corporate oligarchy

At Stake in 2016: Ending the Vicious Cycle of Wealth and Power

What’s at stake this election year? Let me put as directly as I can.

America has succumbed to a vicious cycle in which great wealth translates into political power, which generates even more wealth, and even more power.

This spiral is most apparent is declining tax rates on corporations and on top personal incomes (much in the form of wider tax loopholes), along with a profusion of government bailouts and subsidies (to Wall Street bankers, hedge-fund partners, oil companies, casino tycoons, and giant agribusiness owners, among others).

The vicious cycle of wealth and power is less apparent, but even more significant, in economic rules that now favor the wealthy.

Billionaires like Donald Trump can use bankruptcy to escape debts but average people can’t get relief from burdensome mortgage or student debt payments.

Giant corporations can amass market power without facing antitrust lawsuits (think Internet cable companies, Monsanto, Big Pharma, consolidations of health insurers and of health care corporations, Dow and DuPont, and the growing dominance of Amazon, Apple, and Google, for example). 

But average workers have lost the market power that came from joining together in unions.

It’s now easier for Wall Street insiders to profit from confidential information unavailable to small investors.

It’s also easier for giant firms to extend the length of patents and copyrights, thereby pushing up prices on everything from pharmaceuticals to Walt Disney merchandise.  

And easier for big corporations to wangle trade treaties that protect their foreign assets but not the jobs or incomes of American workers.  

It’s easier for giant military contractors to secure huge appropriations for unnecessary weapons, and to keep the war machine going.

The result of this vicious cycle is a disenfranchisement of most Americans, and a giant upward distribution of income from the middle class and poor to the wealthy and powerful.

Another consequence is growing anger and frustration felt by people who are working harder than ever but getting nowhere, accompanied by deepening cynicism about our democracy.

The way to end this vicious cycle is to reduce the huge accumulations of wealth that fuel it, and get big money out of politics. 

But it’s chicken-and-egg problem. How can this be accomplished when wealth and power are compounding at the top? 

Only through a political movement such as America had a century ago when progressives reclaimed our economy and democracy from the robber barons of the first Gilded Age.

That was when Wisconsin’s “fighting Bob” La Follette instituted the nation’s first minimum wage law; presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan attacked the big railroads, giant banks, and insurance companies; and President Teddy Roosevelt busted up the giant trusts.

When suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony secured women the right to vote, reformers like Jane Addams got laws protecting children and the public’s health, and organizers like Mary Harris “Mother” Jones spearheaded labor unions.

America enacted a progressive income tax, limited corporate campaign contributions, ensured the safety and purity of food and drugs, and even invented the public high school.

The progressive era welled up in the last decade of the nineteenth century because millions of Americans saw that wealth and power at the top were undermining American democracy and stacking the economic deck. Millions of Americans overcame their cynicism and began to mobilize.

We may have reached that tipping point again.

Both the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party grew out of revulsion at the Wall Street bailout. Consider, more recently, the fight for a higher minimum wage (“Fight for 15”). 

Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign is part of this mobilization. (Donald Trump bastardized version draws on the same anger and frustration but has descended into bigotry and xenophobia.)

Surely 2016 is a critical year. But, as the reformers of the Progressive Era understood more than a century ago, no single president or any other politician can accomplish what’s needed because a system caught in the spiral of wealth and power cannot be reformed from within. It can be changed only by a mass movement of citizens pushing from the outside.

So regardless of who wins the presidency in November and which party dominates the next Congress, it is up to the rest of us to continue to organize and mobilize. Real reform will require many years of hard work from millions of us.

As we learned in the last progressive era, this is the only way the vicious cycle of wealth and power can be reversed.


On the Plight of the Underclass:

“The failure of our capitalist democracy was collective.

It was bred by ignorance, indifference, racism, bigotry and the seduction of mass propaganda.

It was bred by elites especially in the press, the courts, and academia, who chose careerism over moral and intellectual courage.

Our rights as citizens were taken from us one by one. There was hardly a word of protest.

America is rapidly devolving into a third world nation run by oligarchs, corporations, and militarized police.

Our anemic democracy is being replaced by an authoritarian state led by a demagogue who cares nothing for the rule of law.

Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, already live in perpetual poverty.

This is the result of unchecked corporate capitalism.

The goal is to make us all serfs on the corporate plantation.”

- Chris Hedges is joined by Linh Dinh, author of “Postcards from the End of America” on this episode of ‘On Contact’

Today, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. 

The top one-hundredth of 1 percent makes more than 40 percent of all campaign contributions.

My love letter to the four of you. From slade to southall: pulling back the illusion of majestic central London to uncover a corporate spread of oligarchy and loss, and the journey of truth and unconditional love the outskirts can provide. This is southall. This is London.

Mixed media on paper

26 x 40 inches


So all this time, all the problems and things this government could be tackling, your government just spent almost 4 months of its time trying – and failing – to repeal a healthcare law that while a terribly small step (and not very good one at that) was at least trying to step in the right direction. 4 months. Trying to repeal something that was really just a tax break for the rich. Progressive my ass. And this is just the beginning. For the last ten years, simply stuck in neutral. But you know who is doing great? Corporations. And those who benefit from those corporations. An Oligarchy of elites. Nice work. I’m looking at you, too, Democrats.

I will not apologize for my unabashed glee over the death of Justice Antonin Scalia today. Not one bit. Fuck you. Don’t talk to me about class or being the better man or taking the high road or any of that bullshit.

And do not talk to me of his “grieving family,” either. Because Scalia himself has been on the wrong side of several Supreme Court decisions that have ruined the lives of many in this country, leaving a bunch of grieving families. He has been part of decisions that have shaped this nation into the gun-crazy, racist, warmongering, corporate oligarchy it is today. His crimes, too numerous to list in their entirety, include Bush vs. Gore, Citizens United, McCutcheon, and Shelby County vs. Holder. And if justices Kennedy and Roberts didn’t have their occasional moments of clarity, he would’ve done even more damage to civil rights and the general welfare of so many Americans.

In short, I’m glad the bastard is well on his way to feeding the worms. This day, Feb. 13, 2016, can only be considered a positive turning point in this country’s history. That the Notorious RBG outlived this asshole makes it especially sweet. That it happened during the tenure of President Obama makes it even sweeter, as it means he can now flip the court to the way it should be.

My only question now: When does Clarence Thomas join him, and can it be soon?

World Building: Corporate Oligarchy

Anonymous asked: Hi. I know a lot of dystopian fiction involves governments or dictatorships, but I was wondering if you had any information on fiction that involves /other/ systems? I’m trying to write a story set in a giant city-state run by corporations and conglomerates, but I’m having difficulty figuring out HOW this world would work and how it would come about. I’m already doing book research, but I was wondering if you had any other tips or information?

You might try looking at world building guides or see if there’s a dystopian world building guide. Beyond that, I would start by mapping out the city-state. Then, figure out what the corporations/conglomerates are and decide which areas of the map they each control. You’ll have to decide what to call these areas–districts, for example. Then you’ll have to work on the back story on the corporations/conglomerates, like who they are, what they do, and how they manage their area. You’ll also have to figure out how these conglomerates work together (just like state government works with federal government) to keep things in order. You’ll also want to figure out what laws exist, how they’re enforced, and what negative effects they have on the populace.

It’s a lot of work but it’s tons of fun! :)