In Wealth and Democracy Kevin Phillips chronicles the necessary and constant symbiosis between moneymaking, fortune building, and government. In feudal times, of course, the monarch owned all in his realm and had claims to wealth-generating property abroad by genealogy or conquest. Patronage was the key to success as the artisans, artists, and farmers and everyone else well knew.
In democracy, patronage might well be called most favored status and it can be bought. The government does not own most of the land, but it has control over much of the natural resources and infrastructure, which must be mined in many ways and maintained in many other ways.
Early fortunes in America were made through government printing contracts, land grants, government bond investment, and exclusive access to resources. Later transportation and communication venues and vehicles under government control were parceled out to a favored few.
While government power restrained competition by enforcing exclusivity and contract commitments, powerful individuals, transformed into immortal corporate persons, consolidated and centralized control. Monarchs had come back and they now owned the government as their policing and security arm and had claims to wealth far beyond our shores due to corporate conglomerations and international trade agreements, universal standard requirements, and the global parceling out of wealth-generating properties and rights.
Eisenhower famously named the most prominent aspect of this new yet very old manner of control through contract and contacts, the new patronage, as the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex. But of course now we have the more specific “industry” concept, with its implication of material productivity, supplanted by the more elastic and protean “corporate” rubric to describe the allocation of power through ownership (which always requires the governmental legitimacy of police power).
So, as different historians, social critics, novelists, and film makers have tracked, traced, and illustrated, we have the drug-corporate-government complex, the meat-corporate-government complex, the prison-corporate-government complex, the mining-corporate-government-complex — the list can be extended indefinitely, but the whole thing can be summarized as the Corporate-Government-Complex. The CGC of course embraces the electorate and the mechanisms of voting and campaigning.
Professor C. Wright Mills would be mightily impressed at how organized and interlocked his power elite had become by the 21st Century. Since corporations and capital really know neither borders nor term limits, the government part of the equation has become more and more hammered down by the stronger partner in the complex. Laws and treaties and international organizational charters are drawn up to suit the needs of the corporations, meticulously detailed by armies of lawyers in mountains of memos to legislative aids. Wall Street moves to K Street by way of Madison Avenue.
Davos hosts the Academy Award of this growing and gargantuan arrangement. Aptly, film has its own government complex worldwide, where Donald Duck’s intellectual property rights trump human rights.
The current managers of government, all dressed in a sort of leadership grey, like chauffeurs, dutifully attend the G shindigs and make the expected G statements. Just as our government has returned to the monarchical practice of mercenary soldiers, the CGC has outsourced people management to the G’s, once quaintly thought of as public servants. So now we have CgC. The democracy side is managed by mercenaries of the media, who present it as a show, a game. Dollars, not votes. Perhaps soon Euros, not votes. Or maybe Yuan. Certainly capital, not labor.
After a few centuries of sharing power with more and more classes and races of people, we are most rapidly reverting to the more honored and enduring arrangement of privilege and nobility above courtiers, servants, and serfs.
One law (the privy-lege) for rulers and another for the ruled.
Resistance may not be futile, indeed it is an inevitable necessity. The World Social Forum and the furious progressive bees online as well as the angry workers on the street are out there somewhere and we hope they grow and unite and seek justice, not revenge. But it seems not any time soon. Singapore need not listen to any screams from the Andes, if the White House can be allowed to disown the bleak landscape of the dead and dismembered it has wrought.
How is it possible that legions of sane professionals of no small rank have to desperately beg those in control to keep the nukes in their silos?
The real question behind this one is how can the global CgC, the GCgC, how can the helmsmen of this vast interlocking machine wish to disrupt it, perhaps fatally?
We do not know, but we do know that the corporate ethos is to worship the CEO, to reward him or her no matter what the outcome, to accept complete ignorance as an excuse for catastrophic failure, to never root out the inner culprit when you can point to the rabble on the ramparts. We also know that groups, especially powerful inner circles, can cultivate ignorance and even boast of it, since they delegate thought out to loyal sycophants. The ultimate outsourcing.
So many cases of this disastrously reinforcing echo chamber have been documented from Chinese Emperors to Napoleon to the Bush bunker buddies in the White House that it is terrifyingly plausible.
Maybe the current crisis will be the trumpet that awakes or, who knows, a very different trumpet.