Friday, February 19, 2010

Naming Contest!

It's occurred to me recently that our definitions and terminology have gotten a little outdated. I'm referring to the fact that we all have a different name for the elite group of people who rule the United States. And I do mean rule, because our political system is no longer a democracy-it is an oligarchy with a democratic veneer.

A useful definition of oligarchy can be found at Wikipedia:

An oligarchy is a form of government in which power effectively rests with a small elite segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, military might, or religious hegemony.
This is undoubtedly the form of rule we now live under. This is not news to most people-a recent Rasmussen poll finds that only 21% of voters believe that the US Government enjoys the consent of the governed.

This is not a left/right issue. It's a fairly universal sentiment. Most of us realize that we are being ruled by a small group of people who don't really care what we think, and are really only interested in maintaining their positions of power and wealth. This small group of people, the richest 1% of Americans, have more financial wealth the bottom 95% of Americans combined.

Where we differ though, is how we refer to them.

People on the left side of the political spectrum tend to emphasize rule by corporate power, while those on the right tend to criticize government power. Neither is really accurate in their terminology, and although some understand that railing against "government" or "corporations" is just a shortcut for the entire oligarchy, many less informed peopled do not.

The problem is not just corporations, and it's not just government.

Corporate power is a huge problem. But not all corporations are part of the problem. The problem lies with the ones who have extremely concentrated economic and political power. These corporations are often completely lacking in any kind of shareholder oversight, and they are run by very powerful executives for the sole benefit of those executives. They spend untold sums of money buying off politicians and waging war against the middle class, who don't even realize they are getting ripped off. Financial services corporations are some of the biggest offenders, but they have plenty of competition in the health care industry, the military/industrial complex, the oil industry, the food production industry, and so on.

But there are plenty of corporations who are relatively benign, and who do provide jobs for people, and who act relatively responsibly (or who are not actively trying to rip the public off.) So focussing solely on all corporations is not really the right way to go.

Similarly, the right is wrong to simply vilify all government. Congress, of course, is right at the top of the list of targets for the Tea Party crowd. But not all congressmen are bought and paid for, even if the majority are. And what is not helpful is the assumption that government bureaucrats are the most evil people on earth, when for the most part they do the best they can with what they have, and it's the politicians who are selling their souls. In other words, government-run health care isn't the problem-a government which is controlled by health insurance companies is.

Sure, some people dislike dealing with the social security office, or their local police, or the post office, or Medicare, and so on. But they have been conditioned to believe that the reason these interactions aren't fun is because they are government agencies, and government agencies are evil. But this is clearly not true. Do these people think that managing their IRA, or getting ticketed by Blackwater, or using UPS, or dealing with an Aetna would be any better? Of course not. These are just easy targets, because you can actually go and talk to these people, and there is a chance you might actually have some sort of interaction with them.

So I think we need a new term to use. I often refer to the people who the country as the "ruling elite." But I'd like to find something with some more punch. So if you have any ideas, please post them in the comments section.

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