By Donella Meadows
–February 1, 2001–
Like you, I have been drowning in the gush of reaction to our recent election (or selection) — an election that will never quite be over, that will continue to prick like a thorn, that was clearly never intended, as our new president is already demonstrating, to unite instead of divide us.
I have heard no one, even from the “winning” side, say that everything before and after November 7 went jim-cracky-dandy. Something went wrong and everyone has an idea about how to fix it. Dump faulty voting machines. Clarify state rules about automatic recounts. Abolish the Electoral College. Ban “soft” campaign contributions.
Those ideas all sound good to me, but I have the feeling they’re just thrown bones, designed to lull everyone back to sleep, inadequate to the real problem. Over all these weeks I have seen just two commentaries that, in my opinion, come close even to describing how deep the real problem is.
The first, written for the Texas Observer by the great economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that the United States has “left behind constitutional republicanism and turned to a different form of government. … This is corporate democracy. It is a system whereby a Board of Directors — read Supreme Court — selects the Chief Executive Officer. The CEO in turn appoints new members of the Board. The shareholders, owners in title only, are invited to cast their votes in periodic referenda. But their franchise is only symbolic. … On no important issue do the CEO and the Board ever permit themselves to lose.”
In the International Herald Tribune world affairs commentator William Pfaff carries the theme even farther. “The U.S. government … has now become the instrument of a segment of American society: corporate business. It has become … ‘America, Inc.’ … Corporate money determines national policy and even foreign policy. .. A national missile defense system is an aerospace industry program, not a national security program.” Corporate lobbyists write trade policy, and industry promotes “advanced weapons systems by marketing novel threats.”
You can be quite a fan of the modern corporation and still admit that it bears little resemblance to a democratic institution. The large corporations I have been employed by over the years have in fact been central planning institutions, orders coming down from the top. Within their walls there was no effective freedom of speech or even freedom of unauthorized assembly. There was an unsettling amount of groupthink and corporationspeak with — as in every centrally planned country I ever visited — only a small minority of the proletariat actually believing the official doctrine. Monsanto: Food. Health. Hope. Yeah, sure.
What to do?
Galbraith: “They have earned our civic disrespect, and that is what we, the people should accord them. … The illegitimacy of this administration should not be made to fade from view. No approval of lifetime appointments, especially on the Supreme Court. No cutting or privatization of any part of Social Security or Medicare. No elimination of the estate tax — “a social incentive for recycling wealth to the nonprofit sector … that has had a uniquely powerful effect on the form of American society.” Oppose the National Missile Defense system “that threatens for all time the security of us all.”
Clings to the hope of a renaissance within the current system. “Al Gore’s campaign proved that there is an electoral majority … for a government that is truly a progressive coalition. … Americans will elect a government that firmly includes and effectively represents labor, women, minorities — and Greens.”
Copyright 2001 Sustainability Institute