious: that the United States is a thoroughly capitalist society.”

This question is not just the opinion of a European radical, Thomas Edsall writing in The New York Times [43] in reviewing Thomas Piketty’s new book,Capital in the Twenty-First Century, points out that this powerful book makes the point that an expanding wealth divide is the inevitable result of capitalism, and that this creates a conflict with democracy. The book is being described as a watershed for economics, because it demonstrates how the profit of capital exceeds the rate of economic growth. This means a forever expanding wealth divide, unless we do something to change course.

What kind of economy would be consistent with a democracy where the people ruled? In our view, economic democracy where people have ownership of their workplaces,  participate in the management of land and resources, as well as share the wealth created more equitably, would be consistent with a government that is of, by and for the people. As we’ve reported [44] in previous articles we see signs of a new economy based on economic democracy growing in the nation. See our website, It’s Our Economy [45], for more on this issue.

In fact, the history of the United States shows that cooperatives and communal workplaces have been a consistent part of our economy [46] from before our founding. It has always been tied to other movements like the American Revolution, abolition of slavery, women’s rights, worker rights and civil rights [47] – even if the history books do not tell this narrative. You could say it is part of our genetic make-up. Now, we are seeing economic democratic [44] institutions being formed as people share knowledge [48] about how to create them.

Rootstrikers [49], puts forward a view held by many of us, “the corrupting influence of money in politics is the most fundamental threat to our civil rights this century.” Their view is that “people must recognize that corruption is not just one among many important problems. Corruption is the root problem that makes solving the others so difficult.” It is only the “people who can force lasting change on this broken system.”

And, what kinds of changes in government are needed to end the rule of the richest and empower the people? There are constitutional changes that are needed, whether this is done by amendments or by redrafting the constitution is too soon to say. An essential starting point is the agenda of Move To Amend [50]. They call for a constitutional amendment to establish that: (1) money is not speech and (2) human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights. These changes would reverse a string of Supreme Court decisions ending with Citizens United and McCutcheon and allow the people to demand that Congress change the way elections are financed, limit or even ban electoral donations and keep corporations out of politics. After-all the Constitution says ‘we the people’ not ‘we the corporations.’

But, there are other shortcomings in the 227 year old US Constitution. For example there is no right to vote in the Constitution, there are no equal rights recognized for all people, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not recognized, nor are the rights of nature.

And, rights which are recognized are being weakened.  For example, our Freedom of Speech and Press, as well as Assembly have been weakened by court decisions minimizing them and police practices abusing them. They can be strengthened by recognizing our right to information and right to communicate with others. People need the right to express themselves publicly on a broad range of politically relevant subjects without fear of punishment. This will protect access to the Internet, or whatever communication tools are developed, as well as protect whistleblowers providing the information we need in order to participate in self-rule.

These changes can only be made by a mass movement that builds from the bottom up. It requires us to work in our own communities to put in place economic institutions that are democratic as well as political institutions like community assembles that are participatory in their exercise of democracy. It requires us to build an independent citizen’s media so people do not have to rely on concentrated corporate media’s propagandistic reporting. It requires us to say out loud that the US government has lost its democratic legitimacy.

This week, CBS News demonstrated once again that a top priority must be to build our own citizen media. CBS hired a former CIA director, Mike Morell as their senior security analyst [43], even though Morell has already made false, inaccurate and inflammatory statements on the air. Similarly, the new Washington Post owner garnered a contract with the CIA [31] larger than the amount he paid to buy the Post.

A lot of this is already happening but none of it has matured or reached the critical mass needed. As more people awaken to the reality of the depth of corruption in our government and economy, and the mirage of US democracy, the movement will grow and the demands will get stronger.

The Roman philosopher and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero said “Freedom is participation in power.”  It is time for the American awakening that ensures we achieve the participation in power that is consistent with our inalienable rights as human beings. That is the task we face. Building the movement to achieve it will be one of the great transformations in human history.

This article is produced by Popular Resistance  [51]in conjunction withAlterNet [52].  It is a weekly review of the activities of the resistance movement.Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance, here. [53]

 

See more stories tagged with:

democracy [54],

oligarchy [55],

plutocracy [56],

economy [57],

McCutcheon [58]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/activism/us-government-has-always-been-plutocracy

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/kevin-zeese-and-margaret-flowers
[3] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-mccutcheon-decision-is-our-rallying-cry/
[4] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-536_e1pf.pdf
[5] http://www.salon.com/2013/07/18/jimmy_carter_us_has_no_functioning_democracy_partner/
[6] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2009/04/29/sen_durbin_banks_own_the_place.html
[7] http://www.popularresistance.org/study-us-is-not-a-democracy/
[8] http://www.popularresistance.org/study-finds-only-the-wealthy-get-represented-in-the-senate/
[9] http://prq.sagepub.com/content/66/3/585.abstract
[10] http://www.popularresistance.org/we-stand-with-the-majority-of-americans-2/
[11] http://www.popularresistance.org/theamericanpeoplecouldrulebetterthanthepoliticalandeconomicelites/
[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_A._Beard
[13] http://books.google.com/books?id=NrLv4surz7UC&pg=PA47&lpg=PA47&dq=Madison+%22protect+the+minority+of+the+opulent+from+the+majority%22&source=bl&ots=Ju0FLS7BiE&sig=gREjd_n02Z_AzN-Ml_Vz3PHS6Ng&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_CNQU8OjEpa1yATm0ILgCQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Madison%20%22protect%20the%20minority%20of%20the%20opulent%20from%20the%20majority%22&f=false
[14] http://www.kqed.org/assets/pdf/education/digitalmedia/us-voting-rights-timeline.pdf
[15] http://books.google.com/books?id=S_c5AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA70#v=onepage&q=%22those%20who%20own%20the%20country%20ought%20to%20govern%20it%22&f=false
[16] http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9175.html
[17] http://truth-out.org/news/item/14489-lifting-the-veil-of-mirage-democracy-in-the-united-states
[18] http://www.popularresistance.org/how-bankers-have-controled-us-politics/
[19] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-bitter-truth-about-money-and-politics/
[20] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/tpp/
[21] http://www.popularresistance.org/world-citizenry-takes-on-global-corporate-rule/
[22] http://www.popularresistance.org/senator-wyden-starts-round-ii-in-campaign-to-stop-the-tpp/
[23] http://www.popularresistance.org/us-eu-circumvention-of-nsa-spying-would-violate-trade-law/
[24] http://www.popularresistance.org/tell-obama-acas-a-scam-we-need-medicare-for-all/
[25] http://www.popularresistance.org/obamacare-the-biggest-insurance-scam-in-history/
[26] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-neoliberal-turn-in-american-health-care/
[27] http://www.popularresistance.org/global-climate-convergence-call-to-action/
[28] http://www.popularresistance.org/impacts-of-climate-change-part-2-of-the-new-ipcc-report/
[29] http://www.popularresistance.org/climate-report-if-we-act-now-averting-climate-disaster-inexpensive/
[30] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-great-cost-shift-on-higher-education/
[31] http://www.popularresistance.org/cia-torture-report-lies-lies-and-more-lies/
[32] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/housing/
[33] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/gmos/
[34] http://www.popularresistance.org/5-revelations-leaked-from-senate-report-exposing-cia-torture/
[35] http://www.popularresistance.org/leaks-of-cia-torture-report-reveal-black-prison-site/
[36] http://www.popularresistance.org/john-kiriakou-needs-you-to-stand-up-for-his-rights/
[37] http://www.popularresistance.org/greenwald-and-poitras-return-to-us-not-arrested-receive-journalism-award/
[38] http://www.popularresistance.org/izzy-award-if-stone-hall-of-fame-honor-scahill-greenwald-turse-carlos-frey/
[39] http://www.popularresistance.org/pulitzer-publishing-nsa-leaks-was-a-public-service/
[40] http://www.popularresistance.org/snowden-statement-on-pulitizer-a-vindication/
[41] http://www.popularresistance.org/chelsea-mannings-lawyers-will-challenge-frightening-espionage-act-on-appeal/
[42] http://www.popularresistance.org/simply-calling-the-us-an-oligarchy-is-not-enough/
[43] http://www.popularresistance.org/capitalism-vs-democracy/
[44] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/economic-democracy/
[45] http://www.ItsOurEconomy.US
[46] http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/14076-cooperatives-and-community-work-are-part-of-american-dna
[47] http://www.popularresistance.org/cooperative-economics-and-civil-rights/
[48] http://www.popularresistance.org/how-to-start-a-workers-co-operative/
[49] http://www.rootstrikers.org/
[50] https://movetoamend.org/
[51] http://www.PopularResistance.org
[52] http://www.alternet.org
[53] http://www.popularresistance.org/daily-digest/
[54] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democracy
[55] http://www.alternet.org/tags/oligarchy
[56] http://www.alternet.org/tags/plutocracy
[57] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economy-0
[58] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mccutcheon
[59] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study

by Eric ZuesseCommon Dreams, April 14, 2014

study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, “Who governs? Who really rules?” in this country, is:

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, …” and then they go on to say, it’s not true, and that, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

To put it short: The United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy.

The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled “Testing Theories of American Politics.” The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the U.S. by the super-rich:

Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.

Nonetheless, this is the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the U.S. is a democracy. “Until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions [that U.S. policymaking operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.” That’s an enormous number of policy-issues studied.

What the authors are able to find, despite the deficiencies of the data, is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the U.S. is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two. The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010,and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

more Eric Zuesse


Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/14

Meet the Elite Business and Think-Tank Community That’s Doing Its Best to Control the World

Andrewgavinmarshall.com [1] / By Andrew Gavin Marshall posted on Alternet.org June 19, 2013

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders…” — Academics William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski [4]

In an article [5] titled “The Global Corporate Elite” in the journal International Sociology, William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski examined the relationship between the corporate elite and the emergence of a “transnational policy-planning network,” beginning with its formation in the decades following World War II and speeding up in the 1970s with the creation of “global policy groups” and think tanks such as the World Economic Forum, in 1971, and the Trilateral Commission, in 1973, among many others.

The function of such institutions was to help mobilize and integrate the corporate elite beyond national borders, constructing a politically “organized minority.” These policy-planning organizations came to exist as “venues for discussion, strategic planning, discourse production and consensus formation on specific issues,” as well as “places where responses to crises of legitimacy are crafted,” such as managing economic, political, or environmental crises where elite interests might be threatened. These groups also often acted as “advocates for specific projects of integration, often on a regional basis.” Perhaps most importantly, the organizations “provide bridges connecting business elites to political actors (heads of states, politicians, high-ranking public servants) and elites and organic intellectuals in other fields (international organizations, military, media, academia).”

One important industry association, according to researchers Carroll and Carson in the journal Global Networks (Vol. 3, No. 1, 2003), is the International Chamber of Commerce. Launched by investment bankers in 1919, immediately following WWI, the Paris-based Chamber groups roughly 7,000 member corporations together across 130 countries, adhering to largely conservative, “free market” ideology. The “primary function” of the ICC, write Carroll and Carson, “is to institutionalize an international business perspective by providing a forum where capitalists and related professionals… can assemble and forge a common international policy framework.”

Another policy group with outsized global influence is the Bilderberg group, founded between 1952 and 1954, which provided “a context for more comprehensive international capitalist coordination and planning.” Bringing together roughly 130 elites from Western Europe and North America at annual closed meetings, “Bilderberg conferences have furnished a confidential platform for corporate, political, intellectual, military and even trade-union elites from the North Atlantic heartland to reach mutual understanding.”

As Valerie Aubourg examined in an article for the journal Intelligence and National Security (Vol. 18, No. 2, 2003), the Bilderberg meetings were organized largely at the initiative of a handful of European elites, with heavy financial backing from select American institutions including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the CIA. The meetings incorporate leadership from the most prominent national think tanks, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment and others from across the North Atlantic ‘community.’

Hugh Wilford, writing in the journal Diplomacy & Statecraft (Vol. 14, No. 3, 2003), identified major philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie foundations as not only major sources of funding but also providers for much of the leadership of the Bilderberg meetings, which saw the participation of major industrial and financial firms in line with those foundations (David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan is a good example). Bilderberg was a major force in helping to create the political, economic and strategic consensus behind constructing a common European market.

With the support of these major foundations and their leadership, the Bilderberg meetings became a powerful global tool of the elites, not only in creating the European Union but in designing the process of globalization itself. Will Hutton, a former Bilderberg member, once referred to the group as “the high priests of globalization,” and a former Bilderberg steering committee member, Denis Healey,once noted [6]: “To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair…we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.”

The large industrial foundations have played a truly profound – and largely overlooked – role in the shaping of modern society. The ‘Robber Baron’ industrial fortunes of the late 19th century – those of Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harriman, Vanderbilt, etc. – sought to shape a new order in which they would maintain a dominant influence throughout society. They founded major American universities (often named after themselves) such as Vanderbilt, or the University of Chicago which was founded by John D. Rockefeller.

It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control [7].”

The Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations were instrumental in providing funding, organization and personnel for the development of major American and international think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, which became essential to the emergence of a dominant and entrenched U.S. business class linking academia, political, strategic, corporate and financial elites. The Rockefeller and Ford foundations in particular constructed the field of modern political science and “Area Studies” with a view to educating a class of people [8] who would be prepared to help manage a global empire.

They were also prominent in developing the educational system for black Americans designed to keep them relegated to labor and “vocational” training. They helped found many prominent universities in Africa, Asia and Latin America to train indigenous elites with a “Western” education in the social sciences, to ensure continuity [9] between a domestic and international elite, between core and periphery, empire and protectorate.

Another major policy planning group is the Trilateral Commission, created out of the Bilderberg meetings as a separate transnational think tank and founded by Chase Manhattan CEO (and Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations) David Rockefeller along with academic-turned-policymaker Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1973. The Trilateral Commission linked the elites from Western Europe, North America and Japan (hence “trilateral”), and it now also includes members from China, India and a range of other Pacific-East Asian countries.

Consisting of a membership of roughly 350 individuals from finance, corporations, media, think tanks, foundations, academia and political circles, the Trilateral Commission (TC) has been immensely influential as a forum facilitating the development and integration of a “transnational elite.” The aim of the TC was “to foster closer cooperation [10] among these core industrialized areas of the world with shared leadership responsibilities in the wider international system.”

The most famous report issued by the Trilateral Commission in the mid-1970s suggested that due to the popular activism of the 1960s, there was a “crisis of democracy” that it defined as an “excess of democracy [11],” which needed to be reduced in order for “democracy to function effectively.” According to the Trilateral Commission, what was needed was increased “apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups” to counter the “crisis” being caused by “a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society.”

Moving elsewhere, the World Economic Forum, founded in 1971, convenes annually in Davos, Switzerland and was originally designed “to secure the patronage of the Commission of European Communities, as well as the encouragement of Europe’s industry associations” and “to discuss European strategy in an international marketplace.” The WEF has since expanded its membership and mandate, as Carroll and Carson noted, “organized around a highly elite core of transnational capitalists (the ‘Foundation Membership’) – which it currently limits to ’1000 of the foremost global enterprises’.” The meetings include prominent individuals from the scientific community, academics, the media, NGOs and many other policy groups.

Another major policy planning group emerged in the mid-1990s with an increased focus on environmental issues, called the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which “instantly became the pre-eminent business voice on the environment” with a 1997 membership of 123 top corporate executives, tasked with bringing the “voice” of big business to the process of international efforts to address environmental concerns (and thus, to secure their own interests).

Among other prominent think tanks and policy-planning boards helping to facilitate and integrate a transnational network of elites are many nation-based organizations, particularly in the United States, such as with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), among many others. The advisory boards to these organizations provide an important forum through which transnational elites may help to influence the policies of many separate nations, and most importantly, the world’s most powerful nation: the United States.

The Council on Foreign Relations, founded in 1921, refers to itself as “an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher,” with roughly 4,700 members. It is largely based in New York with affiliate offices in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. The CFR is, and has been, at the heart of the American foreign policy establishment, bringing together elites from academia, government, the media, intelligence, military, financial and corporate institutions.

The CFR worked in close cooperation with the U.S. government during World War II to design the post-War world over which America would reign supreme. The Council was active in establishing the “Grand Areas [12]” of the American Empire, and in maintaining extensive influence [13] over the foreign policy of the United States.

As Carroll and Carson noted, there is a prominent relationship between those individuals who sit on multiple corporate boards and those who sit on the boards of prominent national and transnational policy-planning groups, “suggesting a highly centralized corporate-policy network.”

Studying 622 corporate directors and 302 organizations (five of which were the major policy-planning groups: ICC, Bilderberg, Trilateral Commission, World Economic Forum and World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Carroll and Carson assessed this network of transnational elites with data leading up to 1996, and concluded: “The international network is primarily a configuration of national corporate networks, integrated for the most part through the affiliations of a few dozen individuals who either hold transnational corporate directorships or serve on two or more policy boards.”

Out of the sample of 622 individuals, they found roughly 105 individuals (94 “transnational corporate linkers” and 11 others “whose corporate affiliations are not transnational but who sit on multiple global policy boards”) making up “the most immediate structural contributions to transnational class formation.” At the “core” of this network were 17 corporate directors, primarily European and North American, largely linked by the transnational policy groups, with the Trilateral Commission as “the most centrally positioned.” This network, they noted, “is highly centralized in terms of the individuals and organizations that participate in it.”

In undertaking a follow-up study of data between 1996 and 2006, published in the journal International Sociology (Vol. 25, No. 4, 2010), Carroll and Sapinski expanded the number of policy-planning groups from five to 11, including the original five (ICC, Bilderberg, TC, WEF, and WBCSD), but adding to them the Council on Foreign Relations (through its International Advisory Board), the UN Global Compact (through its advisory board), the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), founded in 1983, the EU-Japan Business Round Table, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, and the North American Competitiveness Council.

The results of their research found that among the corporate directors, “policy-board membership has shifted towards the transnationalists, who come to comprise a larger segment of the global corporate elite,” and that there was a growing group of elites “made up of individuals with one or more transnational policy-board affiliations.” As Carroll and Sapinski concluded:

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders; its organizational core includes the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Conference, the European Round Table of Industrialists and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, surrounded by other policy boards and by the directorates of leading industrial corporations and financial institutions based in capitalism’s core regions.”

Organizations like the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) are not think tanks, but rather, industry organizations (exclusively representing the interests and individuals of major corporations), wielding significant influence over political and social elites. As Bastiaan van Apeldoorn wrote in the journal New Political Economy (Vol. 5, No. 2, 2000), the ERT “developed into an elite platform for an emergent European transnational capitalist class from which it can formulate a common strategy and – on the basis of that strategy – seek to shape European socioeconomic governance through its privileged access to the European institutions.”

In 1983, the ERT was formed as an organization of 17 major European industrialists (which has since expanded to several dozen members), with the proclaimed objective being “to revitalize European industry and make it competitive again, and to speed up the process of unification of the European common market.” Wisse Dekker, former Chairman of the ERT, once stated: “I would consider the Round Table to be more than a lobby group as it helps to shape policies. The Round Table’s relationship with Brussels [the EU] is one of strong co-operation. It is a dialogue which often begins at a very early stage in the development of policies and directives.”

The ERT was a central institution in the re-launching of European integration from the 1980s onward, and as former European Commissioner (and former ERT member) Peter Sutherland stated, “one can argue that the whole completion of the internal market project was initiated not by governments but by the Round Table, and by members of it… And I think it played a fairly consistent role subsequently in dialoguing with the Commission on practical steps to implement market liberalization.” Sutherland also explained that the ERT and its members “have to be at the highest levels of companies and virtually all of them have unimpeded access to government leaders because of the position of their companies… So, by definition, each member of the ERT has access at the highest level to government.”

Other notable industry associations include the Canadian Council of Chief Executives [14] (CCCE), formerly called the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI), a group comprised of Canada’s top 150 CEOs who were a major force for the promotion and implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The CCCE remains one of the most influential “interest groups” in Canada.

In the United States there are prominent industry associations like the Business Council, the Business Roundtable, and the Financial Services Forum. The Business Council describes itself as “a voluntary association of business leaders whose members meet several times a year for the free exchange of ideas both among themselves and with thought leaders from

http://www.alternet.org/print/occupy-wall-street/elite-business-and-think-tank-attempts-control-world

Why Our Elites Stink By David Brooks

New York Times, July 12, 2012

Excerpt

Through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Protestant Establishment sat atop the American power structure. A relatively small network of white Protestant men dominated the universities, the world of finance, the local country clubs and even high government service.

Over the past half–century, a more diverse and meritocratic elite has replaced the Protestant Establishment. People are more likely to rise on the basis of grades, test scores, effort and performance.

Yet, as this meritocratic elite has taken over institutions, trust in them has plummeted. It’s not even clear that the brainy elite is doing a better job of running them than the old boys’ network…

Christopher Hayes of MSNBC and The Nation believes that the problem is inherent in the nature of meritocracies. In his book, “Twilight of the Elites,” he argues that meritocratic elites may rise on the basis of grades, effort and merit, but, to preserve their status, they become corrupt. They create wildly unequal societies, and then they rig things so that few can climb the ladders behind them. Meritocracy leads to oligarchyFar from being the fairest of all systems, he concludes, the meritocracy promotes gigantic inequality and is fundamentally dysfunctional. No wonder institutional failure has been the leitmotif of our age.

It’s a challenging argument but wrong. I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families. They spend enormous amounts of money and time on enrichment. They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to piano lessons and then taking part in conference calls from the waiting room…

The corruption that has now crept into the world of finance and the other professions is not endemic to meritocracy but to the specific culture of our meritocracy. The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites…As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess…The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence and service…

The difference between the Hayes view and mine is a bit like the difference between the French Revolution and the American Revolution. He wants to upend the social order. I want to keep the current social order, but I want to give it a different ethos and institutions that are more consistent with its existing ideals.

Full text

Through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Protestant Establishment sat atop the American power structure. A relatively small network of white Protestant men dominated the universities, the world of finance, the local country clubs and even high government service.

Over the past half–century, a more diverse and meritocratic elite has replaced the Protestant Establishment. People are more likely to rise on the basis of grades, test scores, effort and performance.

Yet, as this meritocratic elite has taken over institutions, trust in them has plummeted. It’s not even clear that the brainy elite is doing a better job of running them than the old boys’ network. Would we say that Wall Street is working better now than it did 60 years ago? Or government? The system is more just, but the outcomes are mixed. The meritocracy has not fulfilled its promise.

Christopher Hayes of MSNBC and The Nation believes that the problem is inherent in the nature of meritocracies. In his book, “Twilight of the Elites,” he argues that meritocratic elites may rise on the basis of grades, effort and merit, but, to preserve their status, they become corrupt. They create wildly unequal societies, and then they rig things so that few can climb the ladders behind them. Meritocracy leads to oligarchy.

Hayes points to his own elite training ground, Hunter College High School in New York City. You have to ace an entrance exam to get in, but affluent parents send their kids to rigorous test prep centers and now few poor black and Latino students can get in.

Baseball players get to the major leagues through merit, but then some take enhancement drugs to preserve their status. Financiers work hard to get jobs at the big banks, but then some rig the game for their own mutual benefit.

Far from being the fairest of all systems, he concludes, the meritocracy promotes gigantic inequality and is fundamentally dysfunctional. No wonder institutional failure has been the leitmotif of our age.

It’s a challenging argument but wrong. I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families. They spend enormous amounts of money and time on enrichment. They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to piano lessons and then taking part in conference calls from the waiting room.

Phenomena like the test-prep industry are just the icing on the cake, giving some upper-middle-class applicants a slight edge over other upper-middle-class applicants. The real advantages are much deeper and more honest.

The corruption that has now crept into the world of finance and the other professions is not endemic to meritocracy but to the specific culture of our meritocracy. The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites.

Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else. This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment.

As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess. If you went to Groton a century ago, you knew you were privileged. You were taught how morally precarious privilege was and how much responsibility it entailed. You were housed in a spartan 6-foot-by-9-foot cubicle to prepare you for the rigors of leadership.

The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence and service.

Today’s elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous). Wall Street firms, for example, now hire on the basis of youth and brains, not experience and character. Most of their problems can be traced to this.

If you read the e-mails from the Libor scandal you get the same sensation you get from reading the e-mails in so many recent scandals: these people are brats; they have no sense that they are guardians for an institution the world depends on; they have no consciousness of their larger social role.

The difference between the Hayes view and mine is a bit like the difference between the French Revolution and the American Revolution. He wants to upend the social order. I want to keep the current social order, but I want to give it a different ethos and institutions that are more consistent with its existing ideals.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/opinion/brooks-why-our-elites-stink.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120713