Monday, January 25, 2010

All Hail Our Beloved Chinese Masters!

There's been plenty of back and forth about the recent Supreme Court decision permitting corporations to directly support or oppose candidates for political office. Some folks, mostly libertarians and conservatives, argue that preventing corporations from engaging in this sort of activity represents a violation of the First Amendment. If a business is prevented from supporting or opposing someone, and cannot run ads directly attacking or lauding that individual, then the rights of the owners and directors of that corporation are being violated.

Or so the argument goes.

Yesterday, while passing some time in good meaty political discussion with a church deacon, I realized that there was an element to this whole thing that I had not previously considered.

American corporations are not individuals, sure. They wield far more power and influence. But they are also increasingly not American. We do not live in an age when the interests of business play out on a local or national level. This is, as anyone who pays attention should have realized by now, the era of market globalization. For all of our jabbering about the importance of small business, business does not now exist on a primarily local level. It exists across national boundaries. Because of this, ownership of corporate entities in the United States does not stop at our borders. One does not have to be a citizen of this nation to own or govern an entity incorporated here. So what does that mean?

Let's for a moment imagine the 2012 race for the presidency of the United States of America. One candidate strongly favors pressing China more aggressively on their approach to human rights, and wants the United States to begin weaning itself from foreign oil. Following this last week's Supreme Court decision, there is no impediment to corporations that exist as subsidiaries of the Chinese government from throwing as much money as they want into attack ads against that candidate. There is nothing to prevent Aramco and Citgo from doing exactly the same thing.

Sure, nonprofits and associations can try to do the same. But they're drops in the bucket. Wealth is power, and an immense imbalance of power that has been created here. Sure, there have been periods in the history of the United States when business has been a governing power in the affairs of state. But the dynamics of the marketplace in the 1890s were still mostly national in scope, and the interests of the robber barons were at least tangentially linked to the interests of this nation. They were, at a bare minimum, citizens. In 2010, wealth is radically global...and the most powerful corporations no longer see their interests tied to those of this particular nation.

I'm not alone in noticing this. E.J. Dionne pitched out a very similar theme this morning. But most human beings only see what is right around them. We are compulsively parochial little critters. In a nation that is soon to be ruled not by citizens, but by the power of multinational corporations, that lack of a broader vision will bear predictable fruit. We have already allowed multinational corporations to strip this nation of it's productive capacity, which even our enemies recognized as our greatest strength. Now, they will dominate our political discourse.

But I hear that Octomom has a new bikini bod. That makes it all better.