Who Answers to the People?

The ongoing protests and uprisings in the Middle East are nearly continuous in our daily news, as rebel factions challenge their existing governments. The rebels represent those disillusioned by autocratic, corrupt governments supported by powerful elites, who exploit people and resources to extract the nation’s wealth for their personal benefit. The bulk of the population suffers widespread poverty, unemployment, religious and sectarian rivalry. Similar uprisings are occurring now in Brazil, where the benefits of its rise in economic power are extracted by the few to the detriment of most of the population. We tend to shrug off these events assuming it cannot happen here, but is that true?

Although our system of government is presented as a representative democracy, in recent decades well-financed corporate lobbyists have successfully influenced politicians to support policies that benefit the wealthy and the corporations. Following the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, corporations have license to fund political campaigns as freely as individuals, further exaggerating their political influence. The result is deregulation and tax breaks, which benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the middle class. High unemployment allows employers to hire people at low wages, offer few if any benefits, and extract hours of unpaid labor. Jobs often are exported overseas to countries of extreme poverty, which allow cheap labor and worker exploitation. Our unemployment rate is highest among young people. Even those with college degrees, finding themselves with huge debt, must accept low wage jobs. Who are the representatives for these people?

With its laissez-faire approach our government now functions as a corporatocracy allowing corporate leaders and shareholders to extract the nation’s wealth for their personal benefit. The government answers to corporations, corporations answer to no one, and no one answers to the people. Social media foster exploitation through addiction and distraction. Intensified partisan politics and pervasive “us vs. them” attitudes decimate any sense of community and social responsibility. Our deteriorating, underfunded public education system does not produce the thoughtful, informed population, willing and able to participate, to allow democracy to flourish and prevent corporate exploitation.

Corporations use intensive lobbying to limit government regulation and interference in their practices. It is easy for those with money and power to influence politicians, who then use propaganda to hide their true agenda from uninformed voters. As economic benefits accrue to fewer and fewer people, more may become disillusioned, depressed, and desperate, with some resorting to crime, substance abuse, and suicide. Might the negative social impact of government complicity in exploitation and profiteering someday create a crisis here similar to those happening in other countries, where no one answers the needs of the people?

One thought on “Who Answers to the People?

  1. Beatrice

    When we think about the evils of corporate political speech, we should remember that the Sierra Club is a corporation too—one with more than a million grass roots members. The Sierra Club endorsed Barack Obama for President and routinely endorses other candidates for a variety of elected offices. Would we be better off if the Supreme Court had upheld limits on the speech of the Sierra Club, along with Exxon and other corporations?

    Not likely. If we are worried about the political influence of an elite of wealthy individuals and mega-businesses, we should also worry about protecting the freedom of ordinary citizens to join together and speak with one voice, especially about elections. The elite has many ways to press its influence on our politicians, while ordinary citizens must pool their resources to have any influence in the first place. To pool their resources, a large group will generally find it helpful to form a corporation. If we limit that corporation’s speech, we may be handing victory to the elite!

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