Is the United States of America an Oligarchy or a Corporatocracy?
On America as an Oligarchy: Looking at the Studies
Below we discuss data and theory, let’s start with the data and then we’ll move onto the theory (and more data).
On the subject of “is American an Oligarchy” there is one core study everyone cites and then one counter-argument paper that pokes some holes in the conclusions. Both should be considered, let’s quickly discuss them.
The often cited Princeton study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens by Martin Gilens, found that what the average citizen wants politically has little baring on what policy is passed in the United States of America.
Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence….
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 we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
– From the study: Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.
Meanwhile, the study, When do the Rich Win? (done by a PhD student in Texas, J. Alexander Branham; so valid, but not fully equal here), points out that the policy decisions of the rich are generally approved of by about 50% of the electorate (the upper-income 50% of middle-income and rich voters; not 50% of the general population).
This conclusion is noteworthy, but one has to consider: the poorest are less likely to vote and less likely to be politically active, and the rich tend to spend vast fortunes influencing politics and shaping public opinion (via lobbyists and superPACs and such).
We know that interest groups and policy makers themselves often devote considerable effort to shaping opinion. If they are successful, this might help explain the high correlation we find between elite and mass preferences. But it cannot have greatly inflated our estimate of average citizens’ influence on policy making, which is near zero. – Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens
In other words, just because a 47% or 50% of voters agree with the richest Americans, doesn’t mean the majority opinion or general will is being represented in the laws (or that 50% of the general public favors those policies).
The key here is realizing that a majority opinion isn’t the same thing as a the general will. If a monied interests spends vast sums shaping public opinion, that is not the same as representing the true interests of the people (a subtle but important point).
In sum, it is pretty clear money equals political power in America, but does all the data show without a doubt that “when a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites, the elites win?”
No, not all of it. Despite the most striking points from the Princeton study, the data hardly points to a literal pure oligarchy.
Instead the data suggests the middle and rich tend to agree on policy and effectively block many of the policies favored by the poor while at the same time shaping public opinion.
Thus, in summary, the data shows that we can conclude there is aspects of oligarchy in the representative democracy of the American republic, but we can’t make that claim that the United States of America has become a pure oligarchy.
We touch on all this and more, like the question of to what degree America is a corporatocracy, below breaking out philosophy, theory, specific policies, and more studies to explore things further.
TIP: With the above studies in mind, we can conclude that while voter interests are represented somewhat democratically in America, laws are often passed despite their popularity (according to the above report: “The opinions of 90% of Americans have essentially no impact on what laws are passed at all.” <— THE TALKING POINT version of what can be extrapolated from the Princeton study). This is a hint that money and special interests have more sway than the people on many issues (especially when we consider interest driven advents like Citizens United; which is part of an overarching strategy). The aspect of our system that favors monied interests over the people is oligarchical. However, it is worse than this, those with money seeks to change minds and get people to support interests that aren’t their own (and this affect is hard to measure). The following video from Represent.Us explains many of these points in a simple but somewhat slanted way, then Martin Gilens (the author of the study) explains from a more centered angle in the next video.
Corruption is Legal in America Here is a video that explains why trading a Federal Republic for a corporatocracy is a slippery slope.
Martin Gilens on Political Inequality – MIT – 09.19.14 Here is a video that explains why trading a Federal Republic for a corporatocracy is a slippery slope.
Considering the United States and its Oligarchical and Corporate Aspects
The first thing to note is that the United States of America has a mixed government that, from a philosophical standpoint, purposefully mixes the positive aspects of democracy (the many vote), aristocracy (the wise rule), timocracy (military state), and oligarchy (rule by wealth). Each classical form of government is meant to balance the other, ensuring each form’s “virtues,” and “checking” each form’s “vices;” a sort of system of checks and balances of classical governments explained in Plato’s Republic).
Consider, in the United States we vote on representatives (democracy), who aristocratically make laws (aristocracy), with a strong military and executive agencies (timocracy), and we have a capitalist system with private ownership (speaking very generally, oligarchy). In other words, we have a government that is somewhat by intent meant to mix the positive aspects of the classical forms (an original aversion to standing armies and such aside).
The United States is from this perspective, was constructed to be a sort of free-trading “democratic” republic.
The second thing to note is that a corporatocracy is a type of oligarchy where corporations rule. If a government represents not the people, but instead the wealthy and/or corporations, then we can say, “the state is an oligarchy and/or the state is a Corporatocracy.”
We know the United States is not a pure oligarchy or corporatocracy, as the people do have a voice. However we also know that money influences politics.
So, we know that America has both good and bad oligarchical aspects, but what we really want to know is, “is America more or less oligarchical or corporate than it used to be, what are the trends, and to what extent is is it an oligarchy?”
To answer those questions it will help to better define the terms oligarchy and corporatocracy.
We hold with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln that the people are the masters of the Constitution, to fulfill its purposes and to safeguard it from those who, by perversion of its intent, would convert it into an instrument of injustice.
– Progressive Party Platform of 1912, Teddy Roosevelt. In this quote the Progressive platform tells us that special interests factions of both parties have corrupted the democracy via wealth and power, and that it is our duty to safeguard against this.
What is Oligarchy? What is Corporatocracy?
With the key points above in mind, let’s define our terms so we can dive further into this conversation:
- Oligarchy = Government ruled by the “few” (in this sense and classically, ruled by private individual wealth specifically), where “monied” special interests at best rule, and at worst are put before the public good and rule of law. One of the classical forms of government. TIP: When oligarchy becomes tyrannical one could call it plutocracy, on this page we won’t make the distinction unless needed (as it is somewhat of a judgement call).
- Corporatocracy = Government controlled by corporations. Typically ruled by private collective wealth (via corporations). A corporatocracy is a type of collective based democratic (in some respects) Oligarchy. Simply, shareholders, board members, capitalists, and employee owned stocks mean more people have a slice of the pie (this being less-and-less true the more “oligarchical” or “plutocratic” it becomes and the “fewer and fewer” owners sit on the top).
TIP: The following video describes how full-time Walmart workers rely on state assistance despite working 9 to 5 jobs for one of the country’s biggest employers. This marriage of corporations, shareholders, lobbyists, government, and workers speaks to aspects of corporatocracy in a Republic. With so many involved, and with Walmart being a publicly traded company, it also speaks to the idea that corporatocracy is a somewhat democratic system. The Waltons can be called oligarchs to some extent (debatable), but Walmart the corporation speaks more to aspects of corporatocracy.
Empire – The Rise of the Oligarchs.
To What Extent Can America be Oligarchical and Still be a True Democratic Republic?
Our true national interest isn’t up for debate, the interest of a just Republic that values democracy is necessarily to safeguard the republic and ensure democracy (Teddy knew this, so did Madison, and I suspect you do too).
To the extent that the wealth of nations and citizens ensures democracy and the republic, that is to the extent that elements of oligarchy are important in a free-trading Republic.
Thus we can safely say that while pure oligarchy (oligarchy only) isn’t ideal in a Republic that loves democracy and just laws, elements of oligarchy kept in check as so they don’t corrupt the laws or the democracy can be ideal (in fact, some minor inequality is necessary in a capitalist system and even good for it).
Thus, while we can’t claim pure oligarchy is a good fit, we can postulate that elements of oligarchy (and corporatocracy specifically; as I’ll make a stronger case for below) in a otherwise Democratic Republic, with enough competition, reasonable taxes, and lots of public stock owners, can fit.
- After-all when there is competition, one can vote with their dollar.
- When there is reasonable taxes, capital doesn’t just accumulate at the top and create powerful monied special interests.
- And, when there are many public stock owners, “the many” benefit from the return on capital and don’t just depend on wage labor and credit (both at the benefit of the top percent who own the debt and employ the labor).
Most of all, when there is some minor inequality, people have great incentive to produce and push themselves, and this is good.
Certainly, as noted above, the current system of the United States (with things like Citizens United and the Wealth Gap considered) has aspects of both oligarchy and corporactoracy. That isn’t something we can deny (if you need proof see “Capital in the Twenty-First Century By Thomas Piketty” and the video above by Represent.Us).
So, knowing that America is somewhat oligarchical, and knowing that some degree of this is on purpose and is good for the Republic, we can now explore the topic further to ask, “to what extent is America an oligarchy, what type of oligarchy is it, what are the current trends, and to what extent is this a problem?”
“That said, the history of the progressive tax over the course of the twentieth century [which is becoming flatter] suggests that the risk of a drift toward oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism about where the United States is headed.” – Capital in the Twenty-First Century By Thomas Piketty
Introduction to America as an Oligarchy and America as a Corporatocracy Specifically
I will now reaffirm that which you already know (both instinctively and given the introduction), America is a sort of quasi-oligarchy-corporatocracy-plutocracy (where the rich have more political power than the average citizen, where corporations have more power than the average citizen, and where there is some corruption of power due to wealth), but to what extent changes era-to-era.
Blame human nature, blame the Brits for passing us down elements of our system, blame Thomas Jefferson and the early anti-Federalists for not speaking out enough, blame the World War eras or the Monroe doctrine and her big corporate stick, or blame Citizens United, or blame the repeal of banking regulations and the Fairness Doctrine. Doesn’t matter what you blame, things are what they are.
America is a capitalist system that relies on trade, in America the rich have far more power than the poor, and in America sometimes money wins the day politically, and thus America has elements of oligarchy, and plutocracy and corporatocracy specifically (both good and bad aspects). That is a fact.
However, as noted above, this problem has not always looked exactly the same. Some things have gotten better over time, some have gotten worse, some of ebbed and flowed, but generally each era had its own problems.
In the American Revolution there was one problem, in the pre-Civil War era, there was another problem, in the Gilded Age, another. Then after Teddy’s Trust Busting, Wilson’s New Freedom, and FDR’s New Deal (and some world wars), there was some relief as the middle class grew.
Today, since Nixon, Clinton, and Reagan (specifically since the 1970’s and especially 1980’s; so pretty literally “since Reaganomics”), we have yet another unique problem based on the current “factors of production.”
Today we have a growing wealth gap (problem 1), we have a growing oligarchy, plutocracy, and corporatocracy (“problem” 2), but we don’t have the laws in place to curve the gap (instead there is a lot of “money in politics”… problems 3, 4, 5, 6, etc).
Here, although “a rising tide lifts all ships” (see neoliberalism), we also have a problem of growing inequality. This is why some call this era, “the New Gilded Age.”
All the problems above of each age, as well as our problems today, can generally be explained in one sentence, “when oligarchs get in charge of government, one way or another, they typically use their power to ensure their wealth, such is their self-interest, and this paired with the relationship between capital, labor, technology, global events, and politics of the time spells out the specific effects.”
Here we can note, that while it is rational to fear oligarchy, corporations, and wealth gaps, these things are only truly bad for democracy when not kept in check.
A modest wealth gap is natural and the positive aspects of oligarchy have already been eluded to.
Meanwhile, a corporatocracy paired with smart taxes and lots of competition can actually be fairly democratic in a true mixed-Republic where the sovereign people have real political power and inequality is not too great (a Republic must love moderate inequality; but extremes corrupt democracy).
However, an excessive wealth gap over time creates a small ruling class of capitalists, a true oligarchy. The more wealth is consolidated into private companies, the more true this becomes. The more generations that pass, and the lower the estate and capital gains tax, the more true this becomes. This is the law of The Laws of Cumulative Growth and Cumulative Returns that compound interest on capital and lead to a dynastic oligarchy.
If and when the oligarchy starts to rule in its own interest, and not in the public interest, then (classically speaking) we get tyranny (a tyrannical oligarchy that then can become a police state or despotic state; or it can just remain a tyrannical oligarchy if power is never fully consolidated to a governmental body).
This isn’t just an American problem, it is a global problem, but America as a world leader is setting the pace. If the father is a tyrant, and the children are tyrants, we have to at least place some blame at the feet of the father.
With all that noted, there is real reason to relish this brief moment of democratical corporate oligarchy, this mix of Republic, democracy, and corporate oligarchy with many public shareholders and many companies that we can call “corporatocracy.”
There is real reason to celebrate this era in which a self-made Bill Gates can own Microsoft for a moment, make the Forbes top 10, and then we can all go out and buy shares of Microsoft and get an affordable computer (where everyone has a cell phone and PC and where Apple is true competition).
We should relish this not because we love oligarchy unchecked, but because the wealth gap is widening, companies are consolidating again like they did in Teddy’s era, and those who made the money are dying out while their heirs are seeing growth in their inherited capital.
Sam Walton is no longer around to reap the fruit of his rewards, but Walmart’s monopoly continues (to offer one modern example; not to single out the rather decently managed Walmart who is often an early adopter of social policy; remember, the current era is still rather good).
To cut to the chase, while today may seem a bit unnerving on its own merit, it is very likely America will become much more oligarchical over time, especially considering the recent Trump administration and its tax cuts on capital gains, the estate tax, and the corporate tax (TIP: Just check out what Trump’s potential tax plan does with taxes on wealth of individuals and corporations; or see his administration on deregulation).
Consider, Trump is a wealthy landowner and capitalist, if you missed the warnings of Ricardo or Marx, at least check out the warnings of Piketty below, or see Capital in the Twenty-First Century By Thomas Piketty Explained (Ricardo had limited data; today we have too much to fill a blog post… so see the citations and videos!).
A nation ruled in-part by the many companies, who answer to the few companies, is a sort of oligarchical Republic.
A true Oligarchy, the one that waits in our future, is in its tyrannical form, that of which Plato warned, where the very few rule a nation in their own self interest; where everyone is the serf of old capital (long after those who made the money die off).
This isn’t to say that there aren’t a thousand solutions from philanthropy to sensible taxes, it is only to say such things are not the reality of today.
A more progressive tax on capital gains, and a more robust estate tax, that is taxes on wealth (not income) are the way out. Since we see little sign of anyone taking that way out, there is reason to panic.
So, is America an Oligarchy? In some ways yes, in some ways no, and the future is uncertain. This is to say, the question is good, the answer is generally yes, but the details are rather complicated.
The Untied States is technically a federal Republic, a type of mixed government or mixed-Republic, with elements of oligarchy (in some ways intended). However, “you ain’t seen nothing yet” as they say.
Simply, we will be lucky if we can retain a mixed-Republic with a corporatocracy in which “new money” can still make it into the 1%. With that said, this video explains some of the gist, meanwhile many additional aspects of the argument are explained below.
An Introduction to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century- A Macat Economics Analysis.
SUMMARY: A liberal and democratic nation like the United States allows for all types of sub-systems to arise, including oligarchy and corporatocracy (in fact, since the Gilded Age and Reagan era we actively promote the vice-like virtues that breed such systems!) With that said, to what extent any natural effect of liberty should be tempered by law, is debatable. As Plato knew, oligarchy and democracy could devolve into tyranny, yet all systems have sticking points, and even monarchical or despotic systems that seek to avoid anarchy and tyranny limit liberty by design in the first place. In truth, there aren’t many more choices for a people who value both liberty and equality, such things are messy! Anyway, that is why the founders settled on a “mixed” republic based on the rule of law (“if we can keep it“). Below we explain not only in what ways America is oligarchical, but also why it should be expected. Of course, we’ll also offer some tips for safeguarding the Republic.
Why Socrates Hated Democracy.
TIP: Pure Oligarchy is not desirable, and history shows clearly that Barons pose real historic danger. However, we should acknowledge that the Greeks generally encouraged aspects of oligarchy in their ideal mixed government (not because they loved oligarchy, but because the human condition essentially demands it, as can be seen in Plato’s theory of a producer class from his Republic for example). So those who are frustrated by any aspects of oligarchy in the state should consider that fact, and consider the very democratic nature of corporations, public stocks, board rooms, etc. The system is meant to be sub-system within the Republic, not the system running a show. This is to say an oligarchical sub-system tempered by law is probably a good thing, allowing the would-be oligarchs to thrive within their own limited sphere, but a state run by oligarchs, I don’t recall any philosopher ever suggesting that.
The United States, Corporations, and Government
Contrary to what one may assume, the United States Constitution doesn’t prevent special oligarchical interests; rather it ensures them. It also safeguards our right and duty to protect the common welfare against them.
Let me say that again in other words, we are literally a mix of democracy, aristocracy, timocracy, and oligarchy, on purpose.
Plato suggested a mixed government, Montesquieu suggested a mixed government, and while Madison hardly mixed in timocracy and oligarchy as liberally as we do today, by the time he was President we had a solid marble cake mix of a mixed-Republic.
Still, we don’t have, “a pure oligarchy”… we have, and it is our sacred duty to defend, a mixed Republic with checks and balances and the rule of law with liberty and justice for all… including special interests and capitalists (and of course, that is part of the problem).
“Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires“, as Madison, the father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights said in the Federalist #10 when promoting the ideals behind the Constitution.
This is to say, the Amended Constitution and culture of America defines our liberties, rights, and form of government, and these factors essentially ensure factions “for better or for worse” (be they special interests of private entities or simply political parties).
We have chosen (through our constitution and the ballot box) the separations and balance of powers, and a somewhat limited authority of central government in favor of classical liberal principles like individual liberty and free trade. This is to say, we have mixed Democratic and Republican forms of government to create a more perfect, but hardly infallible, Union.
We have elected to withhold the use of absolute power (absolute monarchy), which can in theory prevent Cronyism and private monopolistic practices in both business and politics in favor of liberty and right (we even now consider corporations to be people to some extent).
Thus, like air allows fire to burn, our liberties and system of law essentially ensure special interests and corruption (against which we must consistently stand guard).
Below we take a centered look at Oligarchies, Corporatocracies, and America. We then examine why President Obama says, “things are good, and the goal is to get better.” Others like Charles Koch, Bernie Sanders, and Noam Chomsky are less optimistic with Chomsky even describing America as an Oligarchical Corporatocracy.
“In adopting a republican form of government. I not only took it as a man does his wife, for better for worse, but what few men do with their wives. I took it knowing all its bad qualities.”… because its better than “[Pure] Democracy, that disease of which all Republics have perished, except those which have been overturned by foreign force.” – Gouverneur Morris 
MYTH: It is a myth that the United States is a corporation. The charge of the U.S. being a corporatocracy or oligarchy is largely semantic and debatable, the charge of it being a corporation is provably incorrect.
TIP: According to the philosophers, when specific or corporate interest is put before the public interest and the law, it creates a deviant form of government. Oligarchy is a deviant form and plutocracies and corporatocracies are types of oligarchies. Learn more about the philosophy of the types of government.
“If the right wing wants a fight, they’re going to get it.” – Eisenhower talking about standing up to the far-right of his party (business interests and radical social conservative interests that had teamed up in a coalition by his time).
Eisenhower warns us of the military industrial complex. Eisenhower standing up for the Military he loved against the industrial complex (the corporate aspect of the military)… People misunderstand Eisenhower, he was a true conservative, not a crony capitalist. See full speech here.
TIP: This page focuses on whether or not we can consider the modern economic and political environment of America as a corporatocracy. We could make a case for America as a theocracy of religious rule (as there are factions who push for this in America). It could be seen as a plutocracy controlled by wealthy oligarchs (where we focus on following the money, not just the corporations). It could be seen as a classical aristocracy ruled by old money and classism, typically denoting a “higher order” than the mercantile class and money-powered oligarchs. These are all different types of governments “ruled by the few”, and thus, by perversion or intent, are typically focused on special interests as opposed to public interest. See types of oligarchies.
Is the United States an Oligarchy Keith Hughes is smart and balanced. I would lead with this video, but the above is pretty impactful.
A Quick History of Oligarchies
One of the first constitutions we have on record, The Athenian Constitution, starts with the story about a poet-politician-liberator named Solon in about 600 BC. Athens had been enslaved by an oligarchical class. Solon liberated Athens by relieving all debts and credits, and he was remembered fondly by the later Greeks like Aristotle in 350 BC.
This same story happened again in the phases of the Roman Republic, and it was often the story of sub-Roman Europe to today (see the historical effects of wealth inequality and its impact on governments).
Famous Greeks Series Solon. Do we look to Sparta or Athens? Either way, not standing up for your nation isn’t on the table.
None of the great thinkers from Plato and Aristotle to Lincoln, to the Roosevelt’s, to Eisenhower, to Kennedy, to Sanders (them specifically), approved of Oligarchies taking over, and none of them were afraid to speak out despite the risks.
These greats valued a tempered Democracy as much as they feared mob rule (inherent Pure Democracy). They valued a Republic, but like Morris and Madison knew its sticking points. Despite the pros and cons, one thing was certain, they thought civil service, social justice, and public welfare to be “virtues of the highest order.”
Democracy is tempered, not to hurt the people, but to protect them, and this has always been a slippery slope and an opening for factions to exploit.
Teddy’s Progressive platform of 1912 is brutally eye-opening and slams the invisible government of special interest oligarchs.
If Bernie Sander’s told you it was his platform, I’m not sure you would know the difference.
This doesn’t make either Roosevelt’s or Sanders’ position right, but it does indicate that we have to take this time-honored concern seriously.
When the DNC fought tooth and nail to prevent FDR from becoming President, what else was can we see it as but corrupt powerful special interest (in this case DNC) standing up to civil-service-minded powerful interest (in this case FDR) in the name of the Republic.
All this to say, the story of “the growing oligarchy” and those who stand for and against it (on both sides of the isle) is as old as recorded history and as recent as the 2016 election.
Plato Oligarchy. You can’t understand what is happening now if you don’t understand history. So time for a quick history lesson from Plato.
You can thank greats like Madison for the ability to do so, and we can reaffirm today, that one should not be afraid to question the way that their government is run or to speak out. In fact, free speech, press, and assembly is promoted and ensured by the Republic. America values liberty and Democratic principles, but this applies to all groups, even corporations, and THAT is the slippery slope.
A benevolent aristocracy, heroic oligarchs, or an altruistic monarchy can all be “blessings,” and have their benefits over Pure Democracy (everyone votes on laws) and Representative Democracies (like a Republic); but they have one big drawback, they provide order at the expense of liberty.
Humans have known since ancient times that “a little bit of wealth can go a long way to buying elections and undoing more populist-centered governments.” This is the slippery slope against which the people must always remain vigilant, especially in a system that extends liberty to all.
Power doesn’t always corrupt absolutely, but when it does, it is never good for the people. Considering corporations need consumers, we jeopardize not only our liberty but the corporations themselves when we face corruption with apathy.
Progressive Presidents: Crash Course US History #29. You wouldn’t know it today, but there are three flavors of “progressivism.” Let’s call them Taft, Teddy, and Wilson. All but Teddy’s version favor corporations and banks, just like Hamilton wanted in the first place. This is only a continuation of the modern globalization movement that started during the European Enlightenment. Consider Adam Smith published his Capitalist Manifesto in 1776. This is even more of a reason to temper it and protect it for the long-haul.
When Did America Become More Oligarchical?
First off, it is a myth that America is more oligarchical in every respect than it was.
We have a very democratic form of government, even when corporations and special interests are considered. It’s hard to see today as “worse than say the 1890’s under the industrialists”, but at the same time cronyism is rampant, union participation is at a low, as is voter turnout, and inequality is high.
We have the right to assemble and we have the right to petition the government and demand change. We do both. It seems unfair that a corporation or union has more sway than an ordinary citizen. Often the citizen needs to join a group and show up in numbers for change to happen.
It is hardly one ideology that is ruling the people. Rather, many little groups sitting at the table with each other or trying to one-up each other behind the scenes (for instance, see “what are lobbyists“). It isn’t that the Republic doesn’t have a responsibility to do something; it is that “YOU are the Republic”.
We can trace some of our current problems directly to major events like the Civil War, Cold War, and the 1964 Civil Rights movement. These events all caused unrest and many people with political power responded poorly, creating further division instead of bringing fringe views toward the center.
The Powell Memo and repealing the Fairness Doctrine led to reactions such as Fox News and right wing radio, and then the Citizen United ruling led to the current situation with campaign finance. The far-left and far-right protested against modernization. The neocons and neoliberals pushed for globalization and worked with the corporations. The result lifted up everyone (think Reaganomics), but in the top was lifted disproportionally and the wealth gap widened.
The above, and other factors, have led to politicians seeming to pander to lobbyists, corporations, and special interests (much like had been done since the Tammany Hall days), instead of answering to the people or, importantly, “the rule of law.”
This process formed, as Eisenhower said, the Military Industrial Complex, for example. Eisenhower didn’t warn against private contracts, but rather warned that we must protect the Military from being overrun by corporate interest. It was a call in support of the Military, not against it!
The result of business, politicians, and agencies sharing interests that aren’t directly aligned with the public interest is what some call “corporatocracy” (society or system that is governed or controlled by corporations, a type of organized monied interest driven by consumerism and capital rather than ethics). In these respects, we can say there is certainly a sub-system of corporatocracy in America… but again, recalling Madison, “is this corporatocracy un-American?” and if not “is it undesirable none-the-less?”
WHAT IS THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE?. Here is the deal, no one likes “LAWS” (AKA being told what to do), but they exist to protect the people. The balance between liberty and law is where most answers lay.
Is a Corporatocracy Democratic?
Unlike other types of oligarchies, a corporatocracy is a rather democratic form of oligarchy (like a free-market Republic of sorts).
The people vote with their wallet, organizations have boards, they create jobs, keep the nation wealthy on a good day, companies are even typically publicly traded, and a significant portion of the population benefits.
Corporatocracy, is oddly enough, fairly close to being OK by many metrics. Its rather democratic, it respects order and law, and it’s a heck-of-a-lot better than it was at some points in history.
Ultimately we all, statistically speaking in terms of consumer demand, love Starbucks and Walmart, and would rather play video games or go to the mall than protest, but of course this is why an “apathetic consumer driven corporatocracy” it is so dangerous. The second corporations benefit from people’s apathy, is the second things go down hill.
The key to a functioning Republic is active participation of an informed electorate comprised of the people, as this is the best check and balance to ensure an ethical government. Corporatocracy, especially the “neoliberal” brand of it, gives just enough to invoke complacency and stave off protest. Debt piles up at the taxpayer expense, the oligarchs roll around in it, the ghettos deteriorate more each year, how exactly does this end well if nothing is done?
To add to this problem, the current campaign finance system assures that corporations will be the ones funding politicians (especially a problem on the state and local level), and the fairness doctrine repeal ensures the message needn’t be fair nor balanced. If this wasn’t true, ALEC would be far less successful.
For the good of the people, and corporations, and specifically the nation in which they operate, keeping people overly divided, angry, and complacent is a slippery slope that paves the way for despots. While pinning the whole thing on a villain would be easy, we aren’t so lucky, instead the only villain here is short sighted self interest and the nature of liberty paired with an apathetic electorate.
I’d like to think that when we consider all interest groups, unions, grassroots movements, local governments, benevolent oligarchs, and popular votes that a corporatocracy was Democratic enough alone. I’d like to believe they could exist within the Republic’s rule-set unchecked, but I’d be ignoring history.
It can exist, and peacefully, but not unchecked.
Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse. As soon as anyone says of the affairs of the state ‘What do I care?’, the state may be given up for lost. The lukewarmness of patriotism, the activity of private interest, the vastness of states, conquest and the abuse of government suggested the method of having deputies or representatives of the people in the national assemblies. Some men in some countries have presumed to call these ‘the Third Estate’; ·notice third·!—putting the individual interest of the nobility and the clergy first and second, and the public interest third. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau The Social Contract
Four Horsemen – Feature Documentary – Official Version. An award winning independent feature documentary which lifts the lid on how the world works. As we will never return to ‘business as usual’ 23 international thinkers, government advisors and Wall Street money-men break their silence and explain how to establish a moral and just society. And this is the key, coming to the table with morality and justice in mind, ready and willing to help create change, not just demand it.
TIP: America has a type of Democracy called a Republic. There are many types and subtypes of government systems. Versions of Democracies alone include Direct Democracies, Constitutional Monarchies, Republics, Socialist Democracies, Laissez Faire Republics (“Libertarian Republics”), Representative Democracies, and more. If it is run by the people on some level and isn’t run by an unelected Oligarchy or pure Monarchy; it is a type of democracy (of which Direct Democracy is how one says “pure” democracy). People tend to fear Pure Democracy because it can collapse into mob rule, the same way Communism (extreme Socialism) can, or the same way lawless isolationism (extreme Libertarianism) can, or the same way a totalitarian dictator (extreme Conservatism) can. The reason we have a Republic in America is to allow for both Law and Democracy to co-exist. Within the sphere of the Republic subsystem like oligarchies can exist, and this leads to our current situation.
Hope, Change, and an Appreciation for Modernization
The beauty of a lawful Republic is that change can and will happen, if the people demand it and put in the hard work.
A true Republic is ruled by ethics, law, and the General Will and an Oligarchy is ruled by special interests (either specific or corporate Wills before the law). In a Republic, we need to remain informed and balance laws constantly to avoid the takeover of the oligarchs. This has been true from the beginning of recorded history.
As the father of modern economics Adam Smith pointed out, monopolies can and will form in a nation that values Capitalism, free-markets, and Liberty. It may be dangerous, but it isn’t dangerous enough for us to sacrifice liberty.
Instead, you need to show up at the table and work for that next step forward. If we move too far in any direction, we jeopardize the liberty of all.
You can use that phone in your pocket to organize a grassroots group on Twitter right now, but don’t forget that phone, the internet, and Twitter are all run by corporations, who used government funded research, which was voted on by the government, and those positions elected by people.
We are all in this together. When we point out the worst, we shouldn’t be calling for the elimination on an interest, but rather reform that ensures the rule of law remains in-line with the common good.
If we move too far left or too far right, we compromise the Republic in the center.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are rights. Everything else must fit into that framework, and this makes life complex.
- Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens
- The Transformation of American Democracy to Oligarchy
- MARCH 31, 2017 Oligarchy in America by ANDREW LEVINE
- When do the Rich Win?
- The US is an oligarchy, study concludes Report by researchers from Princeton and Northwestern universities suggests that US political system serves special interest organisations, instead of voters
- Thomas Piketty’s “Capital”, summarised in four paragraphs A very brief summary of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”
- Capital in the Twenty-First Century By Thomas Piketty
- Examples of Trump’s potential tax plan and his administration on deregulation
- Charles Koch: This is the one issue where Bernie Sanders is right
- Morris to John Dickinson, May 23, 1803, Sparks, Life of Morris, III, 181; Morris to Robert R. Livingston, April 23, 1803, ibid., III, 180.
- The Athenian Constitution
- Eisenhower warns of military-industrial complex