How the US Government Became a Corporation
A subset of Americans wish to see the nation look much more like a corporation -- a business enterprise with limited ownership -- and they're getting their way.
Neoliberalists say they want a miniscule government, massive deregulation of business, and "free-market" concepts to drive nearly every aspect of American life. What they're actually hoping to create, and succeeding, is a country that looks much more like a corporation, a business entity owned and controlled by a small number of people and which excels at privatizing profits (monetary and otherwise) while distributing losses (in various forms) back into society.
Take, for example, the idea that monetary expenditures for political ads are the same as speech, a concept recently upheld by the conservative majority of the US Supreme Court in the Citizens United v. the FEC case. This establishes an equivalence between wealth and speech; the more money you have, the more ads you can buy, and the louder your speech is. This is precisely the model that corporations use. The more money you have to invest in the company, the more shares you own, and shares determines how many votes you have in key shareholder elections. These elections set certain policies and elect the governance boards of these companies. So, those with the most wealth have the greatest say. Those who are too poor to own shares have zero influence over the company, and are left with far less efficient and effective means of altering the company's behavior, such as protests.
This money is speech / corporate shareholder approach is antithetical to democracy -- even a representative democracy like what the US professes to be -- because it effectively eliminates most Americans' influence over the governance of the country. The government is no longer representative of, or beholden to, the increasingly impoverished masses. This then naturally sets up a vicious cycle of the government using its massive influence to benefit those with the most influence over the government (i.e., the wealthiest).
And as wealth inequality increases, this influence gap will only continue to widen. Right now, roughly two-thirds of all wealth in the United States is held by just the richest 5% of the population. Since political speech expenditures likely come from discretionary wealth -- that not needed to buy food, shelter, clothing, etc. -- the political influence of the wealthiest 5% is likely far greater than two-thirds.
As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, "We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
Clearly this cannot end well, at least not if we desire the government to represent the people's wishes and priorities rather than just those of a tiny number of plutocrats.
Let me be clear: I appreciate free-market capitalism. It can accomplish amazing things. But history has shown that, if left unregulated, industry has a tendency to create appalling abuses of people and the environment because it becomes unaccountable and focused only on wealth privatization. We need business and government to work together, each capitalizing on its unique strengths, rather than totalitarianism from either side. Minimizing the government makes about as much sense as minimizing private enterprise. We need both to create the advances we all want.
But, in order to ensure that we have that balance, we need to first restore reasonableness to limits on political speech expenditures. Passing legislation that nullifies the Citizens United ruling should be top priority. After that, reigning in the increasingly ridiculous amounts of money spent on political campaigns should be our, the public's, goal.
It won't be easy; many politicians and the ultra-powerful media lobby want this trend towards increasing political speech budgets to continue. They will not give up easily what is good for the media industry's profits, even if it's bad for the country in the long run. But we need to persist. Otherwise, fewer and fewer of us will remain voting shareholders in this increasingly corporatized nation.