by Peter A. Belmont / 2012-02-20
Britain had aristocrats, but America refused.
The American founding fathers knew nothing of modern super-wealthy corporations but they knew British aristocracy at first hand. They knew how the British House of Lords permanently privileged—as the upper house of a bicameral legislature—the hereditary aristocracy who were also the largest land-owners, which in those days meant the extremely wealthy. They also knew that the members of the House of Commons—the lower house of the bicameral legislature—were necessarily either wealthy themselves or beholden to the wealthy, because the members of Parliament were (until 1911) unpaid. MPs were unpaid to make sure that legislative power reposed in the hands of the wealthy and (often hereditary) very wealthy—then as now a small part of the country’s population.
The effect of this British arrangement was to repose political power in hereditary Kings, hereditary Lords, and a substantially hereditary or hereditarily-controlled Commons.
The American founding fathers created a republic without such an aristocracy, and part of the aim of that was to allow governance to be based on citizens’ assessment of the wisdom or “virtue” of candidates chosen from a far wider pool rather than making the national legislature the wholly-owned creature of the very wealthy. To avoid an actual aristocracy, they forbid the titles of aristocracy: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States.”
As John Adams wrote (“John Adams”, David Mccullough, p. 431)
If you suppose that I have or ever had a design or desire of attempting to introduce a government of Kings, Lords, and Commons, or in other words a hereditary executive, or a hereditary senate, either into the government of the United States or that of any individual state in this country, you are wholly mistaken.
Reversing All This
FDR feared the very takeover by oligarchs which we see so clearly today and against which I rail frequently.
During the campaign Roosevelt often flayed the capitalists, whose power had “become so disproportionate as to dry up purchasing power within any other group. . . . It is a proper concern of the Government to use wise measures of regulation which will bring this purchasing power back to normal.” In another speech, he said that “if the process of concentration goes on at the same rate, at the end of another century we shall have all American industry controlled by a dozen corporations, and run by perhaps a hundred men. Put plainly, we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.”The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision—allowing corporations to spend money without limit on elections—completes the long and steady process of reversal of this part of the founding fathers’ plan for America. Now, corporations are as wealthy in the American economic society as barons, dukes, and other lesser lords were, then, in Britain. Today, corporations and their very wealthy owners and managers hold the reins of power in American politics, rather as the lords and large landowners did in pre-revolutionary Britain.
Corporate power is perpetual (or so the corporate masters and shareholders hope). It is not based on any “virtue” or wisdom but rather on the narrow skill of making money by a combination of [A] doing the corporation’s nominal business and [B] securing regulatory and legislative benefits (including favorable tax treatment!) through the use of money for lobbying and electioneering.
In my view, [A] is the proper business of business and [B] is corruption.
Referring to W. A. Clark, but describing the general state of affairsMontana Decision.
in Montana, Mark Twain wrote in 1907 that Clark “is said to have bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment. By his example he has so excused and so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell.” Mark Twain, Mark Twain in Eruption, 72 (Harper & Bros. 1940).
Corporations do not seek the good of the country or of local communities. They seek only financial advancement of their owners (and managers). Thus, in one of the most striking and harmful examples, oil companies seek to advance their owners’ economic well-being by frustrating everyone else’s well-being by using corporate economic power to prevent the USA from dealing with global warming.
As corporations and the very rich—by and large—do not seek the good of the general population of the USA, it is little surprise that the people they select to play the roles of elected officials of the people likewise (act as though they) regard the people as a resource to be plundered rather than as the sovereign to be served.
No taxes for the very rich, they cry, and then—as a consequence—no to higher teacher salaries, better transportation, universal medical care, pensions for the elderly, etc. (But, paradoxically, they see nothing wrong with the most outlandishly expensive “defense” system imaginable.)
Corporations are not citizens of the USA. And, indeed, their shareholders may not be Americans. Some corporations which exert political power in the USA may be “foreign” in charter as well as in ownership. Why should such corporations have any voice in the USA’s politics?
Why the US Supreme Court chose to enthrone a modern aristocracy contrary to the clear intentions of the founding fathers I cannot say.
But we all suffer the consequences of this decision.
The proper corrective to all this corporate power is for the people to select a suitable constitutional amendment and get it enacted.
My proposal in this regard is to be found here: Constitutional-Amendment-to-combat-regulatory-capture-electoral-capture-and-Citizens-United. Reduced to a few words, this proposal calls for:
•Political action may be done or paid for by people only; and
•An annual cap per person, including candidates, for all political spending.
 “What was true a century ago is as true today: distant corporate interests mean that corporate dominated campaigns will only work ‘in the essential interest of outsiders with local interests a very secondary consideration.’”Montana Decision.
 “Despite nervous assurances by some that Citizens United could not possibly allow foreign corporations to influence elections with corporate money, nothing has prevented multinational corporations owned in significant part by foreign shareholders and the multinational United States Chamber of Commerce from spending money to influence American elections, and they are doing so.” FSFP Amicus Brief in Montana Case