The Day Democracy Died

Corporations are not people. They do not breathe, they do not eat, they do not think. They exist only on paper. They are contractual agreements in which people unite their efforts in order to do one thing and one thing only: make money.

Therefore, corporations should not have the same rights that people do. But as of today, that’s not how the Supreme Court of the United States sees things. Corporations are now essentially the fourth (or fifth) branch of government. Out of their endlessly deep pockets will come a barrage of TV ads, mailers, billboards, perhaps even canvassers, that will change the political system forever.

Since corporations exist only to make a profit, then they have no stake in community, in the general well-beings of society, or in the health and happiness of individual people. As long as people have enough money to consume and invest, the corporation will thrive. In America, the government has often imposed successful regulations to harness the power of corporations and protect consumers and investors from the runaway clout of the corporation. Politicians have run on platforms of community preservation, consumer protection, and ensuring smart and safe business regulations.

Now, those politicians will find it much more difficult to get elected. They will fade from the spotlight, and American government will become dominated by those that manage to garner the financial backing of the corporation.

It is a sad, real fact of life that elections are won with money, with very little respect to how authentic or ethical a candidate is. With corporations pouring money alongside candidates that they know will “stand up for business”, the corporation may very well become stronger than government itself. If each representative needs the support of the corporation in order to win re-election, one will be hard pressed to find a candidate that is strong enough (or financially stable enough) to stand up to the interests of the corporation.

Once again, corporations should not have rights. But shareholders should. Those that lead the corporation are indebted to the shareholders. Their salaries, bonuses, and benefits depend on how well they please and draw-in investors. Many of us citizens are investors, saving up for a child’s college fund or preparing for our retirement. CEOs and other corporate execs are supposed to report to us. When we buy and sell stocks, we take part in the process that fosters corporate greed. We may lament the fact that corporations are greedy and do whatever they can to make a profit regardless of the impact their actions have on peoples’ lives, but in reality, we buy into this process because it helps us pay the bills and might give us a shot at living a life in safety and security.

But now, we’ve lost control of the vanguard: government. Slowly, candidates and electeds that don’t support business will fall out of politics. Parties will tailor their platforms so that they are kept in the loop of corporate backing. It will be a concession that party leadership will feel it needs to make in order to have a chance at staying in power.

When this happens, the link between corporation and state will be sealed. The scary thing is that we the people will, at least superficially, be pleased. We will have lower consumer prices, more opportunities to invest, and perhaps even some degree of social mobility. But this will fade. Unionization, a process which tragically has been kicked out of the circle of influence to some degree, will become a thing of the past. Labor is no match for the fat checkbooks of the S&P 500. Jobs will continue to go overseas. Service sector jobs will be all that remain. Income inequality, which has already shot up steadily since the 70s and 80s, will continue to grow.

All the while, we will be content, because our cars will become cheaper, our clothes will become cheaper, and we will reap the benefits of the expanding entertainment world.

But, almost as Orwell said, if there is hope, it lies in the shareholders. The people need to recognize that they have a direct vested interest in protecting their rights as citizens, not just as consumers. Cheap consumer goods are nice, but what will they mean if we have no power to stand up to the machine of corporatism that will control wages, regulations, and government spending.

The outlook isn’t pretty after today. Elections will never work in the same way as they have before, and power has taken a giant swing towards the right. Let’s hope that people recognize that they are still the real vanguard of our democracy. As long as we are the backbone of public corporations, we have the right as human beings, to demand that corporations take a new approach.