While we were away on winter recess, some more pieces of democracy have been trashed or made ready for disposal.
We’ve already seen how the Supreme Court has allowed whoever has enough money to buy elections, just as corporate lobbyists buy legislative favors. Now, more of our rights as citizens are being thrown in the wastebasket.
First, the Michigan Legislature is considering a bill (#HB 4643) that would have a chilling effect on free speech by creating civil fines of up to $10,000 for picketing. If HB 4643 becomes law, it will intimidate citizens, discouraging them from exercising their right to peacefully gather and speak out.
Second, the judges of Delaware’s Chancery Court are attempting to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to allow wealthy litigants (chiefly corporations) to be able to rent state judges and courthouses to decide cases in private and keep the results secret. The state legislature wants to take advantage of a growing market in dispute resolution. It passed a law in 2009 offering secret court privileges in exchange for hefty filing and rental fees while corporations can use chancery judges and courtrooms for “arbitration” to produce enforceable legal judgments.
Third, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled (6 to 3) that police may search a home without obtaining a warrant despite the objection of one occupant, if that occupant has been removed from the premises. Justice Alito wrote for the majority, “A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the Fourth Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the minority, “instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it, nevermind ample time to secure the approval of a neutral magistrate.” She called it a blow to the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
What’s going on here? We in the West have operated our political economy out of a “just-world” theory since the Enlightenment Era. The “just-world” idea says that those who strive and win deserve to win, and those who don’t strive, or don’t “win,” for whatever reasons, deserve to lose.
This idea doesn’t give us justice – it inflicts pain on any who aren’t “winners,” no matter the cause.
The problem is that this model runs counter to reality. Human beings are social animals. We’re not made to compete with one another or use hierarchical or authoritarian structures, except in an atmosphere of war or other violence. On the contrary, science tell us we’re hard-wired to cooperate together in a much more egalitarian way,
We can see this when we look, for example, at how business operates at the local community level. In specific locales, we tend to use a more inclusive community model that distributes resources evenly. Local businesses are very conscious of their image and reputation among their neighbors.
As Adam Smith said, we are much less “self-sufficient” when we rely on other people for our self-worth. What really drives humans is not self-interest but reciprocal obligation.
When business or corporate-influenced government gets too big to care about its reputation and obligations to society, it tends to operate “strategically,” which means it cheats. And that means coercion, often physical violence, is necessary to enforce contracts that run counter to human nature. And violence is what’s happening to citizens’ rights in America today.
We need to once again limit corporations to a size where they care about what the citizens of their community and nation think about them. We need to make sure corporations safeguard citizens’ rights, releasing the levers of governance back to the people. We can do this through altering the chartering process. We need to have corporations justify their existence about every twenty years or so. Such a constraint might keep them from committing the violence necessary to enforce their “just-world” economic theory on the rest of us.
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