Monday, February 04, 2013

Democracy Has Been Hacked

In some circles the preferred term is "captured" but Al Gore chooses to argue that American democracy has been hacked by corporatism.   Regardless of terminology, he's right.   And it's a problem that's not limited to the U.S. either.

Offering a blunt assessment of the extent to which private companies influence decision-making in the US, he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "American politics has fallen into a state of disrepair," in an interview to mark the publication of his new book, The Future.

Gore added: "It can be fixed, but we need to recognise that our democracy has been hacked  … It has been taken over  … and is being operated for purposes other than those for which it was intended."

In the interview, Gore alluded to a 2010 US supreme court decision that banned restrictions on political donations by corporations in the name of free speech.

Evidence of political capture is abundant and not just in what governments do but also in what they avoid doing.

As Nobel laureat economist Joe Stiglitz explains in "The Price of Inequality" the stagnation of middle class incomes and the decadal inequality of wealth, income and opportunity has a limited amount to do with factors such as merit and markets and is primarily driven by government legislation.   From governments creating quasi-monopolies to subsidies, grants, exemptions and deferrals, to preferential tax policy, to selling or giving access to public resources free or at far less than market value, governments effect massive transfers of essentially unearned wealth.   We know where it goes to, who benefits, but we rarely realize where it comes from - you and me.

They're more blatant about it in Washington than elsewhere.   When John Boehner strolls the floor of the House distributing campaign contribution cheques from tobacco lobbyists just minutes before a vote on tobacco subsidies, that's pretty flagrant.   When the U.S. Supreme Court tossed democracy under the corporate bus with its Citizens United decision, that's pretty flagrant.

While the payoffs aren't as open in Canada, the benefits are as obvious.    When Harper gutted coastal pollution and fisheries regulations, that was a valuable benefit to somebody other than the people of the coast and their fishery.   When Harper rigged the environmental review process on the bitumen pipelines, that was a tangible, economic benefit to some parties other than those people who will be placed at risk.   We can put a price on those risks albeit that price would be astronomical and the parties that won't be made to stand good for the risks they impose on others pocket an extremely valuable benefit.  It can be, and has been, argued that it is only on the basis of these benefits - free water, untaxed carbon, subsidies, tax and royalty deferrals, liability exemptions, deferred remediation costs - that the Tar Sands are profitable at all, at least to the producers.   Placed on a "pay as you go" basis, they would not be pursuing the world's most expensive (and filthiest) petroleum resource.  They would go elsewhere and don't we know it.

It's easy to point fingers at Harper because he's a Conservative and, as such, a stooge to corporatism.   Yet would the Liberals or New Democrats be vastly better?   Have they given any reason to believe they would?   They make vague noises but they're replete with obscurity, ambiguity and wiggle room.

Oh Canada, oh dear.

1 comment:

doconnor said...

Hacked it a better term. When you hack, you take advantage of flawed rules to get a system to operate in a way it is not intended.

There are two ways to steal information from a computer. You can remotely hack it by exploiting a flaw in its programming or you can break into where it is stored and steal it (or capture it).