In America, we are used to thinking of a balance of three powers: the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive. These are directly government, but if you think of government as power, think again. There are at least two other forces that matter as much.
Corporate influence is of particular interest because it can align with multiple governments and act globally. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is built globally; surely the company influenced local policies everywhere it does significant business. Halliburton moved its headquarters to Dubai. Here in Seattle, Microsoft is becoming ever clearer on the fact that they want movement to solve our transportation gridlock (and Boeing’s headquarters move to Denver may have been partly a response to our past failures – perhaps we should take heed). A related power, the global financial markets wield serious influence, too. A burp in one market becomes a stomach ache in the next, and symptoms feed on each other. A serious falter of the yen could rock us as well.
Private wealth, and its associated foundations, also affects local and global policies. According to the associated press article linked to below, there are 9.5 million people with a million dollars or more. Collectively, those people donated a little less than 300 billion to various charitable causes. You can bet they also donated to a lot of political causes in all three branches of government here, as well as globally.
Let’s assume a preferred future has all of that power working not only for its own maintenance but also for global sustenance. A better future would reduce, or better yet, stop warfare and poverty. Climate change mitigation is a huge global problem that needs global solutions. There is going to have to be some form of world governance (note the word choice governance rather than government).
Here are some three critical things that can help us get there:
One: We need as much transparency to all five of those forms of power as possible. We need to refuse President Bush’s claims of executive privilege when there is clearly no national security issue. We need to stop loosening the laws that keep television and print news and media in the hands of the few and the rich. It’s important for as many people as possible to hear both the liberal and the conservative viewpoints, and others as well. In every case possible, we need to uphold sunshine laws, corporate accountability rules and laws, and apply the same clarity to foundations (We probably can’t, and shouldn’t, apply the same lens to truly individual wealth). Even if this further erodes privacy, transparency must win over privacy.
Two: We need to figure out how to lower the financial barriers to entry in American politics. There are now clean elections laws in seven states. We should have them in all fifty. This would put people with a more “normalâ€ viewpoint on a variety of policy issues into the House and Senate, and would mean that one power branch of five would have a more middle-class approach to solutions. This also cleans up a lot of the power of corporate donations.
Three: We need to engage as individuals. Talk over the family dinner table. Write blogs or letters. Go to public meetings. Call our representatives. Power is not bad. There’s good in having the Bill Gates and the Warren Buffets and Paul Allens of the world. They can solve problems that individuals and even governments can’t (think commercial space opportunities, global health, etc.). Corporations can raise the standards of living and education in places they locate if they choose to do so. But all of the transparency in the world will do us little good if we don’t look through the glass. And all of the power in the world would be a bigger force for good if we have some shared vision about our preferred future.
To some extent, I feel like I’m stating the obvious here, and maybe being a bit of a Pollyanna as well. But it’s the best I know how to do, and doing our best has kept us lurching steadily forward, and largely for the better. I’m interested in your opinions.