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Size Matters: Local Democracy vs. Global Plutocracy

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Size Matters: Local Democracy vs. Global Plutocracy

{The first part of this article began as a comment on Elliot Sperber's July 7 OpEd News article, "Preconditions for an Actual Democratic Society". The second part of this article began as a comment on Richard Clark's July 6 OpEd News article, "In a Dying Civilization, What Are The Responsibilities of Intellectuals?"}

Was it Hobbes or Aristotle who defined democracy as "rule by the unqualified"? Joe Sixpack does not know what is good or bad for "the nation". How does Joe know what America's policy toward Syria should be? As far as Joe knows, America has no "interest" in Syria. The American plutocrats whose financial and economic interests span the globe have a private interest in Syria, but to get Joe American's consent to commit US military resources to advance the plutocrats' interests requires brainwashing Joe so he believes the plutocrats' interests are "America's" interests. Then Joe will pay taxes and send his son and daughter to fight for "America's interests" in all kinds of places that Joe could not identify on a map.

Costa Rica, which has only one major city (the nation's capital), a land area about 1/14 the physical size of Texas with 1/5 the population and vastly less wealth than Texas, is a fairly democratic nation where the people's protests actually change the government's policies. But democracy is incompatible with geographically giant socioeconomic units like most modern nation-states. Joe American knows what's happening in his neighborhood, and he knows what's good or bad for the neighborhood. He can understand "interests" on a small local scale, so he is qualified to participate in the political decision-making at that scale. Size complicates things beyond human understanding. The Greeks more or less agreed that the optimal size of the city-state was 5000 citizens. Beyond that scale, no individual was able to know enough to clearly understand what his interests were in any public issue. Malcolm Gladwell observed that when a company grows larger than 800 workers, the people are no longer able to know each other so inefficient bureaucratic rules have to replace personal relationships to guide people's contributions to the oversize company's operations.

Size matters. Beyond human scale where the people actually see and know and understand each other in their day to day lives, social organization necessarily become hierarchical, ruled by top-down power rather than by human relationships and horizontal democratic consensus. Mark Braund and Ross Ashcroft have written a sequel to the Four Horsemen video, "The Survival Manual: Understanding How The World Really Works". On pp.195-196 they write, "It should be clear that change is impossible without an end to elite power and entrenched privilege. ...Notwithstanding recent democratic advances, elite power has been the dominant mode of human social organization since the advent of agriculture."

Tribes of hunter-gatherers and community agriculturalists were involuntarily converted to workers and warriors in the agricultural "civilizations" that were built up by power elites. Tribespeople did not come together in a mighty pow-wow and democratically decide to institute hierarchically ruled "civilization". That form of social organization was imposed on people for the benefit of the very aggressive power-hungry few. When tribes came together voluntarily it was invariably to join forces against a common threat. And the common threat was "us": the military and colonizing armies of "civilization", come to take their land, their lives and their resources.

We live in giant nation-states and pretend we have democracy. The political propaganda machines now run 24/7/365, and everything Joe thinks he "knows" about national issues has been carefully crafted by skilled propagandists and installed in Joe's mind by mass media sales teams who call the propaganda "the news". The actual government is run by the plutocrats who actually know what their interests are. "The people" are reduced to a tax base and a consumer base and a militarized fighting force to advance the interests of the plutocrats. Smedley Butler described his lengthy role in the Marines as, "a gangster for capitalism". His little pdf, "War is a Racket", is a 'people's history of American imperialism', identifying who benefits from and who pays for America's foreign policy adventures.

If the people understood their own true interests, and if they actually possessed democratic power, then they would ban the corporate form of ownership, tax all plutocratic wealth to reduce plutocrats to thousandaires instead of billionaires, shut down the security-industrial complex and abandon all the foreign military bases and wars, reduce Washington to a servant of the States, nationalize the central bank and money issuance and reassert States' constitutional jurisdiction over banking, and generally take over the ownership and operation of their little region of the country. Power would devolve to local communities who would enjoy autonomy from being ruled by larger more centralized levels of government. There would be true liberty to live as we choose, not as we are forced to by corporate exigency and regulation by distant un-representative government that serves plutocrats, not democracy.

A democracy would produce a very different kind of socioeconomic structure than this American corporocracy that was built by plutocrats for plutocrats. The great continent-size nation would be reduced to a federation of autonomous States; and within those States municipalities would enjoy their own relative autonomy; and within those municipalities the people themselves would enjoy personal autonomy against the desire of the power hungry to rule over them. The principle of subsidiarity would be the operative factor in determining which level of society makes the political decisions that the people agree to live by.

Families and local communities are natural, human scale social units. Without globetrotting plutocrats organizing the nations to serve plutocrats' global interests, globalization would grind to a halt and local and regional economies would rebuild factories to make all the things the plutocrats outsourced to Asia. Most of that stuff is unnecessary baubles and junk that we would no longer buy or make in a post-consumer local economy. We would grow our food locally, and individual trades and craftspeople would make good stuff that lasts and is fixable rather than trashable, as Charles Eisenstein describes in "Sacred Economics". The global and continental transportation networks that move all the stuff around the global economy could be vastly downsized, and the need for oil to fuel the fleets of ships, trains and trucks would be significantly reduced, by restoring economies to the local scale.

Small is Beautiful, and community scale democracy could be a beautiful thing, small town America before the age of globalizing corporations. But to get to there from here, you first have to wrest power from the plutocrats and corporatists who presently own and operate the world as their private property, and who have the nations' governments and their militaries at their beck and call. Plutocrat capture of the legal and regulatory sphere is near total in the US. It is "illegal" to resist or defy or even to try to bypass the plutocratic corporatists: they want to monopolize ownership and control of everything, and by their power to affect government policy they are doing it. Most Americans are so brainwashed that they believe all these laws and regulations are made to serve the peoples' interests. So Democracy in America no longer exists other than as an illusory dream.

There are socially responsible intellectuals of the Leopold Kohr and EF Schumacher persuasion whose rational analysis of our civilization's problems leads them to conclude that size matters and there is simply no hope for reforming mass civilization. Gigantism is the root of our problems. There are no gigantic global solutions to problems that are caused by human corporate industrial activity that is necessarily practised at a gigantic global scale to serve billions of "consumers". Einstein observed that a problem cannot be solved by the same thinking that created the problem. We need to think different.

You and I didn't build the corporate industrial economy. It was built by banking empires like the Rothschilds and their New World proxies, and by robber baron capitalists of the JD Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and du Pont family persuasion. You and I didn't send Marines to conquer native populations to clear the way for corporate financial and industrial exploitation of other people's countries. Imperialists did that. Smedley Butler said all wars are bankers' wars. You and I do not control global banking interests and set nations to war against each other to enable us to penetrate their markets to keep them all in debt and ensure our debtors pay us our due.

We can preach to the converted all we like, but the Big World always has been and probably always will be ruled by power, not by enlightened reason. Zinn's People's History of the US shows what real history actually felt like for the un-powerful masses. The people didn't choose what happened to them. The economic circumstances of their lives were manipulated by bankers, industrialists, and the governments that are put in place to secure the interests of the powerful.

Power means power to organize the activities of masses of people. What kind of person wants to control what other people do, create the socioeconomic structure of a mass society? And why would somebody want to do that? People like you and me are family people, tribal, communal. Many of us are small businesspeople, not corporate industrialists or ruggedly individual tycoons. People like us would never build a hierarchical mass society, with rulers on top then a few levels of administrators below them then the laboring masses who do all the work (i.e. "us") at the bottom of the socioeconomic pile.

That is the organizational structure of "civilization". Civilizations are the creations of power hungry demagogues. Is there a single historical instance of a large scale society that was not governed by a hierarchy? Mass civilization is built and ruled by rulers. History remembers the occasional wise and benevolent ruler, but Plato saw 2400 years ago that the "wrong" kind of people typically seek and gain positions of power. So Plato advocated forcing intellectuals to assume their "proper" role as enlightened rulers, philosopher-kings. The son of the tyrant of Syracuse invited Plato to come and implement his Republic there. When the tyrant discovered what was afoot he jailed Plato for two years.

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I spent my working life as an independent small business owner/operator. My academic background is in philosophy and political economy. I began studying monetary systems and monetary history after the 1982 banking crash that was precipitated by (more...)

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Great article.My series  Kirkpatrick Sale Int... by Rob Kall on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 8:34:32 AM
This is the best article I have read on why the ma... by M.I. Lee on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 9:24:56 AM
No argument here. I think the author's portrayal i... by Jack Flanders on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 10:45:51 AM
That's sort of all over the map, and yet a bit sim... by Joe Giambrone on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 11:03:43 AM
"Power is not monolithic, and many interests compe... by Deena Stryker on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 12:11:51 PM
Mr. Giambrone specifically stated that the U.S. st... by Chris Cook on Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 9:10:49 AM
Yes, the American middle class has sometimes been... by Derryl Hermanutz on Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 11:35:42 AM
Please realize I was in no way defending the prese... by Chris Cook on Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 1:56:39 PM
I completely agree with you on that, Chris. That ... by Derryl Hermanutz on Monday, Jul 14, 2014 at 7:02:33 AM
When people like Joe Giambrone talk about 'the wor... by Deena Stryker on Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 12:11:34 PM
I can only go by what he wrote. Mind reading is no... by Chris Cook on Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 1:34:52 PM
Maybe we were a nation of Laws once. I don't think... by Jack Flanders on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 12:56:40 PM
Brilliant Article from Derryl Hermanutz.... by James Williamson on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 11:10:27 AM
"Some plutocrats expect and are advocating an 80-9... by Deena Stryker on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 12:07:43 PM
A lot of correct thinking but, in my opinion, wron... by BFalcon on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 12:08:10 PM
While I believe "smaller is better" I have to agre... by Pal Palsimon on Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 6:32:39 PM
I think this misses the point. What affects democ... by Bob Stuart on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 2:27:47 PM
Thanks for the support and the constructive critic... by Derryl Hermanutz on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 3:04:53 PM
You shouldn't climb down from anything your articl... by Deena Stryker on Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 at 4:18:22 PM
Yes. You have stated in this article many of the r... by Pal Palsimon on Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 3:42:37 AM
Article: Size Matters: Local Democracy vs. Global ... by Pal Palsimon on Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 3:44:39 AM
Excellent job at what is no easy task, juggling fa... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Jul 14, 2014 at 9:53:32 AM