Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The redistribution of...

It's worth researching the definition of what an oligarchy is to better understand the article, "Has America Become an Oligarchy?"

If American has, or is becoming, an oligarchy (as OWS protesters believe), the solution is not the redistribution of wealth, it's the redistribution of rule. Or put another way, within the structure of our existing constitution, a return to federalism would simultaneously dilute the power and corrupting excesses (and disappointments) of our federal government and dilute the influence of corporate and private oligarchs.

As a consequence, fewer taxes would accrue to the federal government and more taxes would remain in the states, as the proportion of taxes paid to the federal government over the state government would invert--increasing the 50 states' treasuries.

As an added benefit, federalism increases the representation of "the 99%" by increasing the power of their state-wide and locally elected officials.

All of this is possible within the framework of our existing constitution, but would require a supportive legislature and executive--both of which could be elected by both Tea Party and OWS with a common goal--improving our democracy through a redistribution of rule.

Radio worth watching: WNYC's Occupy Democracy


  1. As you might expect Tom I disagree.

    Term limited state legislators and weak governors are much more easily and less expensively bought off than members of Congress - see the DRIC/Maroun debacle.

    I think the only real solution is a constitutional amendment making clear that corporations (including for profit, not for profit and unions) are not people and do not share the same level of protection by our Constitution.

  2. Scott, term limits are something that should be eliminated. It was a bad idea before, it's bad in real-life, and it would be a good thing to take care of.

    Corporations, including non-profits, not-for-profits, and labor unions, will find ways to support politicians whether or not the first amendment treats them as citizens. But corporate citizenship (or non citizenship) be limited to campaign finance from other free speech like advertising? Wasn't that cat out of the bag in Bigelow v Virginia?

    And if the supreme court was able to find a first amendment protection for advertising, how could it not reaffirm Citizens United on stare decisis?

    I wish the original posting here were longer, but the idea is that if I want something to be affected nationally, I need only lobby members of congress, which says I need only lobby a simple majority of 535 people, rather than the simple (or super) majorities of 50 legislatures.

    Additionally, if much of the spending was removed from the federal and returned to the states, then the folks in-charge of deciding how that money is spent are much closer to their constituents than is possible for a senator or congressman (unless we consider increasing their numbers as was suggested in the New York Times (link below).

    But if we did increase their numbers, aren't we also duplicating the representation we already have within the states?

    What we don't have in the states is adequate financing, hence the states are dependent on the federal government for earmarks and other scraps we're forced to beg for. The federal government has most of the power because (follow the money) they have most of the money. Redistribute the fed's money, redistribute the feds programs and policies back to the state, and we've solved multiple problems by (I think) returning to the form of government our constitution intended, rather than what it's been perverted into.

  3. I wouldn't advocate for corporations having no rights, just not the same level of protection as individuals. Yes - corporations should be entitled to advertise their products in a responsible way with reasonable restrictions (that big pharma is currently working to eliminate), but I do not think we should say that an entity that is perpetual in its existence and has the ability to raise billions of dollars in equity markets should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts in political campaigns. There is no comparison to labor unions which don't have the same ability to raise capital. The ability to spend virtually unlimited sums in a campaign distorts the process and has resulted in politicians being elected that do not share the values of their constituents, but are instead beholden to the big money that got them elected.

  4. "I do not think we should say that an entity that is perpetual in its existence.."

    That's a /really/ interesting point, Scott. We can call it the Dorian Gray rule. Using it, we could figure out how to balance the rights of immortals (corporations) with mortals (individual citizens).

    Seriously, many constitutional applications require a test, and immortality could be a relatively easy one to apply.

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  6. Hmm, in researching this angle I found this post at the straight dope,

    .. which suggests a quick read of Thom Hartmann

    which suggests reading the book.

  7. Originally corporations could only exist for a limited period of time - typically 10 years.

    The longer a corporation or a person works on something, the more influence that person or entity exerts on the process and thus the outcome.

    So - as an example I am intimately familiar with - the Ferndale City Council is now much more closely aligned with my beliefs and ideas than it was when was first elected way back in 2001.

    If Goldman Sachs or Koch Industries can focus on an obscure provision of an already obscure Federal regulation in which few citizen groups are likely to comment and in the process can spend 1000x more money on influencing the outcome than, say a true grass roots movement, and it has a time horizon of years or decades, well it only stands to reason that the outcome will be closer to what GS or Koch wants than what may have been originally contemplated.

    I think that is wrong. Our government should be of, by and for the people. Unfortunately it no longer represents the people, it represents money.

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  9. "If Goldman Sachs or Koch Industries can focus on an obscure provision of an already obscure Federal regulation in which few citizen groups are likely to comment..."

    I apologize for what may seem a tangential comment I'm about to make, but your point above (which I believe is perfectly on-point) reminded me of a similar benefit given to corporations more so (if ever) than common voters--tax abatements.

    A common benefit given to companies because of their size (bigger than individuals) and because they represent (as bigger and better than mortals) more tax revenue or economic juice (again, more so than the-rest-of-us) is tax abatements, incentives, and even subsidies.

    For instance, one of the things I hear the occupy crowd complain of are federal subsidies for oil companies. Tea partiers complain of subsidies and loans for "green" companies. Others complain about farm subsidies, agriculture subsidies, and the government's interference in "promoting" home ownership was the likely the first (and really big) domino that caused a global financial market meltdown in 2008.

    But how much room do we have to complain when our own municipal government grants abatements to local companies like Garden Fresh just received from council?

    Now, don't get me wrong, there's a lot of reasons ($14 million of them) why a city would grant tax abatements, but what are the chances a new or existing homeowner might get an abatement or tax reduction for investing in or expanding their home?

    Of course, they two aren't equal, but is it not another example of how government--even our local government--shows favoritism to business (especially big business) where it doesn't to individuals?

    Even though Garden Fresh hasn't been around so long as to become immortal, it is at least superhuman in its footprint.

    Unlike the government in Isaac Asmiov's "Bicentennial Man," which was reluctant to grant "personhood" to a robot until it became mortal (would certainly die), our government has granted corporations rights previously thought to have been reserved for persons, ".. endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

    Perhaps there is inequity in the equation, or perhaps not. But we needn't believe the federal government owns the franchise on favoring corporations when our states, counties, and city engage in the same game.

    That said, I agree our government should be of, by, and for people, but apparently the legal precedents of "corporate personhood" are more enduring that real personhood.

  10. Good points. Tax abatements, despite the fact that I vote for them, are problematic. I think this (simplifying the tax code and eliminating industry specific incentives) is something Snyder is doing right.

    As municipalities do we unilaterally disarm in the economic development competitions with neighboring cities/states to make a point even though doing so would hurt our city and our citizens? Do we not use all the tools at our disposal on principal? In the instance of Garden Fresh I chose to shore up our tax base by helping Jack stay in Ferndale and invest further in his business. Not entirely consistent with some of my political philosophy, but I think my compromise worked to the benefit of Ferndale and its citizens.

    Those are the tough choices that elected officials are called upon to make.

    Politics is all about compromise to achieve a greater good and it is where the current GOP has failed. They should have jumped on Obama's grand compromise which would have pushed economic and domestic policy significantly in their direction, but they let the perfect get in the way of the great (from their perspective).

  11. Unilateral disarmament, if we're the only ones, probably isn't the best idea. But perhaps there are places where we can say, "No," to some to make the point without hamstringing our fair city.

    I can't find a reference for it now, but I remember reading (or hearing) of movements to outlaw states using tax breaks to lure businesses from one state to another. Using tax breaks to seduce a company from Livonia to Detroit may be good for Detroit, but less so for Livonia.

    Trinity Health's recent move to Livonia from Farmington was a blow to Oakland but a gain to Wayne. I don't know if incentives were involved, other than the appeal of Quicken's abandoned headquarters (which they vacated for Campus Martius).

    I'm not a big fan of compromise. Too often it's the repose of one-dimensional thinking--which is to say--a middle place where the left and right may both claim equal victory or harm, but neither doing the right thing for the right reason.

    I like your use of the word "disarm." It reminds my Reagan's "trust and verify," but I can't figure out how it might help my thinking about tax breaks for corporations.

  12. Actually, that link above re: compromise is the wrong link. I thought I'd written an article about where the "middle" is on issues like slavery and abortion. The "three-fifths of all other persons" may have been a necessary compromise, but it was neither right or moral, but perhaps as close as was possible at that point in history, and perhaps better than what might have happened without the compromise.

    But we'll never know.