As Rob Johnson of The Roosevelt Institute said in a recent interview, "The politics of the United States in this crisis period does not represent the people; it represents a very narrow segment of the population who does the fund-raising."
The Ripples Beyond America
In his book Phillips likened US corporations to "latter-day English-speaking conquistadors." And it is true; American economic growth was greatly facilitated by the intimate linkages between the business class and foreign policy; global economic domination by America is based on these conquistadors (and the war machine to back them up; see Randolph Bourne's War is the Health of the State, and Smedley Butler's War is a Racket for some historical flavor). This highly successful partnership traces an arc from the days of the United Fruit Company to the oil and mining concessions in Iraq and Afghanistan today. Indeed, almost every US foreign policy initiative can now be understood in terms of the benefits it delivers to American multi-national corporations. This lesson is not lost on others.
Political aspiration is cut from the same human cloth the world over. While perhaps not the smartest bunch, politicians are generally attuned to what works, and they will emulate the most proven path to acquiring and maintaining power. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for example, wants Canada to play a greater role in the world; he has a vision. Accordingly, he has sought to portray a more muscular foreign policy even as he goes about the business of "selling" Canada. He has linked foreign policy and business as part of a broader and harmonized international economic strategy, as was demonstrated by the G-20 Toronto Summit Declaration of last year. At that meeting, the participating heads of state (led by the US and Canada) committed as a unified group to reduce their deficits in half by 2013 and to stabilize government debt-to-GDP by 2016. The austerity measures needed to meet these targets are playing out this very day in the US Congress in the debt ceiling/budget reduction trade-offs that Obama is trying to orchestrate; such austerity programs are clearly linked to a broader palate of corporatist policies that already favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor.
So here's the real worry about where corporatist democracies are headed: as inequality mounts; as the wealthy solidify their control over government; and as an unelected elite inflicts more and more pain on the unrepresented majority; a last remaining avenue for real reform is all but lost. It seems the state has developed a concerted strategy to eliminate public protest and dissent.
Public protest, as an important catalyst for social change, is fast disappearing. Since 9/11, governments around the world (at the insistence of America) have committed enormous resources to their internal security services. No country can hope to duplicate the massive US security infrastructure, but most emulate it as best they can. We are soothed and assured that these are investments needed to counter the jihadists (!) in our midst. But they also serve (by happy coincidence) as very useful platforms for coordinated response to domestic demonstration (showing the wisdom of Rahm Emanuel's dictum "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste" and the prescience of Naomi Klein's thesis in The Shock Doctrine). In fact, this harmonized and highly integrated approach to quelling public protest is now regularly applied.
Let us turn to one recent example. At the G20 conference in Toronto last year more than 1000 people were arrested outside while the attendees inside institutionalized the "urgent" need for austerity. Many of the protesters were held without charge, only to be released after several days, with no recourse for the violation of their rights. The government of Canada invoked "unlawful assembly" as justification for its actions. It was clear that police and military planning had begun months in advance of the protests; the enforcement activities were coordinated across jurisdictions, agencies, and geographic boundaries. The police action had a chilling affect on those who participated; it was intended to do so; it was intended to undercut mass protest. The Ontario Ombudsman called this sordid affair "the most massive compromise of human rights in the history of Canada."
Ralph Nader recently asked, "What could start a popular resurgence in this country against the abuses of concentrated, avaricious corporatism?" It seems government understands that austerity and economic hardship presents the most likely spark to protest, and it has prepared accordingly.
If it can happen in Canada, in this modest and generally amiable place, it can happen anywhere.
In concluding Wealth and Democracy, Kevin Phillips warned that market theology and unelected leadership have led to an imbalance in politics and elections in America. It is an imbalance that,if not corrected, will shatter the last illusion of democracy. And an America that openly frees itself from even this modest constraint validates the model that endangers us all.
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