According to Wikipedia, a ‘Citizen’ is defined as follows: “A citizen is a person with citizenship, i. e. a membership in a sovereign political community such as a country.”
We all learned in our Civics class that in our representative democracy, every citizen has one vote to participate in the governing of the Nation. Implied here is the assumption that the vote is the currency of our democracy. Today’s reality is different, I would argue. Real political power has a growing correlation with money and wealth. Political campaigns are increasingly expensive. Those who contribute large sums expect political favors in return. Said differently, money goes a long way in influencing political outcomes. And where does the political money come from? It comes from wealthy individual, either directly or anonymously through PACs. But increasingly the more significant amounts come from large corporations. Ever since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, corporations have been essentially granted citizenship. They are essentially unconstrained in their ability to influence political outcomes with their corporate wealth. This represents a major threat to our democracy.
Large corporations have been able to work the political process to ease or remove constraints on capitalism. In particular the antitrust laws are only weakly enforced. The trend is very clear – mergers are creating ever larger corporation, all in the name of the quest for efficiency and greater profits. This trend totally ignores the impact on democracy, the consumer and most importantly the workers. Progressive labor laws have not made the agenda. Labor that is required to produce the services and products is considered an undesirable cost that can and should be replaced by automation and technology.
So, ‘What is a citizen?’ It seems it is any entity with wealth that can exert influence over our political processes. This is not the answer that will give us confidence in a healthy democracy. Let’s take a closer look at what is happening. The New York Times recently ran an opinion piece, “The Charts That Show How Big Business is Winning”
Here are some excerpts:
“…Companies have decided that their best strategy for raising profits involves getting bigger. Larger companies simply have more power — to compete with other giants, to restrain workers’ pay, to influence government policy and, in the long run, to increase prices.”
“Airlines, banks and oil companies have merged in recent decades. So have retailers, hospitals, hotels, manufacturers, drug companies and law firms. The resulting behemoths have then taken advantage of their newfound scale, as well as globalization and digital technology, to grow further.”
“The share of Americans working for small companies fell to 27.4 percent in 2014, the most recent year for which data exists, down from 32.4 in 1989. And big companies have grown by almost an identical amount. Today, companies with at least 10,000 workers employ more people than companies with fewer than 50 workers.”
“Big companies, to be fair, have their virtues. They can create jobs, take on ambitious projects and compete around the world. But, one of the things that people are rebelling against in this country is large, growing institutions. People feel that individuals don’t control their destiny.”
So it looks like big corporations are becoming the equivalent of “Super Citizens”, with outsized voting rights. Not good! While we still can, us real individual citizens need to elect representatives that are sensitive to this threat, that will enforce and strengthen antitrust laws, that will return reasonable constraints on capitalism, that will recognize labor as a core stakeholder in our corporations, that will work to eliminate the influence of big money on our political system.