Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's All About the (Corporate) Benjamins, Baby

People across the political spectrum are talking about getting corporate money out of politics. I've come to realize, though, that corporate influence is ubiquitous throughout American institutions--it's not just in politics. It can seem tricky to figure out who is funding what, but once we get past the misleading maze of independent- and beneficent-sounding organizations, it's pretty simple: the pool of wealthy people and companies have shrunk down to a few mega-conglomerates and uber-rich individuals. What's been more tricky for me to figure out is how my behavior as a voter, as a citizen, and as a consumer can counter this corporate takeover of American institutions.

A facebook friend recently posted this essay by Chris Hedges. Hedges states that, "There are no longer any major institutions in American society, including the press, the educational system, the arts, religious institutions, and our dysfunctional political parties, which can be considered democratic. The intent, design and function of these institutions, controlled by corporate money, are to bolster the hierarchical and anti-democratic power of the corporate state. These institutions, often mouthing liberal values, abet and perpetuate mounting inequality. They operate increasingly in secrecy. They ignore suffering or sacrifice human lives for profit. They control and manipulate all levers of power and mass communication. They have muzzled the voices and concerns of citizens. They use entertainment, celebrity gossip and emotionally laden public-relations lies to seduce us into believing in a Disneyworld fantasy of democracy."

Hysterical and doomsday-toned pieces like this often turn me off because they are dire to the point of making me feel utterly hopeless, i.e., we're all screwed, so why bother? I understand, though, that such a style can often demonstrate the actual direness of a situation and can light a fire beneath readers. No matter the style, I couldn't help but think that Hedges' piece had an enormous grain of truth to it.

Corporate takeover of American democratic institutions and the development of an American ruling oligarchy is one the defining issues of our democracy's time, if not the defining issue. With this as an introduction, I plan to write a series of blog posts about increasing corporate power over American democratic institutions. Let's just hope, although Hedges might claim otherwise, that it's not the final challenge to face our dying democracy.

(photo by flckr user PaDumBumPsh)


Tim said...

The ruling class isn't just limited to American's either. The Supreme Court's ruling on corporate campaign contribution limits being unconstitutional (a violation of free speech) means that even multinational entities have the ability to influence internal American policy and politics to ends that are not necessarily in the best interest of America, or Americans.

I didn't even know the bill of rights applied to corporations, as I didn't think they were citizens. Silly me!

Rachel Levy said...

It's so nice to have a real comment on this blog. Thanks, Tim! Usually I just get comments in Chinese that translate to statements like, "Good things will come to those who wait....."

I agree that the argument is ridiculous, that The Bill of Rights should apply to corporations. I'll be writing and linking to the work of others on this topic in my next post on corporate benjamins in politics.

According to Jeffrey Toobin's recent article in *The New Yorker* about Supreme Court Justice Breyer, Justice Alito shook his head, mouthing "Not true," specifically in response to Obama's assertion that in the Citizens United ruling the Supreme Court allows foreign corporations to spend without limit in our elections. According to Toobin, the ruling is ambiguous on whether it applies to foreign companies. But I imagine that ambiguity can certainly lend itself to letting contributions from foreign companies slip in.

Conny Jensen said...

Watch: The Corporation ( and America freedom to fascism( And then there's the documentary The World according to Monsanto (

Happy spelunking in the rabbit hole :(