How Two Democratic Neighbours found their Own Ways
Some idiot once said, that democracy sucks, but it’s the best form of governance humans have invented.
Ok, strictly speaking, democracy is deceptively nice to citizens. In fact, the American constitution was designed around some very fair principles, because they wanted to sever, and prevent, any path towards monarchy. They just rebelled from one, this was their chance to stay that way. Besides the very sound of having a voice in what goes on appeals to people, even if they choose not to use it.
The new breed of free-thinkers, specifically imbued a form of anti-monopolist tendencies into the base of their legal system. Even though the organizational structure didn’t really differ from the colonial English, or the Roman system which that was derived from, it was nevertheless distinct in it’s protections. The core principle being a permanent division of power, where no person, or ad hoc organization, or political party, or corporate entity, could become so powerful, as to render the voice of the people (voting) irrelevant.
These days, there’s a lot of democratic countries, most of them hopelessly gridlocked in petty squabbles. Not that America was ever going to be a pure democracy, no one actually gets to vote on everything that happens, but it sounded good enough.
What do the wives know about politics anyway?
By every measure of scholarly wisdom at the time, the American republic was a step forward. Not the most efficient, or the least wasteful, but fair. Any poor citizen could make a claim against a wealthy land owner, and expect a fair hearing, to be judged by the most common folk, who were likely not also wealthy land owners. There was a distinct tilt towards the disadvantaged party at all times. Quite contrary to the English way.
Under a fiefdom in the lands we call England today, a wealthy land owner would have the Lord’s ear, just for paying a large amount in taxes or goods. Therefore, the court that you sought justice from as a mere serf, was predisposed to ruling against you. Just as taxation, and local laws were dictated by your immediate superiors, whether they be judges, sheriffs, or any other functionary, those people had others above them, until you stopped at the Lord.
There was a chain of hierarchy, a presumption of infallibility, and in most cases, a courtroom was more like a gladiator arena to amuse the crowds. Rarely would a matter ever be heard by the King or Queen of the era. Appealing upwards was difficult, dangerous, and expensive. People were often ignorant of the laws, many of them illiterate as well, it didn’t make for many fair outcomes. The founding fathers of America knew all this, and they weren’t going to stand for it.
Thus, the earliest American political leaders, tried their best to draft rules to prevent abuse of the system.
It didn’t work. The very fact that the rules could be amended, guaranteed failure. That might seem like a harsh assessment of the situation, maybe even sound depressing, but it’s unfortunately true. How did they ever expect future generations to have the same anti-autocratic fervor, when people were too busy stealing cows, and hustling their slaves to pick even more cotton?
There was perhaps a misguided belief, that their vision of rights was indeed self-evident, but nothing like the blindness they exhibited towards future lawmakers deciding otherwise. Perhaps they were so convinced that a new renaissance was upon them, that there was no way to go backwards culturally, that the most serious problems would be esoteric, they forgot about simple greed.
And greed isn’t made of unicorn farts. Everyone is greedy, or at least needy, in some form, at some point in their lives. As babies, we all start out entirely selfish, needy, and knowing no restraint. We have to develop the willpower, and the understanding in the broadest sense, of what fair really is, in order to stick to it. That strength of character doesn’t come easily to everyone. So within a century, much of the country had devolved into nearly the same kind of self-important political fiefdoms that were so abhorrent to them…
What a sheriff said was the law, was the law, unless you were wealthy, then the judge was the law.
These days, you might feel, America isn’t the country the founders dreamed of. Yet, the legal profession uses all the right words, the politicians go through the right motions, the press presents fair and balanced commentary as a backdrop, and people rarely get killed… relative to a warzone.
In the most simplest form, the root of the problem is, that all governments will always lean towards autocracy, or totalitarianism. Because asking everyone to agree can be trying at the best of times, debilitating at the worst. Although, you could also argue that new laws don’t need to be passed constantly, and that the government’s primary focus should be overseeing social changes, but then they would only be ceremonial figures. Then, as if to rub salt in the wound, any autocratic tendencies not driven by ideology, will lead to the power becoming concentrated, in the hands of the wealthiest captain’s of industry. Unless the government manages to hold a firm grip on industry regulation.
When we do have ideological leadership, such as Iran’s Shia dominated Islamic state, or an entitlement based ruling class, such as the Saudi kingdom, the government becomes a vertical entity. An infrastructural object to anyone outside of it, kind of like the water works in a city, when you turn the tap on you expect water, you only throw tantrums at the tap if nothing comes out. It’s very possible that no changes occur for decades, and society stagnates, eventually seeming out of touch with reality, or even seeming backwards.
Which makes picking the best form of government inherently conflicting. Not nearly as clear as that old saying.
And the one thing that rarely happens in a monarchy, is bending to corporate interests, that the ruler doesn’t like anyway. The very fact that an entire industry can be wiped out by an edict, or a wealth generating business can be expropriated from an owner, makes them tread very carefully. Business then defers to the will of the ruler, there is no direct leverage to force concessions. Which really only left pointy sticks, and armies were a tad more expensive than even many Lords could traditionally afford.
Except in the rare cases where the Catholic church, or a political rival, was able to bankrupt a country, there was also very little an outside party could use to bribe a monarchy. When they have the power of taxation, or eminent domain over pretty much everything, including males of fighting age, it’s just not feasible to try.
Therefore, corporate interests could never override the values of the leader; not fair, but not fascist.
How the dream of the United States went bad
You might be forgiven for thinking fascism is something evil the Nazis did in Germany a few decades ago, without realizing that Israel has assumed virtually all the traits of the Third Reich, including it’s penchant for propaganda, and ethnic cleansing. But then you may have seen it also labelled semi-correctly as corporatism… the perfect union of totalitarian regime with predatory businesses.
The slippery slope that America fell down happened along two axes. The first hurdle to becoming a breathlessly pro-business state was liability. The moment that it was decided, that corporations could be considered entities distinct from their owners or shareholders, effectively turning them into pseudo-citizens, they fell of the wagon.
Stakeholders got drunk on the power, without the great responsibility.
By allowing limited liability, or even complete indemnity, to the officers and executives of a company, they were freed from having any social conscience. If no one is personally responsible for the wrongdoings of their company, that makes having a company akin to having shiny plate mail in the dark ages. It encourages business owners to really push the envelope of what’s allowed by law, because the penalties to falling foul of the regulation, or spirit of the law, are so minor, that it’s no longer a disincentive.
How many companies would dump toxic chemicals into nearby rivers, if the executives could all be charged for aggravated assault, among other serious felony charges? Further more, why stop there? Why not do just about everything that generates profit, or saves costs, and just pay the one-time fines? It’s all upside.
The other side of that coin is equally sinister. When a corporation becomes it’s own entity, it can express it’s own public opinions, it can lobby for policies in it’s favour, and even try to manipulate the public into supporting it against tougher regulations. It can put out long winded press pieces via Op Eds in popular magazines, it can sponsor research groups guaranteed to find support for the company’s products, and direction. And belatedly, it can fund it’s own politicians directly.
How does anyone expect Congress to represent the people, when the people mean so little to their bottom line?
So, the challenge in the American system for would-be oligarchs really stems from the burdensome framework, those antiquated roles, and arbitrary divisions between government branches. All the preventative measures set about to stop them, have to go. Basically, there’s too many hoops to jump through for their liking. And their lackeys in both Houses echo that daily. Plus, lawyers are damned expensive.
To truly become a corporatist country then, the oligarchs would first have to dismantle all that structure, to free them from onerous compliance paperwork, to save them from painful audits. The next step would be to cull all the social programs, thereby making business (or groups of businesses) the replacement for all the important and discretionary services. And lastly, they would have to totally co-opt the education and safety standards, both to allow their unsafe business practices to go unnoticed, as well as silence any critics based on prevailing science. The government would be relegated to clerical work in nature, and no more than that. Just a glorified rubber-stamper.
However, fascism in the original sense is a union, not an abdication of power by the government. All the policies would still be dictated top down, which industries or businesses thrived would still be defined by those policies, but business would be tapped to handle all the work. Mostly. The state could still handle the false flag operations.
The advantage of having neo-fascism vs. a straight oligarchy, would then be down to how completely the people are under control. A single power broker, like a Rupert Murdoch, could control vast resources, disseminate reams of lies, all to support his position, but a competing megalomaniac could do the same, and the messages could be in conflict with each other. Each wants to be as powerful and wealthy as they can; often illegally as well as legally, to have greater influence over their captive userbase, aka customers. Still, there is always an upper limit.
So in a sense, you could look at the rise of oligarchies as the precursor to a fascist state. Just like a group of Lords will eventually declare a King.
Ultimately, corporations need a powerful, supportive government, to harmonize the competing interests. They don’t want regulation as such, they just want a mutual understanding, a symbiosis. These corporate interests don’t necessarily want to give up any of their potential pie to competitors, but they will begrudgingly sacrifice some, if it means becoming more pervasive for the long term, and focus their efforts on fleecing the public with a united front. That strength comes from increasingly stricter laws, designed to both pacify the people, and force them into predictable patterns.
Interestingly, the Japanese view that business is war, in some ways resists the trend towards the New American Fascism. Probably because the Japanese have a longer memory, and with their silly notions of honour, or integrity, they have an unspoken pact with each other. The government stays dormant, while the corporations promise to play nice. It’s no wonder they have been in a constant recession for close to 20 years now. That should neatly sum up why the market doesn’t know what’s best.
If a market was truly free, as the Keynesian belief holds, things would all go to hell, fast. The solution is also not to cut taxes on the corporate titans alone, because they won’t use the savings to hire more people anyway, nor did Keynes believe in heavy regulation, as Canada and Sweden do. Therefore the government has to intervene with stimulus, by effectively investing into the economy in their stead. What he called an activist government approach, directly spurring demand, like causing conflicts, or going to war.
Every bill that passes in Congress for example, contains billions of dollars in corporate aid. Every bill has provisions to grant new projects, or make pro-business rule changes, that benefit the respective industries backing the representatives who voted. There is hardly ever a bill even tabled, without some corporate "pork" in the fine print; probably taking up the last 788 pages of the document, which no one even read. The rarity, like the most recently canned veteran’s benefits bill, shows exactly what happens when they don’t.
The pork must flow!
How Canada has managed to avoid the same fate
Considering how closely Canada’s economy is tied to America’s, and considering how close the cultures are, there’s a vast fundamental division there too. However, it’s not an obvious difference, barely perceptible at times, and has nothing to do with the socialized healthcare. Though the healthcare system is a healthy by-product of that difference.
Unlike United States, where individual land owner based States were amalgamated into a country by a constitution, Canada was just sort of declared into existence, while subject to British occupation. Which meant the country’s formation wasn’t based on ejecting the monarchy, rather the constitution offloaded colonial rule from England, retaining many of the traditions, but adding democratic oversight to rule. They even retain a Governor General to this day, which acts as a spokesperson for the British empire, offering a royal seal of approval to the ruling party.
One interesting aspect of the Canadian parliament, is the Senate. This Canadian equivalent to the British house of Lords, has in many ways saved it from evolving too much. They were setup to be a "second thought" to the government’s passing of bills. And being appointed for life rather than elected, the Senate doesn’t owe any fealty to the ruling party. This acts as a kind of conscience for the parliament. The Senate doesn’t actually make laws, only mulls them over with a different set of eyes. Eyes with a long term view.
If one day a ruling party with a majority, wants to ram something really heinous through into law, the Senate has the ability to quash it. Some have moaned about how unfair this is, probably the same type of people that allowed corporate interest to overrun Congress, but so far, that’s all it has been, moaning. There have been some deductible expense scandals, but maybe that’s the price to pay for freedom from corporate sponsorships.
Beyond that, corporations have to contend with largely apolitical regulators. They are funded by the government, but ruling parties have no political appointees in them most of the time, and when they do, it isn’t term limited by the election cycles. So by and large, the Canadian regulators are free to make their own decisions, without making them partisan, or significantly corrupt. The only common negative result, is when a report is watered down, or if retribution is too gentle.
Likewise, elections are handled at arm’s length to the government. Elections Canada is an independent entity, and is able to set guidelines, or even convict politicians of unfair campaign tricks. But this independence also means, they are free to test, and ultimately purchase voting machines based on their own criteria; they can’t be told to use buggy equipment by a higher authority.
Then there is the shifting political landscape. By having a handful of national parties contending in every election, you avoid many of the pitfalls of a two-party system as in the US. The Canadian people are very diverse, mostly kind, and socialist leaning. Once in a while, the conservative parties manage to swindle voters into believing their attacks against the others, and they quickly attempt to privatize or de-regulate the country, usually destroying all the surplus from previous governments. Even so, they haven’t been able to do much damage, having started from a much less fanatical right-wing base.
When bills are tabled in parliament, there is ample time to debate, and amend them. There’s no 921-page omnibus bill dropped on minister’s desks the morning of the vote, there’s a process for questioning everything, even when the opposition has no hope of defeating the majority party. This makes all the dirty laundry public for weeks, it gives time for the media to blast dishonest leaders, instead of having to report on a polar bear being born at a zoo for three days straight. Potential voters get to see the political mudslinging, the hard hitting analyses of the bills, and importantly, see how the government squirms under accusations.
To a Canadian conservative, it’s no wonder even the most moderate Republican seems like a Tea Party member.
Since corporations in Canada aren’t allowed to form monopolies, nor are they encouraged with corporate welfare to do nice things for the average citizen, they get spanked, regularly. They have to fight to reach the top, and fight to prove they should be allowed to stay. Cable TV providers seem to be the last remaining legal monopolies, mainly because they voluntarily don’t overlap, but their choke hold on programming is waning. The regulators have teeth, but often take a long time to approve projects, giving the public plenty of opportunity to object.
Canada also doesn’t start (or join) wars in order to justify military spending, even replacing aging helicopters seems to be a political minefield. Besides a fleet of CF-18 fighters, most of the Canadian military is floating around in the ocean, fighting foreign fishing vessel incursions, or delivering disaster assistance. Sometimes when they do get involved, all they do is rent out their cargo planes to other countries, then talk about the amazing cooperation between them.
Voter fraud is a non-issue as well. Besides some blatant robo-calling scandals by prospective conservative ministers, there hasn’t been a serious instance which called into question the authenticity of results. They laughed a nervous laugh when Florida was enthralled with the hanging chads debacle. The silly debate in the United States around authentic election results, is rendered completely null, in Canada, there’s a paper record of all votes cast. The only reason not to have a paper trail, is if you intend to defraud the people of an accurate voting system.
Perhaps like the Senate, there’s a stop-and-think period, and it happens to be just enough.
Where do we go from here?
No government as a whole ever sets out to become fascist, or at least I don’t believe a significant portion of the members want to. It’s just that the slope is a slippery one, if your officials are willing to compromise on those long held principles, or take away the independence of regulatory bodies, that is precisely what can happen. And it can happen quickly. Always in one direction too. A government usurps power from the people in stages, the power it wants to have, and never gives it back, no matter how unnecessary, or unpopular it is.
For anyone studying recent history, the Republican summer in the 80’s, where the majority of the safeguards were removed, lead directly to the unnatural explosion of wealth, which in turn lead to a recession. Things were on a steady incline up until then, the post-war years were good to America, but greed infected the system. They didn’t like the slow pace. The Cold War was interesting, but the arms industry was certainly not happy. Most of the serious spending was funneled into secret projects, expanding the intelligence services, and so on. Ripe for abuse.
Following more deregulation by Clinton, and the passing of draconian pro-business legislation the DMCA, the American economy surged forward again. Corporations were given expanded rights to pursue anyone even suspected of infringing intellectual property, the presumption of innocence was turned on it’s head. Extortion of ordinary people sharing music or movies they loved, became legalized. What could have ironically spurred a new resurgence in innovation, and a huge leap forward in society, became just another battle ground for corporate protectionism.
Then came the noughties, and things were ready to explode. Suddenly logic went out the window. People spent like drunken sailors, not expecting to come back from their deployment. Investment banks were allowed to create all sort of financial instruments to cash in on the wave of excess wealth, stocks soared to many multiples of the values of the underlying companies, and everyone was riding high. People convinced themselves this gravy train was here to stay. Once again the greed blinded politicians, but this time it had spread into the population too. No one stopped to ask when the cycle would turn back around, until the dot-com meltdown.
Bust. House wins.
By the post-9/11 period, the financial industry was a free-for-all, the music industry was able to wage war against their listeners, the EPA was commandeered by board members of the very industries they regulate, the food industry inspections were cut down to a skeleton crew, and big pharmaceutical companies were being propped up by anti-competitive changes to the patents act. This was a systematic gutting of all the protections for the people, there was no accident or oversight to it, it was deliberate. The corporations ruled Congress.
It should have been no surprise when the mortgage backed securities crashed the nation’s house prices, stranding people with a giant negative net worth, and ruining their credit simultaneously. The very hubris required to label them infallible grade AAA investments is the hardest part to fathom. The financial industry had monetized every miniscule aspect of every transaction, using supercomputers to churn through trades in ridiculously small amounts of time, and using risk algorithms based on historical patterns, to decide what to do.
The idea that historical patterns could ever reflect the scale of the wealth being sloshed around, or reflect the market conditions prior to the destruction of the safeguards, is pretty unbelievable in hindsight. The idea that financial institutions could buy speculative investments, re-package them with insurance, to sell as securities safer than term deposits, could only have been dreamed up in the mind of someone delusional. And perhaps they all were.
Delusional at best.
With the bailouts of the major banks, it should have been obvious, there was no free market anymore. The banks and insurance companies which had so screwed the average person, were paid off, and the losses were socialized, assumed by the government. All upside for mega-corporations then, and all downside for the investors. Just like the environment was sold to private interests, so was the future.
There were several boom and bust periods leading up to the housing crash, all precipitated by relaxing the limits to wealth generation. This is how CEO salaries went from a multiple of 10 to 20 times the average employee, to over 100 times. They had looted the public, time and again, a vicious cycle of confidence and collapse. Exactly how the great fortunes were made during the Great Depression.
The DMCA had assured everyone in the business of producing art, or music, or software, or other shareable media, that patents, and copyright ownership, was more powerful than the rights granted by the constitution. It gave corporations that produced intangible media, greater leverage against competitors (or customers) than those who produced tangible goods, which was also contrary to the spirit of patent law. All in the name of stopping piracy.
You know there’s something seriously wrong when distributing pirate software becomes a more serious offense than dealing cocaine to children.
This complete reversal gave them the excuse they needed, to turn a one time sale, into a constant revenue stream, while retaining ownership of the product. No more would a company sell you something, now they would rent it to you, and you were screwed if you didn’t like it. Why would a for-profit company manufacture anything, with all the costs in creating it, if they could lease you a copy they already have? Leave manufacturing to China.
This is what GOD MODE for business looks like.
The Patriot Act was to complete the picture. The strong government half of the equation. Now the government could trample all over the constitution whenever it chose to as well, as long as they justified it with public safety, which was all the time. They could just point to someone shouting, label them a terrorist, throw them in a cell forever, and forget it ever happened. Which was a great way to silence dissenters, or people thinking about a little revenge ploy.
This was the final piece, the last expansion of powers they needed, the Geneva Convention and Bill of Rights were reduced to interesting historical documents. Certain kinds of torture was declared legal, or at least not criminal, and the really distasteful stuff was done by foreigners in other countries, to make sure it stayed that way. Bombing another sovereign country, without declaring war, was now not actually an act of war; even bullying NATO and the UN over their disapproval became normal. It was a fine time to be in the arms industry, they got to dictate foreign policy indirectly, and as long as there was war, they were going to be stinky rich. The economy needs more interventionism!
While defense contractors owned trusted news outlets, cheerleading the War to their audience every night, "embedded" journalists were being censored. Instead of facts, they gave viewers some exciting never before seen insider footage, repeated endlessly. You likely never heard about the friendly fire independent journalists faced, when they dared to shun the military’s offer to find the truth.
It’s the perfect neo-fascist marriage. Unlimited power, control of the media, no liability. It didn’t happen all at once, it expanded in small steps at first, leading to bigger steps later. We’re at a point where the propaganda is so pervasive, where the theft is so systematic, where the repression is so complete, that it will take a very violent revolution to repair. Perhaps even a civil war.
Political scientists know, that the critical mass of people required to force change is only 3.5%, and that’s not a lot. Just over 3 out of every 100 people has to be brave enough, to dare speak out against the injustice, to infect those around them with notions of fairness and liberty, to change their world.
They may be monitoring the internet, they may be entrapping disgruntled youths with terrorist plots, but they forget how powerful it is, how resilient it is; assuming we all use it for what it was made for. Disseminating information. Showing the world the dirty secrets. Educating the next generation to question everything. Only then can the grip of mainstream media on "the truth" be cast off.
There is a chance though, a slim one, but it’ll take more effort than Americans are used to. It might hurt a bit.