Raging Grannies have a good pointIn December, the city council made Duluth the first city in the state to pass a resolution urging a constitutional amendment to overturn the “Citizens United” ruling. There is more to this relation between Occupy Wall Street and Move to Amend than just friendship.
Last month, a group called Move to Amend, claiming friendship with Occupy Wall Street, staged a demonstration at Duluth’s civic center against the 2010 “Citizens United” decision of the Supreme Court. That court ruling affirmed that corporations are in fact persons under the law, and that they have largely unregulated rights to flood politics with unlimited amounts of money.
As reported in the Budgeteer, that demonstration counted barely more than 50 people, including the “Raging Grannies of Northern Minnesota.” With turnout like that, Move to Amend is hardly going to inspire fear in the corporate world.
Still, the issue may be gaining traction. In December, the city council made Duluth the first city in the state to pass a resolution urging a constitutional amendment to overturn the “Citizens United” ruling.
There is more to this relation between Occupy Wall Street and Move to Amend than just friendship. Occupy Wall Street’s antipathy toward the “1 percent” and Move to Amend’s fear of corporate influence fundamentally devolve to the same questions, which are who holds political power, and consequently who shares in the wealth we all help create.
After all, despite the Supreme Court ruling, it’s not corporations that decide to spend money on politics. Instead, corporate executives, boards, and owners do, and the owners I’m referring to aren’t the small-time shareholders like you and me. “One person, one vote,” still applies, but it’s feared that “one executive, many political contributions” may be far more powerful.
If the “Citizens United” ruling had been made 50 years ago, it would probably have been impossible to get a protest going at the civic center. For a time, corporate power was balanced out by powerful unions that could ensure that employees fairly shared the benefits of their labor. Beyond that, corporations couldn’t easily flee the country, or a particular state, to exploit cheaper labor desperate enough to work in unsanitary and dangerous conditions for scandalous wages.
Those days are over. The power of the 1 percent and the corporations it owns has grown, and unions are on the run. (When is the last time you heard of a successful strike?) Wages of laborers haven’t kept up with inflation. Tax laws have been modified to require little or nothing from the corporation and the wealthy, while the debt of the individual has increased. Efforts to gut environmental, labor, and consumer protections are constant threats.
Fearmongers tell us that if the corporation is somehow made responsible to share its wealth with its workers, or clean up its own mess, or protect the safety of the public, that somehow our economy will hemorrhage jobs and collapse.
Contradictory examples abound. That’s why German auto manufacturers can pay their workers twice what American auto workers make, and IKEA’s manufacturing plants in Sweden give their workers twice the pay and twice the vacation days as do similar plants in the U.S.
Those Swedish and German corporations don’t behave that way because people are nicer in Europe, they behave that way because the lobbying and political power of the American corporate-1 percent alliance has been successful in creating a race to the bottom.
Last week, Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum gave a speech which addressed the issue of income inequality. “There is income inequality in America,” Santorum said. “There always has been and, hopefully … there always will be.”
Although Santorum is tone-deaf, he is also right. There are good economic reasons for some people to earn more than others.
But Santorum continued: “You celebrate success …. Why? Because in their greatness and innovation, yes, they created wealth, but they created wealth for everybody else.”
And that is where Americans ought to disagree, because although we don’t begrudge innovators the fruits of their labor, we know that the wealth of the corporations they form is equally created by the work of others. Yet less and less does the wealth they create spread to “everybody else.”
There’s another side to every story, and the other side to this one is that unions have sometimes protected mediocrity, that some feel entitled to what they had no hand in creating, and that regulation of business is at times unproductive and overly bureaucratic.
But the overriding lesson of the past 30 years is that those “Grannies Against Greed” have a reasonable gripe. Citizens United just seems like piling on.
Budgeteer columnist Pete Langr writes monthly in the Budgeteer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.