Private power.

The power of corporations must never be permitted to override democratic choice.

The main thrust in yesterday’s post was a plea by , Lecturer on Anthropology, University of Colorado, Denver for our natural lands to be given the legal status of a person. Here’s how Prof. Colwell concluded his essay (my emphasis):

In New Zealand, the Te Urewera Act offers a higher level of protection, empowering a board to be the land’s guardian. The Te Urewera Act, though, does not remove its connection to humans. With a permit, people can hunt, fish, farm and more. The public still has access to the forest. One section of the law even allows Te Urewera to be mined.

Te Urewera teaches us that acknowledging cultural views of places as living does not mean ending the relationship between humans and nature, but reordering it – recognizing nature’s intrinsic worth and respecting indigenous philosophies.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, I believe we can do better to align our legal system with the cultural expressions of the people it serves. For instance, the U.S. Congress could amend the NHPA or the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to acknowledge the deep cultural connection between tribes and natural places, and afford better protections for sacred landscapes like New Mexico’s Mount Taylor.

Until then, it says much about us when companies are considered people before nature is.

Chip Colwell was alerting us, as in humanity, that our natural resources are way, way too important for them to be considered corporate assets.

The days between a Christmas Day and a New Year’s Day are frequently a time for introspection; well they are for me! A few days to reflect on what did or did not work in the year just coming to an end and to find some clarity about the important issues for the new year.

That mood of introspection, of reflection, seems to be creeping into my blog posts this last week of 2016. For following Chip Colwell comes George Monbiot and an essay he published on the 6th December, 2016, that is republished here with Mr. Monbiot’s very kind permission.

Regarding the power of corporations there are strong echoes between Prof. Colwell and Mr. Monbiot.


The Golden Arches Theory of Decline

Why is there a worldwide revolt against politics as usual? Because corporate globalisation has crushed democratic choice.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian, 6th December 2016

A wave of revulsion rolls around the world. Approval ratings for incumbent leaders are everywhere collapsing. Symbols, slogans and sensation trump facts and nuanced argument. One in six Americans now believes that military rule would be a good idea. From all this I draw the following, peculiar conclusion: no country with a McDonald’s can remain a democracy.

Twenty years ago, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman proposed his “golden arches theory of conflict prevention”. This holds that “no two countries that both have McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other since they each got their McDonald’s”.

Friedman’s was one of several end-of-history narratives suggesting that global capitalism would lead to permanent peace. He claimed that it might create “a tip-over point at which a country, by integrating with the global economy, opening itself up to foreign investment and empowering its consumers, permanently restricts its capacity for troublemaking and promotes gradual democratization and widening peace.” He didn’t mean that McDonald’s ends war, but that its arrival in a nation symbolised the transition.

In using McDonalds as shorthand for the forces tearing democracy apart, I am, like him, writing figuratively. I do not mean that the presence of the burger chain itself is the cause of the decline of open, democratic societies (though it has played its part in Britain, using our defamation laws against its critics). Nor do I mean that countries hosting McDonald’s will necessarily mutate into dictatorships.

What I mean is that, under the onslaught of the placeless, transnational capital McDonald’s exemplifies, democracy as a living system withers and dies. The old forms and forums still exist – parliaments and congresses remain standing – but the power they once contained seeps away, re-emerging where we can no longer reach it.

The political power that should belong to us has flitted into confidential meetings with the lobbyists and donors who establish the limits of debate and action. It has slipped into the dictats of the IMF and the European Central Bank, which respond not to the people but to the financial sector. It has been transported, under armed guard, into the icy fastness of Davos, where Mr Friedman finds himself so warmly welcomed (even when he’s talking cobblers).

Above all, the power that should belong to the people is being crushed by international treaty. Contracts such as NAFTA, CETA, the proposed TransPacific Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement and the failed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are crafted behind closed doors in discussions dominated by corporate lobbyists. They are able to slip in clauses that no informed electorate would ever approve, such as the establishment of opaque offshore tribunals, through which corporations can bypass national courts, challenge national laws and demand compensation for the results of democratic decisions.

These treaties limit the scope of politics, prevent states from changing social outcomes and drive down labour rights, consumer protection, financial regulation and the quality of neighbourhoods. They make a mockery of sovereignty. Anyone who forgets that striking them down was one of Donald Trump’s main promises will fail to understand why people were prepared to risk so much in electing him.

At the national level too, the McDonalds model destroys meaningful democracy. Democracy depends on a reciprocal sense of belief, trust and belonging: the conviction that you belong to the nation and the nation belongs to you. The McDonalds model, by rooting out attachment, could not have been better designed to erase that perception.

As Tom Wolfe observes in his novel A Man in Full, “the only way you could tell you were leaving one community and entering another was when the franchise chains started repeating and you spotted another 7-Eleven, another Wendy’s, another Costco, another Home Depot.” The alienation and anomie this destruction of place promotes are enhanced by the casualisation of labour and a spirit-crushing regime of monitoring, quantification and assessment (at which McDonald’s happens to excel). Public health disasters contribute to the sense of rupture. After falling for decades, for example, death rates among middle-aged white Americans are now rising. Among the likely causes are obesity and diabetes, opioid addiction and liver failure, diseases whose vectors are corporations.

Corporations, released from democratic constraints, drive us towards climate breakdown, an urgent threat to global peace. McDonald’s has done more than its fair share: beef production is among the most powerful causes of climate change.

In his book The Globalisation Paradox, the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik describes a political trilemma. Democracy, national sovereignty and hyperglobalisation, he argues, are mutually incompatible. You cannot have all three at once. McDonalisation crowds out domestic politics. Incoherent and dangerous as it often is, the global backlash against mainstream politicians is, at heart, an attempt to reassert national sovereignty against the forces of undemocratic globalisation.

An article about the history of the Democratic party by Matt Stoller in The Atlantic reminds us that a similar choice was articulated by the great American jurist Louis Brandeis. “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” In 1936, the congressman Wright Patman managed to pass a bill against the concentration of corporate power. Among his targets was A&P, the giant chainstore of his day, that was hollowing out towns, destroying local retailers and turning “independent tradesmen into clerks”.

In 1938, President Roosevelt warned that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.” The Democrats saw concentrated corporate power as a form of dictatorship. They broke up giant banks and businesses and chained the chainstores. What Roosevelt, Brandeis and Patman knew has been forgotten by those in power, including powerful journalists. But not by the victims of this system.

One of the answers to Trump, Putin, Orban, Erdogan, Salvini, Duterte, Le Pen, Farage and the politics they represent is to rescue democracy from transnational corporations. It is to defend the crucial political unit that’s under assault by banks, monopolies and chainstores: community. It is to recognise that there is no greater hazard to peace between nations than a corporate model which crushes democratic choice.


It’s very easy to pick out from Mr. Monbiot’s essay what the theme should be for 2017, and beyond. What each and every one of us who cares about the future and understands the huge changes that have to take place if our grandchildren are to have a viable future.

It was that compelling quotation by Louis Brandeis:

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

It’s as simple as that!

25 thoughts on “Private power.

  1. I do agree with Mr. Colwell. We should protect sacred places such as Mt. Taylor. That is the nation’s land & we should have no rights to it since they are a sovereign entity. As for the government, I honestly don’t know what could be done on that front. I do know people have to talk to one another but I don’t know how that can even be facilitated amid the rancor.


    1. Interesting times! Even more so when one reads how much of the planet’s area needs to be returned to wilderness if we are to stand any chance of not cooking ourselves to death. Heard it’s about 50%!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have heard that land management is a hot topic in Oregon due to the amount of forests in the area. I guess the government doesn’t understand that people actually live near the national forests & they can’t just do whatever they want without considering the consequences. Is that true?


      2. Very much so. We live on 13 acres of which half is natural, wild forest. Plus, when we look out from the house windows we seen a skyline that is totally covered in forest trees, especially to the North-East. We do nothing to the forest on our land apart from felling dead trees. Oh, and clearing out from time to time areas of brambles that seem to stifle the young cedars. Will take some photos and share them with you before too long.

        Jean and I feel the land is very precious.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I really love seeing trees. I loved living in rural MD where that was my backdrop. Land is very precious & so is all of nature’s resources. Can’t wait to see the pictures. I would love to live in the Pacific Northwest.


  2. Another great article by George Monbiot. Yes, facism is the end result of unrestrained capitalism. When combined with out of control consumerism, with no thought for the environmental impact, Planet Earth and us along with it are in for a very hard time indeed.
    These predatory corporations are just so rich and so powerful that it’s difficult to see how the situation can ever be reversed or rectified. Perhaps the development and spread of worker co-operatives, as advocated by Professor (of Economics) Richard Wolff is part of the answer. I love listening to his wonderful talks.


    1. Thanks Marg. I’m sure I have come across Richard Wolff before but won’t know for certain until I go to his website. That I will do in the next hour. Best wishes to you.


      1. You are welcome, Paul. I have been most derelict in reading your site (or my emails!) in recent weeks, if not months… Too much to do (or think about!)


      2. Well if it comes down to you choosing to read this place as opposed to writing and sharing your own ideas then, please, keep on being derelict! 😉


  3. “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.” In a nutshell.


    1. Bela, sometimes I think I should stick entirely to writing about dogs. But maybe, just maybe, the rise in the way that millions now communicate via blogging and other social media applications may just be the ‘democratic’ force the world so badly needs. Thank you so much for your contribution.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. With all due respect, and abundant apologies for the daring image, we can’t write exclusively about dogs, lest we want to finish as dog food. As Paul is suggesting. Indeed I view seriousness in global inquiry as a basic moral duty.

    Imagine Jews worrying just about dogs, while Auschwitz was being built; it’s arguably what happened, said Hannah Arendt (I’m paraphrasing; she was hated for it, though…) Some will scoff, but Kim in Korea is building one new H bomb every 5 weeks… One single H bomb, in the ‘right’ place, can kill more than Auschwitz.

    The fact that law is local, yet international trade is global is the essence of the problem of the international trade system set-up by the ilk of Paul Krugman (a collaborator of Reagan in the White House, since then posing as a leftist).

    Other point: taxation, increasing in severity as wealth increases, was invented precisely to prevent the concentration of wealth in a few hands.


  5. Profound post and you need not apologize for not writing about dogs. The US and the world, in my opinion, are in dire straits and if push comes to shove I’m afraid the US is headed for a police/military state or a revolution. I am very fearful of what is to come. Write as you wish. I think your followers will back you for what ever it is worth.


    1. Yvonne, thank you. My heart doesn’t want to agree with you. But my head has trouble disagreeing with you. The core inspiration for this blog is integrity, and all that flows from that. We see it so naturally in our dogs yet observe integrity as such a challenge for humans. Most especially for those humans who see profit in playing with a crooked bat. (Talk about mixed metaphors from yours truly!)

      I guess the uncertainty about the future will not last for long; possibly fewer than twelve months.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope that you are correct about the uncertain future that will not last long. But I pray that it will be a positive outcome and not something that brings adversity and destruction to this country.


  6. Yes, many countries have unstable governments, greed, corruption, poverty and, nuclear power. I read many years ago and I don’t remember the author, that mankind will destroy itself and I believe that the author was correct in his analysis. It will come sooner or later and it looks as if it will be sooner.


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