Depending on how you feel, questioning whether we live in a democracy is either incredibly stupid or incredibly scary. In a democracy, every member who is eligible helps to decide how they are governed. Essentially everyone has the same voting power, the same level of influence over government, and the same means of expressing that influence.
But in reality this is an idealised version of democracy. In truth, we admit that there simply isn’t time for us to all have a say in every matter that affects us. Instead we elect officials who more or less represent what we want; accepting that they may stand for a few policies that we don’t agree with but we take the rough with the smooth. After all, the nature of democracy means one doesn’t get their choice every time. It’s the nation’s consensus.
the nature of democracy means one doesn’t get their choice every time. It’s the nation’s consensus
But even this idea of the functioning democracy over the one perfect democracy is still predicated on the idea that everyone has had an equal say. The chances, however, are exceptionally high dear reader that you don’t have an equal say. You are not a member of a democracy. How do I know?
It seems to be an ignored truth that the average person does not have as much of a say in the policies of a western nation than a corporation or members of the 1%. The more money an individual or corporation has (in the US these things aren’t distinguishable) the more political influence they have. Sure you can go out and vote just the same as a CEO, but that CEO has the ability to fund campaigns, apply pressure to governments and affect the functionality of policy. In short, they can affect governance more that you. That is a plutocracy, governance by the wealthy.
Now you might want to say, “Nonsense, if enough people wanted the government to act a certain way, say privatising the railway, democracy would see us through. Any government that wants to stay in power wouldn’t go against the will of the people. We can vote, that’s enough for democracy!” And that‘s a fair but flawed opposition.
plutocracy, governance by the wealthy
Firstly, if we set aside cynicism and ignore favours, corruption or vested interests, corporate sponsors of parties provide funding to keep that party campaigning. To act against corporate will is to lose funding and is to lose power. Secondly, and more pertinent to our question, is that this refutation still doesn’t address the imbalance of democratic power. If the democratic process requires a vastly superior number of average people to vote against the will of a few incredibly rich people then that democracy is still poisoned.
“How did this happen?” and “Why is it still allowed?” you could be forgiven for screaming. It’s simple, ish. Businessmen became politicians, removed regulation and reduced government. They made more money and funded more politicians to keep the wheels of this political capitalism moving. It was assumed that the function of government and the function of business were one and the same. The argument for the longest time for this was the myth of ‘Trickled Down’ economics — that coercing the government into removing laws, allowing the rich to get richer will in turn somehow produced more money for the poor. It’s worth knowing that ‘Trickle-Down’ has a predecessor called ‘Horse and Sparrow’. Essentially, if you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through for the sparrow. They are similar theories, in that they’re both full of shit.
In reality, ‘trickled down’ economics has already been proven to be a failure. Further it doesn’t actually make government and business the same; it places the market above government. It ignores the fact that government already supported business, by freely educating a work force, as well as helping them with healthcare, housing and pensions. Regulation and tax was the return for the symbiotic relation the two once had. It helped the rich get rich, just not rich enough.
It helped the rich get rich, just not rich enough
Our plutocratic state continues to exist for a few reasons. Primarily, the plutocrats don’t want it to stop being a plutocracy. If we became a true democracy, they would lose money. If you were allowed to vote on changing this system you might. That’s if it weren’t for the second reason. We can convince ourselves this system is fair because one day we might be the rich and powerful, and we’ll have the influence. Which is an odd way of thinking because it essentially accepted a broken system but with the caveat that one can beat it. But that’s not true. If your government can’t represent you fairly, because of corporate pressure, then the deck is rigged against you. One enters a casino knowing that odds are stacked against them. A democratic state shouldn’t be the same.
In a much broader way, our belief that we live in a democracy has helped us to deceive ourselves despite the fact we can see the evidence. Political commentary is constantly enraged at corporate tax loops, governmental nepotism and conflicts of interest. We’re quick to shout that in a democracy this behaviour is wrong! But what we can’t see is that we’re not in a democracy. We can force politicians to resign and apologise, one by one, pulling out a weed here and there. But the truth is that our approach is wrong. We need to see the bigger flaws.
Our approach can no longer be ‘what is happening doesn’t belong in a democracy’. It should be ‘this is happening; we are no longer in a democracy’.
Featured image: Lorie Shaull