Blog 20. Citizens United: more dangerous than climate change

Sophisticated bribery?

In Blog 16 I described the money feedback loop, in which industrial profits that are invested to influence government form a positive feedback loop, enabling even more profits with which to purchase more of government. I called this a sophisticated bribery, corruption. The Citizens United court case opened the gates for a new flood of this monetary feedback. Many people have raised their opposition, but I find no journalists who have identified the underlying amplifier-the positive feedback that leads to destruction.

Citizens United court case.

By a 5-to-4 decision on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation or labor union, like a person, could exercise free speech. That free speech included the right to make unlimited movies, TV ads, and donations to super PACs that support political candidates, although it did not permit direct donations to the candidates themselves. Thus it is: a slip of paper from Delaware at once declares you are a corporation with the right to do business and the right to buy a governor or congressman. That isn’t freedom for people. That’s freedom to destroy democracy. Government by business is fascism.

The way it was.

Prior to the Citizens United ruling, corporations and labor unions were prohibited from using their  funds to make political expenditures, electioneering movies, and political communications. The Citizens United decision was an interpretation of the constitution. Therefore, it can be altered only by amending the constitution.  In the wake of Citizens United, there is a groundswell, both to require open disclosure of political contributions and to amend the constitution.

Open disclosure of corporate donations.

Versions of the Fair Elections Now Act were introduced in Congress in 2009, 2011 and again in 2013. It wouldn’t interfere with the newly-founded constitutional corporate personhood, but it would allow federal candidates who qualify for federal funding to run for office without relying on large contributions from the super PACs.    A separate attempt in Congress to require that corporations inform shareholders of their political expenditures failed by one vote in a Republican filibuster.

Amend the constitution.

The effort to amend the constitution is crucial to liberty.  At least 14 proposed resolutions of amendment to restrict corporations have been introduced to Congress.  The resolutions vary.  Some proposals would restrict corporations only in the political arena, some would also apply restrictions to other activities.  But any resolution would require approval by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, and ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states.  As of July 14, 2013, some 16 states have passed resolutions favoring constitutional change, as have more than 400 municipalities.  See reviews by the League of Women Voters and by Public Citizen.

Why is this more important than global climate?

We might think nothing is more important than the health of the planet-the fields, forests, and oceans that feed us; the air we breathe.  However, if government is bought by money and run by money, then money is the supreme value and there can be no solution to national or global problems.  As discussed in Blog 16, the funding of politics by profits from business is a positive feedback loop in a complex system.  A positive feedback loop is like putting the microphone in front of the loudspeaker.  The sound system screams but no longer functions.  Any unrestricted positive feedback loop will result in self-destruction of the system (Blog 14).  Unlimited purchase of government becomes an unlimited control of government, resulting in removal, not imposition, of restrictions.  The rich get richer (that’s ok), but the poor get poorer (not ok), the common air and water are not protected, and research shows everybody becomes worse off,  as reviewed in Blog 18. What results is an increasingly divided, tense society exhausting its resources for upper-class baubles in a degrading environment.  As Jared Diamond* has documented, other societies have tried that.  Societies that didn’t change collapsed.  Think Chaco Canyon, think Norse Greenland.

Background for those who want more depth.

Blog 2 and Blog 3 outlined how society and culture are complex systems, and Blog 14 reviewed with what you must do if you want to alter the behavior of the system.  In particular, it is much more effective to address an underlying rule within the system rather than to address a particular symptom directly.  For example illegal drug traffic is not greatly reduced by increased enforcement, and poverty as a social class is not remedied by welfare to individuals.

Blog 15  reported “Plan B,” the new attempt by international business leaders to bring social responsibility into business ethics-a good movement, but insufficient in itself.  Business cannot be Santa Claus; it won’t exhaust itself to promote the social well-being.  Otherwise, a less-responsible business could have greater profits and win the market competition.  Can Wal-Mart move aside for a local dime store?  If government is for sale, can Wal-Mart govern best?

Complex systems have feedback loops, in which the effect of an action ripples through the system, perhaps in such a way as to increase the action itself.  A positive feedback loop  must be somehow limited or the system self-destructs.  In this crucial case, it is the loop of money buying government which in turn supports acquisition of more money that buys still more of the government.  This has already progressed to the point that many citizens feel powerless, regard elections as unreal, and regard congressmen as persons in the business of raising money to stay in power to raise money-a loop.  The power behind the throne is not the citizens, but the source of the money in the loop.

* Jared Diamond,  Collapse. Viking, 2005.