This is a dangerous book—it could revolutionize capitalism. It’s also a conservative book—it could save capitalism from its own tragic flaws. Every thoughtful citizen should read it.
Frances Moore Lappé, author, Diet for a Small Planet and Democracy’s Edge
The Limits of Government
America has been engaged in two experiments simultaneously: one is called democracy, the other, capitalism. It would be nice if these experiments ran separately, but they don’t. They go on in the same bottle, and each affects the other. After two hundred years, we can draw some conclusions about how they interact. One is that capitalism distorts democracy more than the other way around…
According to the Center for Public Integrity, the “influence industry” in Washington now spends $6 billion a year and employs more than thirty-five thousand lobbyists, some two hundred of whom are former Congress members who enjoy easy access to their erstwhile colleagues.
By contrast, ordinary citizens are cash-poor, unorganized, and ill-informed. They amble to the polls a few times per decade, if that. Of all the players in politics, they’re the easiest to fool. Hence, disciplined cash-rich corporations easily prevail over ordinary citizens.
On top of this, there’s an even deeper problem. Democracy responds at best to voters and at worst to money. Both voters and donors are living humans. Not even seated at democracy’s table—not organized, not propertied, and not enfranchised—are future generations, ecosystems, and non-human species.
Does this mean there’s no hope? I don’t think so. The window of opportunity is small, but not non-existent. Throughout American history, anti-corporate forces have come to power once or twice per century. It may take a calamity of some sort—another war, a depression, or an ecological disaster—to trigger the next anti-corporate ascendancy, but sooner or later it will come. Our job is to be ready when it comes.
What constitutes readiness? Three things, I believe. First, we must have a proper view of government’s role. That role isn’t to run the economy, or even to manage the commons directly; it’s to assign common property rights to trustworthy guardians who will. Second, we must have a plan to fix our economic operating system, not just to put patches on symptoms. And third, we must recognize that the duration of any anti-corporate ascendancy will be brief, and that we must use that small window to build institutions that outlast it.
Make no mistake: it will take more than a few wand strokes to bring capitalism into harmony with nature and the human psyche. This is a 30- to 50-year project. For this reason, I wouldn’t place much faith in slim and fickle majorities in Congress. I would place it in the hands of commons trustees, empowered with property rights and bound as much as humanly possible to generations hence.