Must Read Books:
Democracy for the Few

Democracy for the Few. by Michael Parenti. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Note: The following are notes from the above book. I found the book seminal, eye-opening, life-changing. I recommend that you buy and read the entire book. Only by reading the entire book will you get the whole picture. The following quotes, I hope, will whet your appetite. --Colby Glass


Summary of Book | Who Owns America | U.S. Imperialism | Myth that U.S. is Better
Socialization | Socialism | Constitution | Corporate State
War as Business | Welfare for the Rich | Military Facts | U.S. Imperialism
Labor Suppressed | The Justice System | Repression | Grand Jury
Political Prisoners | Illegal CIA Activities | Conspiracies | Class Struggle

"The study of politics is itself a political act, containing little that is neutral" (vii).

The orthodoxy we were taught:

    1. "The U.S. was founded by [and the constitution written by] persons dedicated to building a nation for the good of all its citizens" (1)

    2. "The nation's political leaders.. are for the most part responsive to [the majority]... The people do not rule but they select those who do" (1)

    3. "[We have] a government of laws and not of individuals.." (2)

"With the persistence of poverty; unemployment; recessions; inflation; overseas military interventions; gargantuan defense budgets; crises in our transportation, health, educational, and welfare systems; environmental devastation; deficient consumer and worker protection; arduous and unfairly distributed taxes; a national debt that is growing at an ever increasing rate; and widespread crime in the streets and in high places, many persons find it difficult to believe that the best interests of the American people are being served by the existing state of affairs" (2).


Summary of the Book

"... our government often represents the priveleged few rather than the needy many.. participating in elections and the activities of political parties and exercising the right to speak out are insufficient measures against the influences of corporate wealth. The laws of our polity operate chiefly with undemocratic effect because they are written principally to advance the interests of the haves at the expense of the have-nots and because, even if equitable as written, they usually are enforced in highly discriminatory ways... this "democracy for the few" is... a reflection of the entire politico-economic system, the way the resources of power are distributed within it, and the interests that are served by it" (2).

Each "part of the system, be it the media, lobbying, criminal justice, overseas intervention, or environmental policy... [each] serves, for the most part, to maintain the larger system -- especially the system's overriding class interests... issues and problems are not isolated and unrelated, even though they are treated that way by various academics and news commentators" (3).


Look At What People DO, Not What They Say

"Politics today covers every kind of issue, from abortion to school prayers, but the bulk of public policy is concerned with economic matters. The most important document the government produces each year is the budget" (4).

"Power belongs to those who possess the resources that enable them to control the behavior of others, such as jobs, organization, technology, publicity, media, social legitimacy, expertise, essential goods and services, and -- the ingredient that often determines the availability of these things -- money" (6).

"Political life is replete with deceit, corruption, and plunder. Small wonder that many people seek to remove themselves from it. But whether we like it or not, politics and government play a crucial role in determining the conditions of our lives... [you] can leave political life alone, but it will not leave [you] alone... One ignores the doings of the state only at one's own risk" (7).

"If the picture that emerges.. is not pretty, this should not be taken as an attack on the United States, for this country and the American people are greater than the abuses perpetrated upon them by those who live for power and profit. To expose these abuses is not to denigrate the nation that is a victim of them... In fact, there is no better way to love one's country, no better way to strive for the fulfillment of its greatness, than to entertain critical ideas and engage in the pursuit of social justice at home and abroad" (7).


The Distribution of Wealth and Want

There are two distinct classes in the U.S. and the world. One is made up of those people who own the wealth of a society -- those who are independently wealthy -- the "corporate owning class" -- "You are a member of the owning class when your income is very large and comes mostly from the labor of other people" (9).

The other class is everyone else, who is dependent on the wealthy for their employment and/or economic survival. This includes the small business owners who "are really just so many squirrels dancing among the elephants... [They] are dependent on larger contractors for their existence, and are easily stamped out when markets decline or bigger competitors move in" (8).

"The author of a book, for instance, does not make "profits" on his book; he EARNS an income from the labor of writing it, proportionately much less than the sum going to those who own the publishing house and who do none of the writing, editing, printing, and marketing of books. The sum going to the owners is profits; it is UNEARNED income" (10).

"The dominance of capital over labor remains the essence of the American economic system, bringing ever greater concentrations of wealth and power into the hands of a small moneyed class" (10).

There would be no capital and no profits without labor. "Wealth is created by the labor power of workers... [but] the portion taken from the worker is not visible" (9).

[Take the company profits and management salaries and perc's and divide by the number of workers to see the portion taken from them.]


Who Owns America?

"Contrary to a widely propagated myth, this country's wealth does not belong to a broad middle class. The top 10 percent of American households own over 86 percent of [all] financial assets... while 90 percent of the American people have little or no net financial assets. The single greatest source of individual wealth is inheritance" (10).

"Less than 1 percent of all corporations control two-thirds of the corporate assets of the entire economy. Forty-nine of the biggest banks hold a controlling interest in the 500 largest corporations... J.P. Morgan is the nation's largest stockholder.." (11).

"The trend is toward greater concentrations of corporate wealth as giant companies are bought up by supergiants... [in] the 1981-5 period.. some $100 billion of corporate cash resources [were] spent on mergers at a great profit to company executives and big stockholders. Such takeovers absorb money that could have been spent on new technologies and new jobs" (12).

"Americans are taught that the economy consists of a wide array of independent producers. We refer to "farmers" as an interest apart from businesspeople.. [yet] the larger agribusiness firms now control over half of all the farmland in the United States. Just one percent of all food corporations control 80 percent of all the industry's assets and close to 90 percent of the profits... Six multinational firms handle 90 percent of all the grain shipped in the world market" (12).

As small farms go out of business, "the growth of corporate agribusiness [is causing] regional self-sufficiency in food [to] virtually vanish... The Northeast, for instance, imports more than 70 percent of its food from other regions. For every $2 spent to grow food in the United States, another $1 is spent to move it" (13).

"... a small number of the wealthiest families, such as the Mellons, Morgans, DuPonts, and Rockefellers, dominate the American economy. The DuPont family control eight of the largest defense contractors... [and] control ten corporations that each have billions of dollars in assets, including General Motors, Coca-Cola, and United Brands... The family is frequently the largest contributor to Republican presidential campaigns.." (13-14).

"... the Rockefellers.. extend into just about every industry in every state of the union and every nation in the nonsocialist world. The Rockefellers control five of the twelve largest oil companies and four of the largest banks in the world" (14).


How Capitalism Works

"What is unique about capitalism is its perpetual dynamic of capital accumulation and expansion... Capitalists like to say that they are "putting their money to work," but money as such cannot create more wealth. What capitalists really mean is that they are putting more human labor power to work for them, paying workers less in wages than they produce in value, thereby siphoning off more profit for themselves..." (15).

"Today the average employee works a little over two hours for herself, and almost six hours for the boss... The percentage is vastly higher in most Third World nations..." (15).

"By doing everything possible to hold down wages and increase profits, capitalists work against themselves, for they cut into the buying power of the.. public... Every owner would prefer to pay employees as little as possible while selling goods to better-paid workers from other companies... This contradiction is a source of great instability leading to chronic overproduction and a tendency toward stagnation" (17).

"Corporations draw subsidies from the public treasure; enter into monopolistic mergers, rig prices at artificially high levels; impose speedups, layoffs, and wage and benefit cuts; and move to cheaper overseas labor markets. In these ways, they are often able to increase profits amidst widespread want and unemployment" (18).

When the government says the economy is good today, they mean for the 10% who own everything. The rest of us don't matter.

Myth: "The idea that all Americans are in the same boat, experiencing good and bad times together... " (18).

Recessions are good for the really big capitalists -- "Economic slumps keep labor from getting too aggressive in its wage demands and help weed out the weaker capitalists -- to the benefit of the stronger" (17).

"A common problem of modern capitalism is inflation. The 4 to 5 percent inflation rate that has regularly plagued our economy can, in a few years, substantially reduce the buying power of wage earners and persons on fixed incomes.

"Hardest hit by inflation are the four essentials which devour 70 percent of the average family income: food, fuel, housing, and health care.

"The major cause of higher prices is the grab for profits, a phenomenon inherent to the monopolistic structure of modern capitalism. As financial power is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, supplies, markets -- and prices -- are more easily manipulated... In most industries, prices are fixed at artificially high levels. Instead of lowering prices when sales drop, the big firms often raise them to compensate for sales losses" (20).

"Massive military expenditures "happen to be a particularly inflation-producing type of federal spending," admits the Wall Street Journal. The Civil War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War all produced periods of extreme inflation. Aggregate demand -- mostly government demand for military goods and payments to military personnel -- far exceed suply during wartime and are not usually covered by increased taxes.

[See the Web site, Where Your Income Tax Money REALLY Goes. According to this study, 47% of your taxes goes to present and past military spending.]

"Even during "peacetime," assuming that's what we have today, huge defense outlays help create inflationary scarcities, as the military consumes vast amounts of labor power and material resources. (For instance, it is the largest single consumer of fuel in the United States.) The resulting excess of demand over supply generates an upward pressure on prices, especially since the defense budget is funded mostly through deficit spending -- that is, by the government's spending more than it collects in taxes" (20-21).


Supply and Demand

"Those who insist that private enterprise can answer our needs seem to overlook the fact that private enterprise has no such interest, its function being to produce the biggest profits possible for the owners. People may NEED food, but they offer no market until their need (or want) is coupled with buying power to become a market DEMAND" (21).


U.S. Imperialism

".. poor nations feed rich ones. Much of the beef, fish, and other protein products consumed by North Americans (and their livestock and domestic pets) comes from Peru, Mexico, Panama, India, and other countries where grave protein shortages exist. These foods find their way to profitable U.S. markets rather than being used to feed the children in these countries who suffer from protein deficiencies. In Guatemala alone, 55,000 children die before the age of five each year because of illnesses connected to malnutrition. Yet, the dairy farmers of countries like Guatemala and Costa Rica are converting to more profitable beef cattle for the United States market" (21-2).

The problem with capitalism is that it is ONLY answerable for PROFITS.

"The HUMAN value of productivity rests in its social purpose. Is the purpose to plunder the environment without regard to ecological needs, fabricate endless consumer desires, produce shoddy good designed to wear out quickly, create wasteful, high-priced forms of consumption and service, pander to snobbism and acquisitiveness, squeeze as much compulsive toil as possible out of workers while paying them as little as possible, create artificial scarcities in order to jack up prices -- all in order to grab as big a profit as one can? Or is productivity geared to satisfying the communal needs of the populace in an equitable manner? Is it organized to serve essential needs first and superfluous wants last, to care for the natural environment and the health and safety of citizens and workers? Is it organized to maximize the capabilities, responsibilities, and participation of its people?" (22)

"It is argued that the accumulation of great fortunes is a necessary condition for economic growth, for only the wealthy can provide the huge sums needed for the capitalization of new enterprises. Yet in many industries, from railroads to atomic energy, much of the funding has come from the government -- that is, from the taxpayer" (23). [Compare this argument with Ayn Rand's works].

"During economic slumps, [corporate representatives] are inclined to blame "low worker productivity" ...we are to believe [that] workers must learn to work harder for less. But studies show that American workers are far more productive than workers in most other capitalist nations...

"Actually, the low productivity is among U.S. managers, most of whom are paid too much for too little work...

"Another cause of low productivity is overcapitalization, which means idle machines and a relatively low output...

"Technological obsolescences is another factor. Big companies are unwilling to spend their own money to modernize their plants. Corporations cry poverty and call for federal funds... Yet, these same companies then produce huge cash reserves, which they use to buy up other companies...

"Productivity is [also] adversely affected by the continual shift of industry from one location to another, in search of cheaper labor markets, usually in the Third World... abandonment of perfectly good plant sites... " (24-5).


Unemployment

"In capitalist societies, unlike socialist ones, people have no guaranteed right to employment... Nor is full employment the most desirable thing from the boss's perspective. Without a reserve army of unemployed to compete for jobs, labor would become "too expensive" and cut too deeply into profits. So some unemployment is functional to capitalism. In the United States, during the "boom times" of the 1920s, 1950s, and 1960s, there were -- even by official statistics -- always at least several million people in need of jobs" (25).

The official figure of 7 to 12 percent unemployment "does not count the 2.5 million who since 1983 have given up looking for work, nor the many who have exhausted their unemployment compensation and have left the rolls. Neither does it include the 6.5 million part-time or reduced-time workers who want full-time jobs, nor the persons forced into early retirement, nor those who have found jobs but at substantially reduced pay, nor the youths who have joined the armed forces because they could not find work" (25).

"Only persons who actively sought work during the month are counted..." (26).

MYTH:
"If we are to believe Ronald Reagan, there are plenty of jobs but people are just lazy. In a January 1982 press conference, he said he found pages of help-wanted ads in the Sunday newspapers. A more systematic survey of unemployment ads throughout New York State found that 85 percent of the positions required college training or special skills. For the remaining 1,305 "entry level" openings, 29,316 people applied" (26).

MYTH:
"Another myth is that union-scale wages cause unemployment by "pricing workers out of the market." Actually, in states where labor unions are weak and wages low, like North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, unemployment rates are among the highest in the nation. For the country as a whole, the decline in unions and union-scale wages during the 1970s and 1980s has been accompanied by a higher, not a lower, rate of unemployment" (26).


The Plight of the Middle American

"Generally, it is becoming increasingly difficult for American employees to procure jobs that pay them middle-class wages. What we are witnessing is a slippage in living standards from parents to children... In 1970 three out of four American families could afford to buy an average-priced house; today, less than one in three could do so... mortgage delinquencies [are] higher.. than at any time since the Great Depression" (29).

"The giant corporations... fix prices and determine the availability of livelihoods; they decide which labor markets to explore and which to abandon; they create new standard of consumption; they divide earnings among labor, management, and stockholders, devours its resources, and poison the land, water, and air; they command an enormous surplus wealth while helping to create and perpetuate conditions of scarcity for millions of people at home and abroad; they exercise trustee power over religious, recreational, cultural, medical, and charitable institutions and over much of the media and the educational system; and they enjoy a powerful voice in the highest councils of federal, state, and local governments" (29-30).


Poverty and Misery

Myth:
People in the U.S. have it so much better than people in other countries.

Facts (30):

    1. Life expectancy in 20-year-old American males -- 36 countries are better than the U.S.

    2. Life expectancy in 20-yeaer-old American females -- 21 countries are better than the U.S.

    3. Infant mortality rate -- 20 countries are better, and it's twice as bad for black infants as for whites

    4. Women's chances of living through childbirth -- eleven countries are better than the U.S.

    5. The poor are the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S.

    6. One out of every 5 American adults is functionally illiterate.

    7. One out of every 4 Americans lives in substandard housing -- inadequate plumbing, heat, or other facilities.

    8. Scarcity of decent dwellings allows landlords to charge exorbitant rents.

    9. An estimated 2 million people are homeless.

    10. At least 20 million Americans go hungry every month.

    11. "More than half of the Americans who live below the poverty level are elderly. A third of these have a daily intake of less than 1,000 calories -- amounting to a slow starvation diet" (32).

    12. Many of the poor and homeless "pick their food out of garbage cans and town dumps. If the president on his visit to China had witnessed Chinese peasants eating from garbage cans, he almost certainly would have cited it as proof that communism doesn't work. What does it prove when it happens in the capitalist success called America?" (N.Y Times)" (32).

    13. "With anywhere from 23,000 to 24,000 killings a year, the U.S. homicide rate is one of the highest in the world" (33).

    14. The suicide rate among young people has increased 300 percent since 1950, to become the third leading cause of death among U.S. youth.

    15. Violent crime

    16. Prison population -- largest in world and growing

    17. Drug addiction

    18. "The American divorce rate is the highest in the world, nearly double that of Sweden, the runner-up" (33).

    19. Some 20 million women are beaten each year by men, with 4.7 million sustaining serious injury" (33).

    20. "Child abuse kills more children than leukemia, automobile accidents, and infectious diseases combined" (33).

"Certainly not all social pathology can be ascribed to economic want but much of it can be prevented or treated by a more equitable and humane social order, one that puts people before profits...

"By its very nature, the capitalist system is compelled to exploit the resources and labor of society for the purpose of maximizing profits. This.. creates.. neglect of social need.." (34).


The Plutocratic Culture

To understand the American political system, we must understand the social system in which it operates.

"American capitalism represents more than just an economic system; it is an entire cultural and social order... a system of rule by and for the rich..." (35).

The rich, besides controlling the business world, sit on the boards of trustees which rule "most universities and colleges, publishing houses,.. magazines, newspapers, television and radio stations, professional sports teams, foundations, churches, private museums, charity organizations, and hospitals.. " (35).

"This, then, is a feature of real significance in any understanding of political power in America: almost all the social institutions existing in this society... are.. ruled by.. self-selected, self-perpetuating groups of affluent corporate representatives...

"The rest of us make our way through these institutions as employees and clients. These institutions shape [our lives]; yet we have no vote, no portion of the ownership, and no legal decision-making power within them" (36).

BOTTOM LINE: "The existing social order and culture are not independent of the business system" (36).


Socialization Into Orthodoxy

"The power of business does not stand naked before the public; it is enshrouded in a mystique of its own making. The agencies of ruling class culture, namely the media, the schools, the politicians, and others, associate the capitalist system with the symbols of patriotism, democracy, prosperity, and progress. Criticisms of the system are equated with un-Americanism" (37).

"Capitalism is presented as the sole alternative to "communist tyranny." The private enterprise system, it is taught, creates equality of opportunity, rewards those who show ability and initiative, relegates the parasitic and slothful to the bottom of the ladder, provides a national prosperity that is the envy of other lands, and safeguards... personal liberties and political freedom" (37).

"... in truth, capitalism also flourishes under the most brutally repressive regimes, and capitalist interests have supported the overthrow of democracies in Chile, Guatemala, and other Third World countries and the installment of right-wing dictators who make their lands safe for corporate investments" (37).

What is taught in elementary schools:
"... whatever the [U.S.] government does is for the best" (37).

Public school teachers who suggest any criticism of the system are placing their jobs at risk. "High school students who attempt to sponsor unpopular speakers and explore dissident views in student newspapers have frequently been overruled... and threatened with disciplinary action (38; see Captive Voices: High School Journalism in America, by the Commission of Inquiry Into High School Journalism, 1974).

"School texts at the elementary, high-school, and even college levels seldom give but passing mention to the history of labor struggle and the role of American corporations in the exploitation and maldevelopment of the Third World... The history of resistance to slavery, racism, and U.S. expansionist wars is largely untaught.. at any level" (38).

"Teaching about the "evils of communism" is required by law in many states.." (38).

"College faculty, and even students, have been subjected to discriminatory treatment because of their dissenting views and political activities, suffering negative evaluations and loss of scholarships, research grants, and jobs" (38-9).

"Socialization into the orthodox values of American culture is achieved not only by indoctrination but also by economic sanctions designed to punish the dissident critics and reward the political conformists. This is true of the training and advancement of lawyers, doctors, journalists, engineers, managers, bureaucrats, and teachers" (39).

"Ideological orthodoxy so permeates the plutocratic culture, masquerading as "pluralism," "democracy," and the "open society," that it is often not felt as indoctrination... So, there are Americans who conform unswervingly to the capitalist orthodoxy, afraid to entertain contrary notions for fear of jeopardizing their jobs, but who think they are "free"" (39).

"...the capitalist culture is essentially a market culture, one that minimizes cooperative efforts and human interdependence and keeps us busily competing as workers and consumers. The ability or desire to work collectively with others is much retarded" (41).

"We are admonished to "get ahead"... This kind of "individualism" is not to be mistaken for the freedom to choose deviant political and economic practices... Each person is expected to.. compete for the same things... You are individualist in that you are expected to get what you can for yourself and not be too troubled by the problems faced by others. This attitude, considered inhuman in some societies, is labeled approvingly as "ambition" in our own..." (41).

"... CLASS bigotry.. is one of the widely held forms of prejudice in American society and is the least challenged... The message we get is that material success is a measure of one's worth; thus the poor are not worth much and society's resources should not be squandered on them" (42-3).

"Because human services are based on ability to pay, money becomes a matter of life and death. To have a low or modest income is to run a higher risk of illness, insufficient medical care, and job exploitation, and to have a lesser opportunity for education, leisure, travel, and comfort. The desire to "make it," even at the expense of others, is not merely a wrong-headed attitude but a reflection of the material conditions of capitalist society wherein no one is ever really economically secure except the super-rich" (43).


Are Americans Conservative?

"A majority of Americans believe that both the Democratic and Republican parties favor big business over the average worker" (44).

"... Americans believe.. too much money is going into military spending" (44).

"There is a whole history of progressive democratic struggle in this country, of people confronting the repressive powers of the state, protesting overseas wars and militarism, and fighting against ethnic, racial, gender, and class exploitation. The fight against oppression and inequality continues to this present day, but as in years past, it is underplayed or misrepresented by those who disseminate most of the information and images of our society" (45).


The problems with the capitalist system (50-1):

    1. "..strikes hardest at those who are least able to protect themselves -- the disabled, unemployed, aged, and indigent..

    2. "..has given us 27 industrial depressions in 122 years...

    3. "..leaves millions without adequate housing while a third of the housing construction workforce is looking for work...

    4. "..leaves millions hungry while agribusiness is paid billions in government subsidies to put land out of production or store surplus production in warehouses...

    5. "..gives wealth and power to a small number of persons while millions live in want and desolation...

    6. "..organizes the land, labor, resources, and technology of society around no goal other than the accumulation of capital" (50-51).


Socialism

"A SOCIALIST is someone who wants to replace the capitalist system with a system of public and communal ownership, an economy that is rationally planned around social and human needs" (50).

Few Americans "identify themselves as socialists... Yet many citizens adhere to views that are close to socialist principles" (50).

Unlike liberals, socialists believe "that our social problems cannot be solved within the very system that is creating them" (51).

Socialistst point to the Soviet Union, a socialist failure. But even there, "their citizens do have a guaranteed right to a job; are free from hunger and homelessness; do not pay more than 7 percent of their income in rent; have free medical care and free education to the highest level of their ability; have paid vacations and adequate disability insurance; enjoy such things as subsidized utilities and subsidized transportation, an earlier retirement than people in capitalist societies (sixty for men, fifty-five for women), and a guaranteed pension after retirement (wjith the right to continue working at another job)" (51).


A Constitution for the Few

The framers of the Constitution "agreed with Adam Smith, who said that government was "instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor"" (54).

 

More from Parenti


Government Secrecy

"Business, we are told, answers to the public through the competition of the free market, but government strives for secrecy and unaccountability. In fact, as just noted, government is more the object of public scrutiny than is business. People expect government to solve problems because they have no expectation that business will" (259).

Much of the secrecy in public bureaucracy is on behalf of private business and the military... health and safety problems that might prove troublesome to powerful business interests, including data on toxic waste disposal, and on the harmful features of certain medical drugs, pesticides, and nuclear reactors..." (259).

"Presidents pledge to conduct "open administrations" that have "nothing to hide." Yet, once in office, they are inclined toward secrecy. The more secrecy, the more opportunity for them to do what they want without having to answer for it. The executive branch withholds from the public about 16 million documents a year" (260).

"During his tenure in office President Reagan talked about getting government off the backs of people but he worked at getting people off the back of government. He issued a presidential directive that forced some two million government workers to take a pledge of secrecy. He required almost 300,000 past and present federal employees to agree to submit to lifetime government censorship of their writings and speeches... Hostile to the Freedom of Information Act, the Reagan Administration sought to undercut it by expanding the restrictive classification of documents, blocking out more and more information on the documents that were released, imposing long delays on releasing materials, and charging exorbitant copying fees..." (260).

"To prevent federal employees from "committing the truth," the White House has sought greater power to control and punish disclosures -- even of unclassified materials. It has argued in several cases that government information is government property... Attorney-General Bell denounced Justice Department personnel who leaked information to the press regarding FBI wrongdoings as having violated their oath to uphold the law" (261).


Conspiracies

"..it should be noted that conspiracies do exist. A common view is that conspiracy is only the imaginings of kooks. But just because some people have fantasies of conspiracies does not mean that all conspiracies are fantasies. There is ample evidence of real ones. The early planning of the Vietnam War as rervealed in the Pentagon Papers, the ITT-CIA-White House policy of destabilizing Chili, the Watergate break-in and the Watergate cover-up, the FBI COINTELPRO disruption of dissident groups, the several well-orchestrated energy crises that sharply boosted oil prices in the 1970s, the Iran-contra arms deals, and the Wall Street "insiders" stock trading scandals of 1986-7 are some important conspiracies that are a matter of public record" (300).

"Ruling elites admit to a conscious and constant need to plan in secret, resorting to sometimes drastic measures, often without being held accountable to anyone: they call it "national security." But when one suggests that their plans (whether covert or overt) benefit the interests of their class and are intended to do so, one is dismissed as a "conspiracy theorist." It is allowed that farmers, steelworkers, and even welfare mothers may plan concerted actions and try to use political means to help themselvese, but it may not be suggested that moneyed elites do as much.." (300).


The Dual Political System

"One might better think of ours as a dual political system. First, there is the symbolic political system centering around electoral and representative activities including campaign conflicts, voter turnout, political personalities, public pronouncements, official role-playing, and certain ambiguous presentations of some of the public issues that bestir presidents, governors, mayors, and their respective legislatures...

"Then there is the substantive political system, involving multibillion-dollar contracts, tax write-offs, protections, rebates, grants, loss compensation, subsidies, leasses, giveaways, and the whole vast process of budgeting, legislating, advising, regulating, protecting, and servicing major producer interests, now bending or ignoring the law on behalf of the powerful, now applying it with full punitive vigor against heretics and "troublemakers."

"The symbolic system is highly visible, taught in the schools, dissected by academicians, gossiped about by news commentators. The substantive system is seldom heard of or accounted for" (301).


Controlling Power

"Interest-group politics is tiered according to the power of the contenders. Big interests, like the oil, banking, and defense industries, operate in the most important arena, extracting hundreds of billions of dollars from the labor of others and from the public treasure, affecting the well-being of whole communities and regions, and exercising control over the most important units of the federal government...

"..the costs of collusion [at this level] are passed on to the public in the form of higher prices, higher taxes, environmental devastation, and inflation" (300-301).

"In contrast, consumer groups, labor unions, and public-interest advocates move in a more limited space, registering their complaints against some of the worst, or more visible, symptoms of the corporate system and occasionally winning a new law or regulation. Finally, the weakest interests, like welfare mothers and slum dwellers, are shunted to the margins of political life.." (301).

"It is worth repeating that this diversity of [interest] groups does not represent a democratization of power... Decision-making power is "divided" in that it is parceled out [by moneyed interests] to special public-private interest groups -- quasiautonomous, entrenched coteries that use public authority for private purposes of low visibility.

"The fragmentation of power is the pocketing of power, a way of insulating portions of the political process from the tides of popular sentiment. This purpose was embodied in the constitutional structure by the framers in 1787 and has previaled ever since in more elaborate forms" (301-2).

"Along with the special interests of business firms, there is the overall influence exerted by business as a system. More than just an abstraction, business as a system of power, a way of organizing property, capital, and labor, is a pervasive social force. Corporate business is not just another of many interests in the influence system. It occupies a strategic position within the economic system; in a sense, it IS the economic system. On the major issues of the political economy, business gets its way with government because there exists no alternative way of organizing the economy within the existing capitalist structure. Because business controls the very economy of the nation, government perforce enters into a unique and intimate relationship with it. The heaelth of the capitalist economy is treated by policymakers as a necessary condition for the health of the nation, and since it happens that the economy is in the hands of large investors, then presumably government's service to the public is best accomplished by service to these investors. The goals of business (rapid growth, high profits, and secure markets) become the goals of government, and the "national interest" becomes identified with the dominant capitalist interest" (302).


The Limits of Reform

Democratic capitalism is often credited with a unique ability for peaceful change and reform. In fact, "most reforms.. have been vehemently resisted by the capitalist class and were won only after prolonged, bitter, and sometimes bloody popular struggle." In addition, "most of the problems needing reform have been caused or intensified by capitalism" (304-5).

There are two reasons why change -- social justice -- is so hard to achieve: "First, because the realities of power militate against fundamental reform, and second, because the present politico-economic system could not sustain itself if such reforms were initiated" (305).


Book's Conclusion

"What is being argued here [the conclusion of this book] is that, contrary to the view of liberal critics, the nation's immense social problems are not irrational offshoots of a basically rational system, to be solved by replcing the existing corporate and political decision makers with persons who would be better intentioned and more socially aware. Rather, the problems are rational outcomes of a basically irrational system, a system structured not for the satisfaction of human need but the multiplication of human greed, one that is grossly inequitable, exploitative, and destructive of human and natural resources at home and abroad" (306).


Democracy As Class Struggle

"The ruling class has several ways of expropriating the earnings of the people. First and foremost, as workers, people receive only a portion of the value their labor power creates... managers continually devise methods -- including speed-ups, lay-offs, the threast of plant closures, [moving plants out of the country,] and union busting -- to tame labor and secure the process...

"Second, as consumers, people are victimized by monopoly practices that force them to spend more on less. They are also confronted with increasingly exploitative forms of involuntary consumption, as when relatively inexpensive mass-transit systems are neglected or eliminated, creating a greater dependency on automobiles; or when low-rental apartments are converted into high-priced condominiums; or when local farm products are replaced by expensive processed foods transported long distances by agribusiness.

"Third, over the last thirty years or so, with each successive "tax reform" bill, working people as taxpayers have had to shoulder an even larger portion of the tax burden, while business pays less and less. Indeed, the dramatic decline in business taxes has been a major cause of the growth in the federal deficit" (307).

"Fourth, as citizens, the people get less than they pay for in government services. The lion's share of federal spending goes to large firms, defense contractors, banks, and other creditors. As citizens, the people also endure the hidden "diseconomies" shifted onto them by private business, as when a chemical company contaminatese a community's groundwater with its toxic wastes" (308).

These various means serve the process of capital accumulation, which is the essence of capitalism..." (308).


Hidden Answer

There is "a tradition of people's struggle in the United States that has been downplayed or ignored by the dominant elites and their representatives. This democratic struggle ebbs and flows but it has never ceased. Forced to react to the exploitative conditions imposed on them and moved by a combination of anger and hope, ordinary people in America have organized, agitated, demonstrated, and engaged in electoral challenges, civil disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, takeovers, boycotts, and sometimes violent clashes with the authorities -- for better wages and work conditions, for fairer allocation of taxes and public services, for political and economic equality, and for peace and nonintervention abroad" (308).


Can Socialism Work?

"..can socialism work? ...[remember that] various private industries (defense, railroads, satellite communication, aeronautics and nuclear power, to name come) exist today only because the government funded the research and development and provided most of the risk capital. We already have some socialized services and they work quite well if given sufficient funds. Our roads and water supplies are socialized as are our bridges and ports, and in some states so are our liquor stores, which yearly generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues. And there are the examples of "lemon socialism" in which governments in this and other countries have taken over industries ailing from being bled for profits, and nursed them back to health, testimony to the comparative capacities of rivate and public capital" (319).

"The publicly owned railroads in France and Italy work much better than the privately owned ones in the United States (which work as well as they do only because of public subsidies). State and municipal universities in the United States are public and therefore "socialist" ... and some of them are among the very best institutions of higher learning in the country. A 1981 Department of Energy study found that publicly owned utilities are better managed than investor-owned ones. And because they do not have to produce a profit for stockholders, their rates are lower... " (319-320).

Although we would not want to copy existing socialist societies (China, Cuba), it must be pointed out that "they have achieved what capitalism cannot and has no intention of accomplishing: adequate food, housing, and clothing for all; economic security in old age; free medical care; free education at all levels; and the right to a job.." (320).

Capitalism makes less sense as its ramifications become clear. "Yet people will not discard the system that oppresses them until they see the feasibility of an alternative..." (321).


Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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