Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The new US constitution

I think we are ignoring several enormous changes that have transformed the US from the hope of the world into a new form of corporate state: (1) since Eisenhower, if not before, the military has become a huge, wealthy, and independent power with its own rulers, its own priorities, and a lordly presence around the world. It will continue to absorb the lion's share of our wealth regardless of the economic and social consequences. (2) Beginning with Reagan, the rich have become vastly wealthier and more powerful compared to everyone else, while middle class and blue collar community and labor organizations have dwindled. Bottom line: wealth now dominates our politics. (3) The George W. Bush presidency destroyed something like $12 trillion of US wealth, mostly in the form of middle class home investments. This one time destruction of wealth vastly exceeds all the losses of all the European powers outside Russia during World War II, and because of other changes enumerated here it cannot be recovered. (4) The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United definitively marks the end of democracy in the US. Sure, democratic forms remain, and occasionally a rich candidate loses, but with only occasional exceptions, wealth now determines election outcomes. This may be particularly pernicious at the level of judicial elections. Although the judiciary remains for now what it has long been, largely committed to the rule of law, Citizens United and the efforts of groups like the US Chamber of Commerce guarantee that it will become increasingly partisan and corrupt as honest judges are replaced by those compliant with wealth, power, and ideology. (5) A key feature of "globalization" is that the major political actors--the largest corporations--no longer dependent on the American consumer for their profits. They have a sharply reduced stake in the economic viability of the nation, and are therefore relatively free to pursue public policies that further impoverish most Americans. To put it another way, just because a firm is headquartered in the US doesn't mean that it cares much about US conditions. Its leaders are insulated by their personal wealth, and its economic prospects depend on a far larger base than the US.

These fundamental changes render impotent and irrelevant liberal objections to the misdeeds of the present system. Unless an extraordinary new leader emerges, the system cannot be changed back to what it was. We thought Obama would be such a leader, but for all his qualities he clearly lacks essential public leadership skills, and there is no better choice on the horizon. The Republicans are now the only viable political party on the national level, and as far as I can see the only hope for amelioration of the depressing prospects is dissension within their triumphant ranks. Improvement will take a long time if it can be done at all.

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