Corporations and Capitalism

Corporations are probably the least democratic institution in the world, designed and purpose built to gather wealth, to avoid paying taxes, and more particularly to avoid the managers and shareholders from having any responsibility for institutional damages, either on the personal level or the global level.  The corporation becomes a person under law, an invisible person, as the real people hide behind the legal barriers set up by corporate lawyers and accountants and MBAs and governments to protect their harnessing of wealth.

They have been around for a while, set up as a mechanism to harvest the wealth of the East Indies, of North America, and to transport that wealth back home.  They have continued to receive government largesse in the form of favourable rules and regulations to the extent that they now are part and parcel of government and all too frequently are powerful enough to over-ride government constraints – until when things become really shaky because of their own manipulations, government steps in and bails them out – their own form of social welfare without the democracy aspect.

Corporations are decidedly non-democratic and their paramount place within the so called “capitalist” system (by whichever definition or permutation or purity of idealism it is defined to actually be) renders the capitalist system non-democratic as well.  Economists rank about the lowest in my judgement of the range of careers available to anyone, working within a world of abstract perfection with mathematical models that are invented and created out of thin air without a connection to reality (all math should represent physical reality in some way as it does with chemistry and physics).  Those economists who define themselves as supporters of capitalism are arguing for a world with its base mired in poverty and its peak in the giddy heights where the few control by far the most wealth of the world.

The underlying basis of capitalism necessitates unemployment in order to keep labour cheap and mobile (at least within a  region or country).  It necessitates poverty, if not for a motivator then for the same cheap labour.  It requires consumption at all levels which because of the need for poverty and unemployment, also requires a complacent middle class to be the consumers of the world.  Without a truly decent wage, with both parents working, with unending propaganda/advertising beating it into the consumers brain that they simply are not cool, sexy, articulate, or beautiful if a certain product is not purchased, the theoretical middle class drives itself – sometimes literally as our culture is based on the automobile – into ever increasing levels of debt.  That debt is wealth to the corporations, as the consumer is trapped into an ever larger cycle of purchasing and debt creation.

The peaks of capitalism thrive on market control, elitism, cronyism and the ever revolving door between big business, government, and the military.  It returns us to the world of globalization and the WTO and Washington consensus discussed above.  Its reality is a world in which ten per cent of the population control over half of the global wealth, while half the global population controls only one per cent of the wealth – and really probably do not ‘control’  even that. From these vertiginous heights of wealth the world perspective is perhaps flat, the bottom layers being so dim and distant in view that we are all of equal powerlessness to the elites.

Part II: Democracy and Theocracy — From Communalism to Occupation Subjugation

This is perhaps the strangest relationship within this argument but it is within this context, from an article written by Ramzy Baroud about the ability of democracy to fit within the Muslim system of beliefs, that my original thoughts started.  In the article Baroud argued that an “entire school of Muslim thought was in fact established around the concept that democracy and Islam are very much compatible.”  Continuing through his arguments on the values of democracy and their fit with Islam – with the awareness of the damage done by the U.S. occupations and invasions and their bringing of democracy through the barrel of a gun to the peoples of the Islamic world – he notes, “However, these idealized assumptions missed the fact that Western democracy was conditional. And unconditional democracy can only be a farce.” [2] I can only concur.

Most religions have within them the philosophical/moral basis for the establishment of a democracy.  Most would fit a social democracy or even true communal communism if beliefs accorded to family and community were respected and implemented.   The discussions about the umma within Islam, the communalism within Christianity, and some of  the Talmudic traditions within Judaism, all carry strong elements of democracy.  Most importantly as will be discussed later, is the attention to the weak and the poor within society, as well as care for society in general and the environment – and at the opposite end, the kings and rulers were not above the law.  Unfortunately many religions – and certain sects within all religions – become dogmatically structured around a patriarchal system, or become entangled in some political philosophy that denies the communal-democratic basis of the religion.

Volumes could be written arguing from this perspective on the ins and outs and validity of democracy versus church regulations versus theological interpretations but there are two points I wish to make here.  First is the concept of a Jewish and democratic state.  Secondly, the semi-religious beliefs of Confucianism raise the idea of a meritocracy as a possible permutation of democracy.

A Democratic and Jewish State?

Many problems occur around the idea of a state that determines its democracy on the basis of one particular religion.  While Israel is not alone in this, it serves as an indicator of how far religious zealotry and dogma and political will based on that zealotry – through belief or simple utility – can deny democracy to its citizens and to citizens of areas that it controls.

It is obvious that there is nothing democratic about an occupation.  Democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, both occupied countries, is essentially a farce.   A government supported by foreign money, a country that has various war lords serving within its institutions, a government that would change dramatically if the occupiers withdrew cannot by any definition other than the lie of propaganda be considered a democracy.  For Israel, its denial of Palestinian rights with the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself is a denial of democracy.  It is a denial of democracy prejudiced upon a religious “holier than thou” belief system – in which the “thou” becomes homo sacer, the other, outside the law and thus subject to whatever treatment  is accorded it without retort – and it is omnipresent in all areas of Israeli/Palestinian society.

The pure lie of democracy as a gift from the rulers, the elite, was fully demonstrated during the Palestinian elections in which Hamas emerged a surprise winner.  This democratic victory was quickly denied by the U.S., Canada, and Israel, with the ongoing results being the continued subjugation of the Palestinian Authority to the Israeli political will and the demonization of Hamas and its enclave of Gaza, an enclave determined mainly by outside forces trying to entrap Hamas.  Which is in effect what happened, again with results that demonstrate the full lack of democratic ideals of the Israeli government as it subjects the territory to ongoing containment – essentially a huge outdoor prison camp – and savage military attacks that are demonstrably against international law.  Democracy has only been achieved by the people, the demos, standing up for their rights, fighting against the abuses of the elites and rulers – and that fight is at its most physical and savage in occupied territories such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and even more so in Palestine.