Mark Twain, in “Cannibalism in the Cars,” suggested that cannibalism of the body politic is a logical outcome of the practice of the political values of the elected representatives of the United States, in dire circumstances. What would occur, if such dire circumstances did not require a natural disaster, but became a systemic feature of the political landscape?
The current economic crisis and America’s abject failure to provide economically-efficient, affordable healthcare are two examples of dire circumstances that are systemic features of America’s political landscape. Both crises are the results of bad governance. Both circumstances are direct products of the growth of influence of en-corporated political interests (encorps) in the system of governance of the United States. Bad governance, in both cases, involves a betrayal of the public trust that is manifested in not regulating the encorps in a way that protects the public’s interests, especially with respect to not meaningfully regulating the encorps ability to influence government officials.
The United States was born wary of the power of vested interests to influence public policy. Alexander Hamilton’s comments in the Federalist Papers are an example of this concern. .
In republics, persons elevated from the mass of the community, by the suffrages of their fellow-citizens, to stations of great pre-eminence and power, may find compensations for betraying their trust, which, to any but minds animated and guided by superior virtue, may appear to exceed the proportion of interest they have in the common stock, and to overbalance the obligations of duty.
Unfortunately, keeping the vested interests out is not a simple matter. How can it be when parties themselves are collective expressions of a set of weighted interests? Frankly, it is sensible for people of like purpose to strive together to achieve their aims, and there is nothing necessarily insidious about the practise. In fact, it’s a cornerstone of Democracy and civil society.
It is also, however, the entry way for corruption because the crux of the matter is not that people have differing and competing interests: it’s that they differ so greatly in terms of their power to realize those interests. When the power to realize those interests is used to unjustly deny the interests of less powerful, but equally or more deserving citizens, through a donation that is traded for a piece of unjust legislation, then it can be said that a positive feedback loop of corruption has been initiated.
The overly simple analysis that follows attempts to describe the basic workings of this system.
Two Party Statement
Before describing the workings of the cycle of corruption it is important to note that this positive feedback loop is only possible because the two-party system is so engrained in the American psyche. Generally-speaking, Democrats and Republicans share being disappointed with aspects of their party’s platforms and its legislative performance when in office. They also share being certain that the other party’s platforms and performance are far worse. For many, the lesser evil is always a more palatable option.
The latter point constitutes a barrier to the creation of a third party that is not beholden to the encorps. Not only will it suffer a comparative lack of funds, but it is likely to be blamed for the defeat of whichever party it is more closely aligned with. Until the lesser evil is not considered a more palatable option than fighting for a party that will undermine the influence of the encorps, the cycle of corruption is likely to continue.
The Cycle of Corruption
The cycle of corruption acts as a positive feedback loop because the encorps who are aligned with the losing party are at risk to the extent that they cannot align with the other party. Accordingly, they have an inducement to donate even more money for the next election. The winners, on the other hand, want to keep their advantage, and in the face of increasing political donations in their opponent’s sphere, they do likewise in their sphere. As a result, both campaign donations and encorp influence increase hand-in-hand. The vast amounts raised in this last political cycle go hand-in-hand with the vast amounts of helicopter money gifted to Wall Street and the Obama administration’s commitment to supporting the continuation of the existing system of healthcare delivery, with only trivial modifications (July 18th).
At some point, it is longer possible for the parties to provide returns to the encorps that match the donations, without compromising their policy platforms. The party that reaches this point first is forced to accept perpetual defeat, as its’ encorps wither under the winner’s policies, unless it begins to sacrifice some of its’ policy aims as a way of opening new revenue streams to its’ encorps or to make it more palatable to the opposition’s encorps. The changes in policy are also likely to involve abandoning advocacy for less lucrative encorps. This new strategy threatens the party in power. In response, it compromises its’ platforms in the same way. Through this process the parties begin to become less distinguishable.
The parties’ policy platforms represent their conception of what constitutes the public interest. When they modify their platforms to conform to encorp interests, they do so by sacrificing the interests of their citizen consituency. Given that the payoff to the encorps for their donations is increased profits and power, some of this interest is purchased by taking it from the natural, social, cultural, structural, and human capital of the nation and its citizens.
This redistribution of the total wealth of the nation, from the citizens to the encorps, is manifest in citizens, through their representatives, “adopting” ever-increasing business externalities while receiving ever-decreasing business taxes, which yields deteriorating social and cultural infrastructure, decreasing government services, decreased environmental and labor standards, and a diminishing scope of possibilities for living a prosperous, meaningful, healthy life for the majority of the citizens.
It is worth noting that, in this diagram, the arrows that cycle between legislation and deprivation are not indicated with a “+” sign. This is because deprivation is not a driver for legislation to create more deprivation. Rather, it is the donations that drive the deprivation through the legislation.
This said, that the arrows are left driverless does not mean they are driverless. These models are necessarily overly simplified. Deprivations can, and do, cause the deprived to take actions to modify the cycle. After all, the electorate own their votes, which are the ultimate donation. Accordingly, when the actions of the electorate begin to jeopardize the electability of the encorp beholden candidates, they have a regulatory effect on the legislation, which begins to act as a limiting factor on the cycle of donations.
The Culture of Cannibalism in US Politics
In diminishing the structural and functional integrity of the nation, through legislation that embodies the aspirations of the encorps, the parties enhance the systemic likelihood that dire circumstances will occur to the citizenry. Two examples of betraying the public interest in this way are the active refusal to regulate the financial industry in a way that would have limited the scope of the economic crisis and the refusal to regulate the healthcare industry so that all American citizens have access to basic healthcare, without undue economic hardship.
Much like the decisions made by the congressmen in Twain’s snowbound train, in enacting legislation that undermines the public good, America’s current tribes of legislators have not only proven Twain’s intuition that they are prone to cannibalism, they have also demonstrated that they are willing to sacrifice their fellow citizens to those who would feast on their well-being.
Filed under: Bad Bank, Barack Obama, broken promises, corruption, Democracy as a form of liberal goverment, DNC, Economy, financial bailout, Financial Meltdown of 2008, General, Health Care Reform, Joe Biden, Politics, Republican Ticket, Single Payer, Wall Street and the Bonus Class | Tagged: Democratic Party, Dick Cheney, FDR, Haliburton, Health Care Reform, influence peddling, Joe Biden, MBNA, phRMA, political corruption, President Bush, President Obama, presidential waiver for lobbyists, Republican Party, the culture of cannibalism in US politics, third party, Wall Street bonuses |