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Corporate Rule Is Not Inevitable

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7 signs the corporatocracy is losing its legitimacy ... and 7 populist tools to help shut it down.


A parody of corporate personhood in D.C. Photo by takomabibelot

You may remember that there was a time when apartheid in South Africa seemed unstoppable.

Sure, there were international boycotts of South African businesses, banks, and tourist attractions. There were heroic activists in South Africa, who were going to prison and even dying for freedom. But the conventional wisdom remained that these were principled gestures with little chance of upending the entrenched system of white rule.

"Be patient," activists were told. "Don't expect too much against powerful interests with a lot of money invested in the status quo."

With hindsight, though, apartheid's fall appears inevitable: the legitimacy of the system had already crumbled. It was harming too many for the benefit of too few. South Africa's freedom fighters would not be silenced, and the global movement supporting them was likewise tenacious and principled.

In the same way, the legitimacy of rule by giant corporations and Wall Street banks is crumbling. This system of corporate rule also benefits few and harms many, affecting nearly every major issue in public life. Some examples:

  • Powerful corporations socialize their risks and costs, but privatize profits. That means we, the 99 percent, pick up the tab for environmental clean ups, for helping workers who aren't paid enough to afford food or health care, for bailouts when risky speculation goes wrong. Meanwhile, profits go straight into the pockets of top executives and others in the 1 percent.

  • The financial collapse threw millions of Americans into poverty. As many as 25 million are unemployed, under-employed, or have given up looking for work; four million have been unemployed for more than 12 months. Poverty increased 27 percent between 2006 and 2010. And students who graduated with student loans in 2010  had borrowed 5 percent more than the previous year's graduating class -- owing more than $25,000. Meanwhile, those who caused the collapse continue the same practices. And the unwillingness of the 1 percent to pay their fair share of taxes means the the public services we rely on are fraying.

  • Scientists say that we are on the brink of runaway climate change; we only have a few years to make the needed investments in clean power and energy efficiency. This transition could be a huge job creator -- on the order of the investments made during World War II, which got us out of the Depression. But fossil-fuel industries don't want to see their investment in dirty energy undermined by the switch to clean energy and conservation. So far, by paying millions to climate deniers, lobbyists, and political campaigns, they've succeeded in stymieing change.

  • Agribusiness gets taxpayer subsidies for foods that make us sick; for farming practices that destroy rivers, soils, the climate, and the oceans; and for trade practices that cause hunger at home and abroad.

  • Through ALEC, the private prison industry crafts state laws that boost the numbers behind bars, lengthen sentences, and privatize prisons.

  • Big Pharma jacks up prices; insurance companies raise premiums and delivers fewer benefits; the burden of inflated care drags down the economy and bankrupts families. But only a very few politicians stand up to the health-care industry's war chests and advocate for Canadian-style single-payer health care, which would go a long way toward solving the cost problem.

  • Corporations and wealthy executives fund an army of lobbyists and election campaigns, spreading untruths and self-serving policy prescriptions.

It's not that we, the people, haven't noticed all this.

In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans said too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations. In a poll by Time Magazine, 86 percent of Americans said Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington.

And 80 percent of Americans oppose Citizens United, the pro-corporate Supreme Court ruling that turns two years old today. Eighty percent -- that's among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

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Sarah van Gelder is co-founder of YES! Magazine and has been its executive editor since it began publication in 1996. Her focus at YES! is on the solutions and innovations that address the most profound issues of our time. Each issue of YES! (more...)
 
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Getting rid of corporations will be as e... by Ned Lud on Sunday, Jan 22, 2012 at 5:27:09 AM
The people's government gave corporations permissi... by E. J. N. on Sunday, Jan 22, 2012 at 1:45:16 PM
Great article Ms van Gelder. You have proposed a n... by Gary Brumback on Sunday, Jan 22, 2012 at 6:23:27 PM