How many citizens of Western democratic countries today feel that, although they have a right to vote, the government that gains power after each election never seems to be one that really represents them? Even when their party wins. Promises are broken, priorities change, time passes. As the world grinds on, hope fades. Citizens become cynical, indifferent and wonder whether they should even bother to vote in the next election. They blame the political persuasion of not only the party in power, but also the opposition, depending on their own political philosophies and favourite “ism” (capitalism, socialism, statism, etc.). But they won’t really appreciate what’s happening unless they know the rest of the story.
For greater understanding of the failings of representative government, they could follow the money but they had better keep an eye on the power, too. In their search for truth, they must appreciate a sickness that thrives in most Western countries. This sickness has been around for over a hundred years, but it needs more exposure and discussion. It’s another “ism”. It’s called corporatism and here’s a little 101.
One form of corporatism is the influence over politicians and senior civil servants that big business yields. Most people will have no trouble understanding this form of corporatism. Even Hollywood has made numerous films portraying a big corporation as the ultimate manipulator of government and thus the citizenry. Who else can provide the endless flow of funds to finance expensive lobbyists, politicians’ pet legislation, direct and indirect bribes, expensive gifts, or cushy jobs for retiring politicians?
Describing the second form of corporatism takes us back to the roots of the word. Corporatism is not derived from the word “corporation” but from the latin word “corpus”, meaning “body”. In other words, corporatism can be applied to any “body” or group, such as organized labour, environmentalists, Catholics, native people, teachers, hunters, seniors, etc. They can exercise power over legislators by lobbying or promoting their viewpoint to the public through advertising and public relations. They can ingratiate themselves to politicians by offering funds and services just like big corporations. They can even threaten and march in the streets. Whatever their actions, they all struggle to get their way in the form of political decisions favourable to their causes and their members at the expense of the electorate.
Can corporatism ever be purged or at least relegated to a smaller role than it plays today? Unlikely. Many citizens are a member of at least one “body” or another themselves and each is potentially a supporter of their own special interests. Democracy just gets in the way of this more direct pipeline to the decision makers in government. Should it be fought? Absolutely, corporatism uses citizens’ money and influences far too many aspects of their lives. Of course, if enough special interest groups think corporatism is a good thing, they could just dump democracy, hang the politicians, and deal only through government administrators. Some would call that corpocracy, others might recognize it as fascism.