False Freedom of Speech and the Perversion of the Golden Rule
Most of us have heard the admonition, “Treat others as you would have others treat you.” It’s the golden rule. And most of us have also heard it’s corrupted corollary, “He who has the gold makes the rules.” The first is a recommendation for getting along. The second is a sad recognition of the current facts.
This recognition is doubly sad as we observe America’s ongoing debate, if one could call it that, over healthcare. Once again those with the wealth, i.e. pharmaceutical companies and health insurance providers, are making the rules. And by what yardstick are these rules being measured? The primary metric for the pharmaceutical industry is the one with which we are the most familiar: charge as much for your product as you can and don’t worry too much about the product’s quality or ultimate effect. The primary metric for insurance companies is similar. It’s called the Medical Loss Ratio. This ration is the amount of money the insurance companies get from their clients versus the money they spend to keep their clients healthy. Currently the ratio is about 20 percent profit versus 80 percent outlay for the client (see http://www.pnhp.org/news/2006/march/medicalloss_ratios_.php). This ratio makes Wall Street very happy, but what does it mean for the rest of us if cutting client care is the most important item on health insurer’s agenda? It most likely means that even more people in America won’t be able to afford health insurance and that even more people who can afford it will go underserved. This also means that those who fear a healthcare system run by government, such as Medicare which operates five to ten times more efficiently than private insurance providers, are currently faced with a healthcare system run by Wall Street, the same folks who created the current financial debacle (see http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/transcripts/index.html).
But this is merely an instance. When it comes to any of the critical issues facing our nation the same players are making the rules, those with the gold. Whether the issue is energy, unemployment, the environment, war, healthcare, retirement, or almost any other important issue you can shake a stick at, the game remains the same. And the game is rigged. Recently I read a blog lamenting that America will soon have a population where the bottom 90 percent feed like leeches on the top 10 percent. But ignoring the fact that this is economically improbable if not impossible, the real truth is just the opposite. The top 0.01 percent have been living off of the bottom 90 percent for the greater part of the last 5,000 years (Korten, 2006, 2009; Rothkopf, 2008; Simon, 2005). That is, those who don’t work make their living from those who do by employing them for less than they are worth, selling them products for more than the products are worth, and by stealing their taxes.
So how is it that the rest of us, the regular people, have no voice whatsoever in all of the important decisions?
The answer is:
• Our government representatives are for sale to the highest bidder
• Our government representatives are continually campaigning rather than governing because they need the money
• Our government representatives are sold at a higher price than most can afford
• Our government representatives see no alternative
See (Blumenthal, 1980; Johnston, 2003, 2007; Ornstein, 2000; Phillips, 2008; Sirota, 2006; Thurber, 1995).
And how has this happened?
It most recently has come about by way of corporate personhood. That is, corporations are now legally considered to be persons, with all of the rights and fewer of the responsibilities of the real people who compose the true citizenry of the United States. This reality is based on a lamentable and infuriating mistake, but it is still a reality (Hartmann, 2002; Korten, 2000, 2001). This reality dictates that giving money to government officials is protected by a corporation’s right, as a person, to free speech. And whenever campaign reform is mentioned, one that would limit the ability of corporations to give money to a politician via campaign contributions, the cry is heard loud and clear that the free speech granted to the corporate world would be violated if such reforms were to be enacted.
But in reality it is the free speech of those who cannot afford opulent campaign contributions that is being continuously and overtly violated. We now have a system of “one dollar, one vote” rather than “one person, one vote.”
Many solutions have been suggested, including the one I like best, the elimination of corporate personhood. Another one that I like is as follows:
Allow anyone, even corporations, to contribute to political campaigns. The money would then be pooled and divided equally among the legitimate candidates. This would also force the media to give equal time to all candidates for free, which was their original public charter.
Ironically, this would take lots and lots of money to initiate and implement. But there is an equally powerful option that would have a similar effect in the long run. Simply put, we can and should exercise our economic power as citizens to withhold money from people and corporations who violate the public trust and the public interest. If money speaks so loudly in Washington then it can be deafening on Wall Street. They can’t buy our government if we don’t give them any money with which to do it. This would create another corollary to the golden rule, “I won’t give you any gold if you would use it to rule me.”
Blumenthal, S. (1980). The permanent campaign: Inside the world of elite political operatives. Boston: Beacon Press.
Hartmann, T. (2002). Unequal protection: The rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press.
Johnston, D. C. (2003). Perfectly legal: The covert campaign to rig our tax system to benefit the super rich – and cheat everybody else. New York: Portfolio.
Johnston, D. C. (2007). Free lunch: How the wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at government expense (and stick you with the bill). New York: Portfolio.
Korten, D. C. (2000). The post-corporate world: Life after capitalism. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Korten, D. C. (2001). When corporations rule the world (2nd ed.). Bloomfield, Connecticut: Kumarian Press, Inc. and Berrett Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Korten, D. C. (2006). The great turning: From empire to earth community. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Korten, D. C. (2009). Agenda for a new economy: From phantom wealth to real wealth. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Ornstein, N. J. (Ed.). (2000). The permanent campaign and its future. La Vergne, Tennessee: AEI Press.
Phillips, K. (2008). Bad money: Reckless finance, failed politics, and the global crisis of American capitalism. New York: Viking.
Rothkopf, D. (2008). Superclass: The global power elite and the world they are making. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Simon, D. R. (2005). Elite deviance (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Allyn & Bacon.
Sirota, D. (2006). Hostile takeover: How big money and corruption conquered our government – and how we take it back. New York: Crown.
Thurber, J. A. (1995). The transformation of American campaigns. In J. A. Thurber & C. J. Nelson (Eds.), Campaigns and elections American style (pp. 1 – 13). Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
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