Many Dollars, Many Votes

by Steven Hill
"The aims of capitalism are as fragmented and individual as were the aims of the hundreds of feudal lords in the Middle Ages, each lord [like a corporation] seeking his own aggrandizement. " -- Robert Heilbroner, economist
"One person, one vote," that's the political credo. But when it comes to the "free" marketplace, we play by different rules. Managers and owners, bosses and chief executives run the workplace as their private fiefdoms. It is a totalitarian dictatorship , you do what you're told and repeat the party line, or you're out the door. Shareholders who own stock get a vote, shareholders who own lots of stock get lots of votes. The people who lift, push, pull, hammer and type to make the whole th ing lurch forward don't get any votes at all. Not one person, one vote at all.

So what kind of democracy is this? Where's the representation? Where's the much ballyhooed system of checks and balances? Where's the "capitalism with a face?"

We punch our time cards in the morning and in the evening, we stand at our station, sit at our square desk or cubicle; we dutifully do what we're told. We begin to expect less and less from ourselves and from our jobs. We spend almost one half our waking hours at our square station, and we expect less and less from this precious span of life, just a shrug of the shoulders: "Don't worry, be Happy," "Life's a Bitch, then you Die," "Shit Happens." These become our eulogy, our headstone, the slogans that reveal so much of the truth about the highly acclaimed "standard of living."

The Founding Fathers, in their limited wisdom, gave political structure to the chaos of the colonial times. They gave form to a new government to protect white propertied male liberties from the arrogance of royal absolutism. Some things were allowed, others proscribed; protections were devised against kings and their whims, protections against the spider web of royal bureaucracy and centralization. The new government was better than its antecedent.

But why weren't such safeguards structured into the new economy as well? Why weren't our economic liberties protected against the rich tyrants of the free marketplace? One King was replaced by a hundred kings, and it was feudalism all over again. The rich with their mansions and moats and the police and courts to protect their property.

Why wasn't everybody given a vote in the companies for which they work? Why weren't we given a say in the decisions that affect our workplaces, our lives, in the corporate actions that affect the communities in which we all live? Is it possibly because the Founding Fathers wanted to be the new Kings? Instead economic rights became an extension of white propertied male political liberties: do what you want to, and if you make a profit, if you succeed, then that is proof of its correctness. Political laissez-faire became our economic credo, white men of property given more economic votes, the white men with the most property given the most economic votes. With their economic power they learned to manipulate this political democracy, and we've been struggling to overcome them ever since.

Is "trickle-down" the best we can do? That, and the mythical, ever-expanding economic pie? Is this the "free market" miracle that has triumphed over Communism, so loudly proclaimed from shore to shore? Homelessness, domestic violence, rape, child abuse, prostitution, teen suicide? Mass murderers and molesters, ghettos, crack babies, nursing home warehouses for our elders, health care melt down? Holes in the ozone, global greenhouse, toxic hot spots, amputated forests? Low Intensity Conflict, Third World strangulation, Rex '84, S & L scandals and bank failures, corporate gulags and mindless media, kakistocracy, plutocracy, economic totalitarianism?

I swear we can do better than this here United States of America. Let us not make foolish proclamations of hollow victory, this Cold War has taken a heavy toll and there are enough casualties to go around. As the sun rises on another day a vision rises with it, a vision of a just world with political and economic rights for all. We must renounce our violence against each other, we must work together to construct an international, world-wide economy of inter-dependent partners. One where everyone has a seat at the dinner table, where all parties dialogue and discuss our similarities and differences and our competing perceptions. At the table where we dine together-- here is where we will renounce all violence as a means of solving our disputes.

Who is to be the one to judge who is expendable? Who shall be the divine human power? Better that all decide than one king or a thousand, true democracy never tolerates a tyrant, whether royal, divine, corporate, or bureaucratic. Children everywhere -- ourselves -- are trying to grow here, like sequoia saplings hoping to mature to Old Growth, hoping to reach that age of golden wisdom and peace. It is within our reach.

What is totalitarianism? We need to re-seat the Founders and the U.S Constitutional Convention. We need to make sure everyone is represented this time, and then we must draft an Economic Bill of Rights. Let us begin anew, and continue, and let us further the work begun two hundred years ago.

"With justice and liberty for all."y

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