“We may define a republic to be … a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is essential to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.” –James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 10, (1787)
Listening to the news or reading the paper, everyone is talking about the crisis. “How are you weathering the crisis?” or “Here’s how you can survive the crisis.” One might do well to inquire which crisis they are referring to. With that typical American myopia which is sometimes endearing, though not in this case, they refer, of course, to the economic crisis that nearly shipwrecked our economy. It’s deemed a crisis, you see, since it has affected not just the poor and disenfranchised, as most crises do, but also the rich and well-heeled.
Yet as social critic Noam Chomsky has long and passionately maintained, there is a greater, more global crisis of which economics are only a symptom: The control of the many by the few– and a few that is increasingly fewer.
One of the danger signs which could spell an even deeper economic disaster for us in the future is the increasing consolidation of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Robert Reich, former Sec’y of Labor, put it this way:
“…As late as 1980, the top one percent by income in this United States had about nine percent of total national income. But since then, you’ve had increasing concentration of income and wealth to the point that by 2007, … the top one percent was taking home 21 percent of total national income. Now, when they’re taking home that much, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going. You know, that was hidden by the fact that they were borrowing so much on their homes….But once that housing bubble exploded, it exposed the fact that the middle class in this country has really not participated in the growth of the economy. And over the long term, we’re not going to have a recovery until the middle class has purchasing power it needs to buy again.”
Lose your middle class and you lose your democracy. As Reich concludes, “Essentially, capitalism has swamped democracy.”
Students of history may recognize in this trend an even more ominous threat. 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire speaks of the greed that helped precipitate the end of the Roman republic: “The lands of Italy, which had been originally divided among the families of free and indigent proprietors, were purchased or usurped by the avarice of the nobles; and in the age which proceeded the fall of the republic, it was computed only two thousand citizens were possessed of any independent substance.”
Unfortunately, the problem is not confined to the U.S. The trend is global. We are only beginning to feel it here. Capitalism run amok through free trade agreements, coupled with lack of government oversight and local corruption, is raping the economies of smaller nations, draining wealth and natural resources and leaving ruin in its wake. This sickness is enabled both here and abroad by a system of corruption and greed that is bigger than any one government, corporation or individual. It is, to speak plainly, satanic.
But if Americans do not wake up and act to reverse the trend in our own back yard, we will see not only greater global unrest (the multiplying leftist governments in Latin America, for example, are a reaction to unbridled American hegemony and greed) but also greater poverty, deeper economic crises, and perhaps even revolution at home.
As the late Walter Cronkite put it, “Seats in Congress, seats in the state legislature, that big seat in the White House itself, can be purchased by those who have the greatest campaign resources …That, I submit to you, is no democracy. It is an oligarchy of the already powerful.” And as another reporter stated even more succinctly, “We are back to an oligarchy pretending to be a republic pretending to be a democracy.”
There is something we can do. There is a bill now before Congress. It’s called the Fair Elections Now Act (S.752, H.R.1826) and it currently sits in committee in both houses. The bill would allow congressional candidates to campaign using small donations from individuals and limited public funding. Not only would this act free our elected officials from having to spend most of their time and focus on fundraising; it would also help to re-empower the electorate and clip the wings of wealthy donors and special interests. One of the bill’s sponsors is Sen. Dick Durbin, who earlier this year remarked how the banking industry basically “owns” Congress. There are many other public servants in Congress who truly desire to serve the interests of those who elected them, but the current system will not allow them to. Instead, they must be at the beck and call of those who fill the war chest. For more info: http://www.fairelectionsnow.org/
On a related note, what bothers me about the debate about healthcare reform in this country is that no matter how one feels about a single-payer system or a government option, here’s an opportunity for Americans to band together and strike a blow for democracy, wresting some of the power away from the insurance and Big Pharm lobbies that have dominated Congress and the White House for decades. What’s wrong with that? The same with global warming. Even if someone doesn’t believe it exists, here at last is an opportunity to begin to break our dependency on foreign oil and Big Oil’s stranglehold over our government. Going green is not only the best way to fight the power of the oil companies; it is also a powerful weapon against terrorism. Who do you think funds the terrorists? Saudi Arabia, Iran, big oil producing nations.
Now I would call such a stand patriotic. I can understand Big Oil’s and Big Pharm’s fear. They would lose power. I have less patience for ordinary Americans who suffer from their oppression and yet drink their Kool-Aid.