Our political context determines our capacity to participate in our own government…today, our context is plutocracy. Yes, the United States of America is still a ‘republic,’ but the pendulum has swung decisively away from being a functioning ‘democratic republic’ as our founders established it to be. The influence of Big Money is obvious in both Democratic and Republican parties…and is co-opting even the Tea Party. Each of us need to recognize and understand this change in our political landscape…it effects everything. This is the lens through which we need to view everything in politics and in big business…plutocracy has become the foundational context for almost all of our critical dilemmas.
Bill Moyers has been one of our most trusted news journalists for decades. In his closing remarks as his Public Broadcast System program was ending…and in a lecture last year at Boston University titled, ‘Welcome to the Plutocracy,’ he identified this troubling reality as our most systemic and critical challenge of our time. Here are a few excerpts from the lecture:
“…I showed him this document published in the spring of 2005 by the Wall Street giant Citigroup, setting forth an ‘Equity Strategy’ under the title (I’m not making this up) ‘Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.’
“Now, most people know what plutocracy is: the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word and wasn’t meant to become an American phenomenon—some or our founders deplored what they called ‘the veneration of wealth.’ But plutocracy is here, and a pumped up Citigroup even boasted of coining a variation on the word—‘plutonomy’, which describes an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer and that government helps them do it. Five years ago Citigroup decided the time had come to ‘bang the drum on plutonomy.’
“And bang they did. Here are some excerpts from the document ‘Revisiting Plutonomy:
· “Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper… [and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years.
· “…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the United States—the plutonomists in our parlance—have benefitted disproportionately from the recent productivity surge in the US… [and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at a relative expense of labor.
· “… [and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. Because the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.”
When big business receives tax cuts that are paid for by reduced wages and benefits of workers, we can see the plutocracy at work. When big business lobbies with millions of dollars to defeat and then repeal financial reforms that are needed to protect our economy from another Great Recession, we can see the plutocracy at work. When General Electric Co. pays zero federal income taxes in 2010 on profits of over $5 billion, we can see the plutocracy at work. When the Great Recession is declared ‘finished’ far before the devastating economic consequences of the recession are felt in our counties, cities and schools, we can see the plutocracy at work. In a plutocracy, the needs of big business are what really matter…and the devastation the actions on behalf of big business cause to citizens, institutions and communities is just ‘collateral damage.’
Our political context is increasingly that of a plutocracy. In all of our theoretical and practical research, we need to keep this in mind at every step. In all of our dialogue and deliberation, this reality must be explicitly included in the conversation. When we make our daily purchases, we need to know which corporations are lobbying most forcefully to support the plutocracy…in order to buy their competitors’ products. This critical thinking skill is not new: all of our political information needs to be viewed through the lens of our context. What’s new is this: our political context is now effectively a plutocracy.
What can we do about this? Awareness is first…become attentive to the many ways big business is dominating our political environment and economic opportunities. Then…talk about it with others. We may assume our friends and neighbors know what a plutocracy is…but I don’t believe this is a concept that is widely understood. When I’ve raised it with people, the overwhelming response has been: ‘Oh, the trend we’re seeing actually has a name!!??’ Next…let’s frame all of our political research and conversations with this specific contextual foundation to discuss openly and clearly what the deep and far-reaching consequences are of a sustained movement toward the extremes of plutocracy…and what the remedies might be if we want to be pro-active in reversing this movement.
It’s impossible to make good decisions without a practical and accurate view of the context. When it comes to our capacity to be active participants in our own government and in our economy, the stakes are too high to simply assume our democratic principles are still alive and well in our country. If you believe these trends are healthy and sustainable, you’ll feel there is no reason for alarm. If, however, you believe these trends toward a more and more complete plutocracy are neither healthy nor sustainable, you’ll want to learn more…you’ll want to talk about it with others…and you’ll want to join with others in education and advocacy. I believe the dominant political context in America and increasingly in the world is plutocracy…and it concerns me. How about you?