American Samizdat

Monday, April 09, 2007. *
Mike Sky, of Thinking Peace, who is also an editor at P!, yesterday posted the following incredible essay, Capitalism vs. Democracy.

Mike is a writer, editor, and peace activist, and writes at Thinking Peace. He is the author of "Breathing" and "The Power of Emotion", two books that offer practical, proven methods for becoming more peaceful individuals.

His first book,"Dancing With the Fire" was an in-depth exploration of the practice of firewalking. It is currently out of print, as is his third book, "Sexual Peace", a study of the roots of violence written during the first Gulf Slaughter. Michael is currently working on a new book, "Thinking Peace: America's Challenge in the Wake of Terror".

We can either have a situation where we have a small number of people with a huge amount of wealth or we can have a democracy. But we can't have both. —Bill Gates, Sr.

[There] is looming up a new and dark power... the enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economical conquests only, but for political power... The question will arise and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine, which shall rule—wealth or man; which shall lead—money or intellect; who shall fill public stations—educated and patriotic freemen, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital.... —Justice Edward G. Ryan, 1873

In the summer of 2002, George W. Bush stood at the peak of power. The American people, still reeling from 9/11, had given Bush support for whatever he deemed necessary in the global war on terror. Internationally, he still had much of the world's sympathy and backing.

The Bush administration's response to all the power it had been given was to grab for more. They released the National Security Strategy, a document that made clear that America would only experience real security when the rest of the world had been transformed into its likeness. While providing justification for invasions of evil states deemed as threatening to global security, the real thrust of the document went to US responsibilities and opportunities to export and widely promote the two great pillars of American society: democracy and free market capitalism.

For so many Americans, democracy and capitalism — free people and free markets — go to the heart of America's greatness, its exceptionalism, and its promise in the evolution of human culture. In a wanna-be Christian nation that regularly contradicts the teachings of Jesus, the establishment and protection of these freedoms has become the one true religion and Holy Grail. Good Americans turn all teary-eyed on the subject of freedom and have come to accept without question the continuity between individual freedoms and the freedoms of the marketplace: neither can exist without the other, and any infringements on one represent an infringement of both.

The proselytes of this all too viral Americanism blithely discount the terrible difficulties that have befallen so many newly "free" nations: the haphazard break-up of the Soviet Union, the wrenching, horrible tragedy of Yugoslavia, and such freed but failing economies as Chile, Argentina, and Brazil (to name a few). "Mere growing pains," the Americanizers proclaim. As long as they open their markets (especially to America) and hold some reasonably free elections, then any suffering, dislocation, and civil strife such countries undergo warrant little more than a condescending shrug from their American superiors.

Even worse, these evangelical Americans either ignore or outright attack any democratic systems or free market economies that do not absolutely toe the American Way. Rare discussions of European-style democracy or Canadian-style healthcare or Japanese-style pension systems get quickly derailed with dire warnings of creeping socialism and the futility of State-run economies. Not surprisingly, the dissemination of American-style democracy and capitalism has come to take on all the form and trappings of an Old Testament religion: there exists one and only one true way and those who do not follow deserve their suffering, while heaven awaits those who help spread the good news.

Aside from the arrogance of thinking that any one way will work best for everyone, we really must question just how well democracy and free market capitalism have worked together in America. After more than two hundred years of free and open elections, American democracy has some glaring faults, including shamefully low voter turnout, ugly, mean-spirited campaigns, near total control of the legislative processes by big money interests, and, as the 2000 election proved, serious problems at nearly every stage of the electoral process, from the slapdash design of ballots and voting machines to the antiquated rules that cashiered Al Gore.

America's capitalism, likewise more than two hundred years in development, still produces as many scandals as success stories, leaves unconscionable numbers of citizens unemployed and without access to essential goods and services, runs roughshod over the environment, behaves imperialistically toward other nations, and channels so much money into the political process as to render the overclass fairly immune to community oversight.

Though Americans naturally think of democracy and capitalism as working in concert, in fact, these two profoundly differing viewpoints have clashed and conflicted throughout America's history. For while democracy aims to distribute power more equitably among all, capitalism promises that only the worthy few will achieve great wealth. Democracy follows the concerns of "demos," the People, while capitalism follows the bottom line materialism of stuff and money. Democracy, at its best, brings people together to decide vital matters of common import. Capitalism splits the People into fields of separate actors, each looking after his and her own interests, with little regard for those of others. Democracy epitomizes the group, public and cooperative, while capitalism stands for the individual, private and competitive.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: the more free and unencumbered America's market economy, the less effective its democracy and less free its people. Capitalism tends to undermine democracy, rather than support it. To the extent that America achieves the main capitalist goals of reducing taxes, removing government regulations, and privatizing public enterprises and institutions, the nation becomes decidedly less democratic.

Consider America's tortured attempts at campaign finance reform. Everybody knows that electoral victory nearly always goes to the candidate who spends the most money, that incumbents use the power of their office to raise funds and thereby retain position and power, and that the wealthy use their campaign contributions to influence politicians and the electoral process. America has truly, sadly, become "the best democracy that money can buy."

Yet efforts to move toward public financing, or to place limits on campaign spending, or to lessen the influence of large donations fade before the rhetoric of free market capitalism, as if the process of choosing our leaders should steadfastly follow the same guiding principles as that of choosing a new detergent. Incumbents define campaign contributions as a type of public discourse and then frame any attempts to limit such contributions as interferences with the freedom of speech. In America, the freedom of the wealthy to decide public policy shall not be abridged by the common ideals of a genuine, working democracy.

Ultimately, the prophets of triumphant capitalism aim for the virtual elimination of government. The privateers have set their salivating sights on public education, Medicare, Headstart, the postal system, the public financing of various media and the arts, and, the jewel in the crown, Social Security. They would have us believe that private, unregulated enterprises could do all of these things better than government — that men and women motivated by personal profit will always outperform those motivated by civic responsibility, by the desire to serve others, by spiritual principles, or even by an impassioned patriotism.

If America really wants to bring freedom and democracy to the rest of the world — a worthy goal, and the surest counter to global terrorism — then it must first resolve this long-running conflict between free markets and free people. Despite the assurances of neoconservative theorists, personal freedom without the regulating force of community oversight, as expressed through laws, rules, licenses, and customs, leads inevitably to conflict, strife, and ultimate rule by self-serving elites. While the government that governs least may indeed govern best, in the total absence of governance we see people at their worst. For all the genuine evils of totalitarian over-governance, we do no better sliding into the oligarchic controls of under-governance.

America could really use a few new myths, indeed, a whole new Story. Paeans to the rugged individualist recklessly braving the cutthroat competitions of life must give way to tales of groups, organizations, and governing bodies selflessly cooperating for the greater good. Celebrations of national independence should evolve into global celebrations of interdependence. The prevailing notion of personal profit as a fair and effective motivator in human endeavors needs the tempering influences of empathy, compassion, service, community, and a bottom-line concern for the most disadvantaged in society.

Money can no longer serve as the prime measure of a person's value or of the worthiness or lack thereof of social policies; instead, we need to view individuals and their governments through a universal prism of transcendent, ethical, and spiritual values. Nor can the use of force — power to the strongest, richest, and most capable of violence — continue as the primary way of making decisions and resolving conflicts. America needs to manifest nothing less than a genuine working democracy, where the most dominant force resides in the voice of the common people.

[Note: ddjango, the editor of P!, is currently having some difficult times. P! is in the middle of a fundraiser to help him through and make sure P! stays alive. Sine.Qua.Non, another P! editor has issued a challenge and will contribute a matching matching amount. If you can donate even five dollars, it will go a long way. Thank you, and as always . . .

Be at peace.
posted by Unknown at 9:11 AM
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