Must Read Books:|
Democracy for the Few
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
"The study of politics is itself a political act, containing little that is neutral" (vii).
The orthodoxy we were taught:
"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).
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).
"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 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.]
"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).
"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).
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).
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).
"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).
"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 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).
"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).
"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).
"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).
"... 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).
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).
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).
"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).
"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).
"..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).
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).
"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).
"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