Capitalism, Market Fundamentalism, and the Duplicitous Meanings of Democracy

By Charles Sullivan

January 19, 2010 "Information Clearing House" --Democracy is a word that is used too recklessly in western culture. Despite the prevalent belief that the meaning of democracy is universally understood, it remains an elusive idea that is not easily implemented.  As a political philosophy, democracy is more closely associated with the socialist governments of Latin America, with Venezuela and Bolivia, than with the United States.

Webster’s Online Dictionary provides seven short definitions for democracy. The fourth definition is the one that comes closest to my own understanding of the term: “Government by the people; a form of government in which supreme power is retained and directly exercised by the people.” If one accepts Webster’s definition as a starting point for dialog about democracy, there are two main points that must figure prominently in the discussion: democracy is a concept that relates strictly to human beings and that working people, who constitute upwards of 95% of the citizenry, are disempowered and unrepresented.

Judging from these criteria it is apparent that the U.S. is neither a representative democracy nor a democratic republic. For instance, the people have no say in whether or not the nation goes to war. Nor do they have a voice in deciding economic policy. If they did, we would not have troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We would not be bankrupting the treasury to bail out a criminal banking industry, or to finance the privatization of the public domain. We would not bankroll a bloated military or the imperial wars it wages for the financial gain of defense contractors and corporate investors. Like other developed nations, we would have universal health care and publicly-subsidized higher education. Our tax dollars would provide social services rather than corporate welfare and tax cuts for the rich. There would be egalitarianism rather than neo-feudalism. People would matter more than profits.

Not only are our freedoms restricted; they are more illusory than real. We are permitted to choose between political candidates preselected for us by the elite. We have the freedom to choose where we will eat or shop or what kind of car we will drive. We have the freedom to migrate from one job to another, but we have no say in how the work is performed, how much it pays, or how the final product of our labor is marketed. We do not get to decide whether it will be bartered or sold. No matter where you go the workplace is a hierarchal dictatorship. The business owner does not care what you think. You are a replaceable cog in a heartless machine that is designed to profit the owner by exploiting the worker. This is the indisputable legacy of capitalism.    

The U.S. political system is controlled by capital. Elections preserve the status quo rather than permit reform or complete political and social reorganization. It is corporate money, not people, that chooses who can compete for office and who will ultimately win. Americans are literally voting in the absence of choice. Most legislators sell themselves to the highest bidder. The electoral system perpetuates the illusion of democracy while actually promoting its opposite: plutocracy.

When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that money is free speech, multinational corporations began outright purchasing legislators who would construct the legal framework for dismantling the social infrastructure in favor of an authoritarian corporate state. Capital replaced people in the political equation. This sleight of hand facilitated stocking the judiciary with corporate sycophants rather than justice-dispensing public servants.

By reifying corporations as omnipotent persons and by equating capital with free speech, the Supreme Court gave corporations and their CEOs enormous power. Since corporations do not have a pulse or a conscience, the courts essentially created sociopathic institutions that are driven by an insatiable lust for profit. Originally, corporations were moderately controlled by government through regulation. But as corporate influence in government waxed, corporations began to lobby for and to win greater deregulation. The revolving door between big business and government gave rise to the corporate state and to unfettered capitalism.  

Corporate power expanded. Driven by the religion of market fundamentalism, capitalists championed the deregulation of industry and markets. Money triumphed over people. With deregulation the disparity between rich and poor reached historic proportions. Corporations that were ostensibly created to serve the public interest mutated into a malignancy that is eroding civil liberties and killing the planet.

The duplicitous meanings of democracy are used interchangeably by the plutocracy, leaving the American people ambivalent and confused. This was an engineered bait and switch that went virtually unnoticed by a na´ve and somnolent public. And thus capitalism, the very antithesis of democracy, became synonymous with representative government in the public mind. Few people have bothered to question, much less challenge, the secular matrimony of capitalism with democracy. 

The perversion of democracy permitted non-persons—corporations—to have representation in government by shutting out actual persons. Prostituted by corporate money, politicians put profits above the needs of the people. Capital gained primacy over human beings, and the market was deified as an omniscient, divine oracle. Now it is regarded as a primal force of nature too powerful to be controlled by mortal men and women.

Owing to the perversion of language created by the elite, Webster’s definition of democracy must be revisited and reinterpreted. Corporations have replaced people in the formula and capital has become synonymous with free speech. Webster’s definition of democracy was altered to become “Government by the corporations; a form of government in which supreme power is retained and directly exercised by the corporations.” Now capitalism is God and human beings are its subordinates.

It is imperative that we comprehend how the perversion of language serves the agenda of the elite. For instance, when President Obama speaks about bringing democracy to the world through the power of militarization and colonization, he is not talking about democracy in the classic sense that Webster defined for us. Obama is merely substituting capitalism for democracy. Let us recall, however, that In Baghdad, as elsewhere in the world, McDonald's and Burger King were preceded by carpet bombs and tanks.

We must understand that capitalism and democracy are irreconcilably opposing philosophies.  Just as two objects cannot occupy the same physical space at the same time, we can either have capitalism or democracy, but not both simultaneously. Markets either serve people or people serve markets. One has to be in control of the other, one has to be more powerful than the other.

Private ownership of the means of production and the invisible hand of the market are two key components of modern capitalism. In reality, there is no ‘invisible hand’ of the market, as the proponents of free market capitalism contend. If there were, the global banking system would have collapsed long ago. We have only to lift the cloak of secrecy for the human finger prints of manipulation to become plainly visible. A small cadre of the elite is manipulating everything.

Webster’s interpretation makes it clear that democracy can only be applied to people. To equate corporations with human beings and capital with free speech is a perversion of language that sets reality on its head. It is a thinly veiled attempt by impotent human beings to play god, to create a Frankenstein monster and unleash it upon the world and to worship it as an omniscient deity. This is the handiwork of egomaniacal jesters that must be rejected as the work of madmen.

If democracy were synonymous with capitalism, then the economic and social disparity between rich and poor, which is greater in the U.S. than anywhere on earth, would not exist. According to Thomas Stanley, author of The Millionaire Next Door, the top 1 percent of the population owns greater wealth than the bottom 90%. With the continued growth of corporate power and the adulation of free market capitalism, the gap will continue to widen.

If we permit the unpardonable sin of substituting corporations for human beings and continue to associate capitalism with democracy, we will sanction the continued evolution of a repressive corporate state with all of its Orwellian connotations. We will also seal the fate of working people to a life of servitude to the elite. This is clearly the direction we are headed.

The duplicitous meanings of democracy have particularly onerous ramifications for military personnel. Told that they are bringing democracy to the world, in reality our military is forcing capitalism upon people who have other ideas about social and economic theories of government. Those who believe they are protecting their country from external threats are actually fighting for the creation of a totalitarian corporate state run by the global elite. Generations of presidents and generals have pulled the wool over their eyes. But occasionally the truth comes out.

As used by the ruling class, ‘democracy’ and’ freedom’ are code words for capitalism and free markets. Do not be fooled by them.  Making the world safe for corporate plunder does not pave the way for democracy. It opens the door to economic exploitation and subjugation.  

In the 1930s, General Smedley Butler, a highly decorated four star general, wrote a treatise on militarism and capitalism called War is a Racket. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, warned us about an emerging military-industrial complex in his farewell address on January 17, 1961. Private Bradley Manning and Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange are warning us today, and they are paying a heavy price.

As his record attests, President Obama is an ardent believer in the corporate state and in free market fundamentalism. He makes no bones about it and never has. Like his predecessors, Obama is a disciple of Milton Friedman’s Chicago School of Economics. It is only by viewing him in this context and through the lens of class consciousness that his actions make sense in a historical context. War and occupation can never be reconciled with the principles of democracy.

Obama is unabashedly representing his real constituency: the banking industry and the military industrial complex.  In the purview of the elite, anyone who opposes these ideologies is an enemy of the state or a terrorist. They are pawns in another of America’s endless wars: the one that pits the working class against the ruling class.