The Relationship Between Politics and Economics
Consider this: Over the past three decades, according to the Census Bureauís report on August 16, 2004, the income gap has steadily increased between the richest Americans who own homes, and stocks and got big tax breaks, and those at the middle and bottom of the pay scale. Currently, wages are stagnant. The middle class is shouldering a larger tax burden. Prices for health care, housing, tuition, gas and food have soared. The income share for the top 20 percent grew from 44 percent in 1973 to 50 percent in 2002. The bottom 20 percent, meanwhile, saw their total income share fall from 4.2 percent to 3.5 percent. As for middle income earnersí share, it went down from 17.1 percent to 14.8 percent. This has meant more and more hardship for more and more people.
And consider this: The number of citizens who vote has declined for decades. The number of people registered in the two major parties has declined for decades. The two major parties depend more and more for their financing on the top 20 percent of the population Ėactually itís really closer to the top 5%. The two major parties have been offering candidates to the people who donít differ very much on crucial issues. Not only that, they all get their money for their campaigns from the same special interests and megacorporate coffers. There has been a strong move to the right politically by the Republicans. The Democrats have not seriously resisted this in office, in fact they have played along with this rightward lurch of the Republicans even though in election time they try to convince the people that they are their friend.
Structural Barriers to Reform
Third parties are kept down and often squashed by the combined efforts of the two major parties. Efforts at reform such as Instant Runoff Voting, fairer ballot access laws, and changing the Electoral College are resisted by the major parties. This is disturbing because third parties have traditionally been a rich source of new ideas and of creative policies in times of crisis when the major parties have become stagnant. In addition, the mass media are now owned and controlled by just a few megacorporations Ė and this results in bland news coverage, misinformation, and sheer upper echelon bias. The people are left with very little accurate information and are pushed and pulled into accepting the higher-upís version of events and candidates.
So consider these two current trends. On the one hand, declining prosperity; many people desperately in need. On the other hand, declining opportunity for the exercise of citizen power by the general public. Note the parallel. Think about the connection.
What Can We Do?
Democracy needs to be used or it dies. Just like keeping fit requires steady exercise and training, just as the muscles of our body get flabby unless they are used, so too democracy must always be put into practice or it withers away. And just like keeping fit requires opportunity for exercise, so too democracy is always in need of plenty of opportunity for the people to participate in the decisions that shape their lives.
What can be done to keep, to rejuvenate, and to deepen our democracy?
Four Characteristics of a Strong Democracy
The Cobb-LaMarche team asks Americans to focus on four vital keys to a successful and strong democracy. Here they are:
- Education is often said to be the most important key to successful and strong democracy. Thatís true so far as it goes, but it has to be good education and it has be good education for everyone. For everyone! If it isnít for everyone, we are back in the same old hole where some have it, some donít, and democracy gives way to government by the few for the benefit of the few. Teachers need to be paid at least a third better than they are now. There must be less emphasis on testing and more emphasis on smaller classes. Pupils in public schools need computers to enable them to do the research themselves, with guidance from their teachers, instead of relying on expensive corporate published textbooks. Public libraries for all communities need to be expanded and supported. These are just some examples. They take money. There must be a new public determination, supported by wise legislation, to put a powerful priority on education, instead of the mealy-mouthed rhetoric of support for education from todayís major party politicians.
- Equal access to TV, radio, newspapers, and the internet means equal access to getting heard and hearing other voices. This is another major key to the preservation, recovery, and deepening of democracy in America. A truly top priority of a Green Administration in Washington will be to break up the media monopolies. Just a few corporate giants decide what we hear, what we are allowed to know, and soon they will control what we think. Diversified ownership of TV, Radio, and Newspapers throughout the communication industry must be achieved.
- Real Choice in the Ballot Box is a third major key and perhaps the most important of them all. Today, two major parties dominate the political scene. Both are heavily funded by major corporations and the very rich. Both keep the agenda of issues before the public as generalized and limited as possible. Both work overtime to prevent third parties with new ideas and new visions for America from getting ballot status and the attention of the public. The Republicans are going farther and farther to the right and the Democrats offer only token resistance and thereby legitimize unjust and often unworkable policies, keeping the people in the dark. We need, as a start, fair ballot access laws in each state; we need to open up choice for the voter by instituting Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). We need to move in all states towards public funding of electoral campaigns. We need to have opportunity for all political parties who meet minimum ballot access requirements to get their message out via TV, radio, newspapers, and the Internet. We need to abolish the Electoral College.
- Corporate Law Revision is the fourth key. At present, and ever since the late 19th century, corporations have had the privilege of being considered persons in the eyes of the law. This was a deliberate decision made by government it didnít just "happen." It has resulted in the gradual growth of the corporation to such a size and with such overbearing power that it is now the colossus in our midst, resulting in the erosion of freedom by the American people. Limited liability-corporations have taken advantage of corporate person-status to do pretty much as they please with workersí rights, peopleís property, small business, and the environment. They do the same with politicians of the two major parties. It has reached a point where the mega-corporations are literally beyond the law. This must stop. This must be turned around. Just as government in the past created the corporation and endowed it (mistakenly) with person-hood, so now government must undo that. Corporations must be re-chartered so that henceforth their actions and decisions will be guided by the standards of a public interest.