Now that the dire straits many of us are experiencing and our government's dysfunction when it comes to building workable solutions are too severe to ignore, there are many theories as to what "the problem" is. A favorite explanation of many is that the government has gotten so big and powerful that it can solicit money from the powerful and demand it from the rest of us with impunity, and their greed is what has caused our widespread suffering. On the surface this explanation appears to be reasonable given how many federal politicians seem to be on the take.
Many years of observation and participation in grassroots efforts to make government do better for us and the world have shown me that there is much more going on than that. I'll start w/ the rules of incorporation in the states. They basically all stipulate that the mgmts. of corporations are accountable only to maximize the profit to the shareholders, to the extent that if they prioritize other human needs and values at any point, they can be removed from control by those shareholders, fined or even imprisoned for diverting the coporation's resources from the prescribed intent. Their employees and the communities they operate in are not authorized as stakeholders though the corporations' actions affect them more than anyone else. For a while, Germany required corporations over a certain size to provide a sizeable % of voting shares to the employees represented by their unions. During that time, corporate decisions there were somewhat less "sociopathic".
As things stand now in the U.S., the only legally allowable goals of publicly held for-profit corporations is that the amount of money they are extracting from wherever for their shareholders, continually increases. One way to do this is to keep growing, most easily by gobbling up other corporations. Another is to corrupt the government for the purpose of getting laws passed that let profit be extracted from public resources and public taxes, reversing the original intent of those assets.
This has created a tiny, incestuous class of people who play w/ power on a global scale, as this is the only way to keep accumulating resources at that level. To remain an active player of this group, the person must have an abnormal psychology--an insatiable dominance drive that transcends any identification w/ other humans not part of that select set, and wipes out any hesitations stemming from consequences of this single-minded pursuit, no matter how extensive or grave those consequences are. If the person waivers, he/she will be quickly replaced by another who doesn't have such qualms. These people are emphatically NOT just more successful versions of the owners of mom & pop operations.
Given the enormous damage these huge enterprises can do to everything that makes life livable, a countervailing force for the interests of everyone else and for all the values besides profit--especially preservation of the natural world upon which our longterm survival depends--must exist and function. It must be powerful enough to limit the size and sway of the mega-corporations as the old "trustbusters" used to do when the large corporations were mostly uni-national.
The catch is that the moat protecting this institution, in our case Constitutional democracy, has to be forever maintained by all of us or it will be overwhelmed by the forces it was designed to check. That is what was so tragic about the public's lack of rage and action when the Supreme Court ruled against hand counting the year 2000 contested Presidential votes in Florida. That is what is so harmful when the mainstream media is allowed to be owned by that one faction of society--the autocratically ruled mega-corporations. (Thank you, President Clinton.) That moat is what is damaged when 2 mega-parties are allowed to be gatekeepers over who can run for federal office. That lack of countervailing balance is what is lost when control over the counting of votes is given over to one of the same mega-corporations. That moat is breached when an ever-growing cut of taxpayers' funds for each "natural monopoly" (service that doesn't work better w/ competing providers, like prisons, public schools, hospitals, providers of electricity, etc.) is given by privatization to the most powerful corporate operators who can muscle in. And that is what is so damaging when the military is allowed to become an arm of the mega-corporations in their far-flung, unprevoked wars for resources, and the President who has directed this behavior is not impeached.
But, bad as it is, the devastation has gone beyond neutering the carefully crafted protections for a government truly representative of us all. What has happened recently is that measures put in place in the Constitution, especially in the Bill of Rights, to make it possible for the people to reclaim control in a situation like this when control has eroded, have been annulled. These include the right to gather and discuss all and any political ideas in person or electronically, in private if the participants choose to, whether or not the powerful approve of those ideas; the right to have criminality defined by an independent judiciary limited by the law rather than in secret by a corrupt military; the right of the public to see and influence what is treated as criminality by having evidence, testimony, and trials out in the open; the right to assemble and express political grievances, even to the extent that gov't can't continue business as usual and has to change course when enough people believe it must; and the right of the citizenry through the gov't to control the military rather than the other way around, which is one reason the President is impeachable. And that is what is so devastating when this military-industrial power bloc is allowed to solidify.
Despite oft-repeated Libertarian ideology, this loss of liberty is not the result of too powerful a gov't, but instead of a gov't too weakly understood and with too little participation to resist the most powerful though tiny, predatory class. It could not be more clear that we would most definitely NOT be more free if the federal gov't were shrunk to the barest skeleton and almost completely disempowered. For instance, under those conditions, where would a farmer turn when a private power company decided to build such high power voltage lines that his cows were sickened by the voltage coming up through their feet in damp meadows to the point that the dairy operation was no longer viable? A million other scenarios of loss of livelihood due to unfettered behavior of large corporations are predictable. There would be almost no protected wilderness and the poisoned water and air would create painful illnesses, shorten lifespans, and kill infants outright. What would the "right to life" mean under such conditions? What would stop two mega-corporations like GE and Ford from cultivating their own segments of the military and starting actual wars on U.S. soil over coal rights, for instance. What would keep them from building so many and such cheaply run nuclear power plants in such inappropriate sites that one or a series of major accidents end it all for the miserable inhabitants of this planet, as has come close to happening due to Japan's corrupt gov't? What would keep these mega-corporations from levying extortionary "fees" on the populace which would be the equivalent of "taxation completely without representation".
In the Occupy locations, the high level of engagement by participants seen there would be truly ideal in a representative democracy, and in some ways they do model "what democracy looks like" as applies to a small scale group. Unfortunately, humans being what we are, the almost anarchist structure is far from what is necessary to reverse the balance of power in a place the size of the U.S., especially when dealing w/ the hard-to-picture scale of the mega-corporations. Absence of something stronger would absolutely mean that the mega-corporations step into the void. Citizens, especially young people, in the majority of the world without stable constitutional democracies have been and are struggling, sometimes dying, for the style of government we have all but abandoned. They know from experience how impossible it is to just "opt out" of slavery once it's imposed. If we want empowerment, we need to coalesce in our struggle to reverse the structural changes that have been made in the U.S. at the behest of the powerful elite during the last 3 - 4 decades. We have to distinguish between the valiant efforts we need to rebuild a functioning electoral structure, vs. wasting energy in the current rigged and useless electoral politics, if we want to avoid throwing out a very precious baby with the bath water, and do it before the new ways become entrenched.