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Corporate power is the enemy of our democracy 8/13/10 11:43 PM

Corporate power is the enemy of


our democracy

Robert Jensen
School of Journalism
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712
work: (512) 471-1990
fax: (512) 471-7979
rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu

copyright Robert Jensen 2002

Newsday, March 20, 2002, p. A-34.


and posted on Common Dreams web site.

by Robert Jensen

GEORGE W. BUSH says he likes to put things in


simple terms. Let's adopt his strategy and ask: Do
Americans want to struggle to create a rich
democracy, or are we going to roll over and
accept a democracy for the rich?
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Never has the question been placed in front of us


more starkly. Let's run down some of the
"highlights" of the Bush administration's first year:

--Tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the most


wealthy.
--Environmental regulation gutted in favor of
"voluntary" efforts by corporations.
--An obsession with an unnecessary and
unworkable national missile defense, which will
defend little except the profits of the weapons
industry.
--An energy policy plotted with the companies
that will profit, through a consultation process the
administration wants to keep secret.

Could there be a pattern here? Could it be that


politicians, who are supposed to represent we the
people, sometimes pursue agendas that benefit
only the few people and corporations with the
resources to put (and keep) them inpower?

Could the obvious be true -- that a country with an


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economy dominated bylarge corporations will find


itself stuck with a politics dominated by thosesame
corporations -- and that ordinary people don't fare
very well in sucha system?

Perhaps we should ask the question from the other


angle: So long as corporations rule the economy,
how could it be any other way?

When the Enron debacle broke, politicians eager


to distance themselves from the mess argued it
was a business scandal, not a political one. One
lesson of Enron is that there is no distinction: A
business scandal involving alarge corporation is
by definition a political scandal in a nation
wherecorporations dominate the political sphere.

By law and tradition, corporations exist for one


reason only: to maximize profit. Neither history
nor logic gives any reason to think that profit-
maximizing leads to meaningful democracy.
Corporations are undemocratic internally and
usually hostile to democracy externally.

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As anyone who has ever worked in one knows,


there is no such thing as democracy within a
corporation. Authority is vested in the hands of a
small numberof directors who empower managers
to wield control. Those managers on occasion
might solicit the views of folks below; it is usually
called "seeking input." But input does not translate
into the power to effect change, implement policy
or control our own lives.

U.S. corporations do their best to subvert


meaningful democracy at home through bribes to
politicians, commonly called campaign
contributions. They haveshown repeatedly in
other countries that they prefer dictatorships and
oligarchies to real democracies; authoritarian
governments are much easier to cut a deal with.

Although politicians and pundits are often very


good at avoiding the obvious, it's hard not to
notice that this concentration of economic power
in thehands of a few has long had a corrosive
effect on democracy. In the Bushadministration,
that corrosion has accelerated. It's not that Bill
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Clintonwas -- or the Democrats, in general, are --


fundamentally different, onlythat the Bush boys
and many of today's top Republicans are so
brazen aboutit.

Looking back at the 20th century, we can see two


powerful trends: the growth of democracy and the
growth of corporate power. People of conscience
andprinciple fought to enrich democracy in the
United States by expanding thefranchise to
women and non-white people, carving out space
for free expressionand organizing popular
movements to pressure politicians. At the same
time,corporations went about the business of
enriching themselves by expandingtheir powers
through the strategic use of laws and politics. Let's
celebratethe expansion of people's formal rights,
but not be naïve about howconcentrations of
wealth and power have made those formal rights
increasinglyirrelevant as corporate money
saturates the system.

Borrowing one more time the Bush simple-and-to-


the-point style: Are corporations and democracy
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compatible?

A Business Week survey during the last election


showed how clearly people are coming to
understand that the answer is no. Nearly three-
quarters ofthe Americans surveyed said business
has gained too much power over too manyaspects
of their lives. The trick now is to use those rights --
speaking,organizing, voting -- and take back
democracy from the corporations.

Campaign-finance reform, while a reasonable first


step in and of itself,won't solve the problem. Like
water that finds cracks in a dam, corporatemoney
will find a way to pervert our politics until we deal
with the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of
the corporations.

At its core, democracy is about spreading power


as widely as possible, while corporate capitalism
is about concentrating power. That means the
struggle to make American democracy ever more
democratic in practice will have tobe a struggle
against corporate power.
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Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the


University of Texas atAustin, a member of the
Nowar Collective, and author of the book
WritingDissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the
Margins to the Mainstream. His
pamphlet,“Citizens of the Empire,” is available at
http://www.nowarcollective.com/citizensoftheempire.pdf.
Other writings are available online at
http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance/freelance.htm.
He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

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