We Do Not Live in a Plutocracy

It irritates me when people say we (in the U.S.) live in a plutocracy, but only because it seems that more often than not that viewpoint is their excuse to give up and not even try to prevent that from becoming a reality.

There are plenty of checks on corporations that are not only essential to our quality of life, but that we also take for granted, and that would no longer exist if this were actually a plutocracy. Such checks and protections include the following facts:

  • False advertising is still illegal (and it’s enforced well enough that it’s not really a common thing)
  • We can still sue corporations (and sometimes win)
  • (For the most part, at least) you’re not forced / coerced / legally required to purchase things that you don’t want to
  • Products come with an implied warranty
  • Employees have rights, including the following:
    • Sick leave (unpaid)
    • Worker’s compensation (except in Texas)
    • Overtime pay (for certain categories of workers)
    • Minimum wage
    • Child labor laws (in the form of restrictions on age and work hours)
  • Food and drugs have to be determined safe for consumption by the FDA (with the notable exception of vaccines; and yes, the FDA is becoming increasingly corrupt)
  • Contracts between companies and consumers and between companies and employees are more-or-less reasonable and tend to be honored/enforced
  • There are environmental protections in place that of course run counter to the interests of corporations
  • There are laws against anti-competition and monopolies
  • Essential companies can be categorized and regulated as public service companies
  • Basic human rights still exist within the context of corporations—for example a company can’t issue corporal punishment against its employees, can’t threaten or kill people who go against them, etc.

If you think these rules still exist just because of the goodhearted nature of corporations, that’s very naive thinking. A corporation’s top priority is to make money in any way they possibly can, including exploiting or subverting people, communities, resources, the environment, and the government whenever they can. The only thing holding them back is the law, except in those cases where they think they can get away with breaking it. When a company does display goodhearted behavior, it’s generally in the interest of public relations. So the very existence of the checks and protections listed above is evidence that we do not (yet) live in a plutocracy or oligarchy.

Now I’m not trying to say that there isn’t a problem or that we’re not under threat of becoming a plutocracy eventually—the reason for my complaint is that when people assume we’re already a plutocracy, they give up and are disinclined to help prevent that from happening, which is badly needed. They also unthinkingly take for granted all the graces we actually still have..

Acting to help prevent the country from becoming a plutocracy is so badly needed because we’re on the road to becoming one quickly. Through campaign contributions, paid lobbying, media manipulation, political bribes, etc., corporations and other private interests are essentially buying legislation, and this will only spiral out of control because the more private interests affect the government toward their own ends, the more avenues they’ll create or unblock for further manipulation, which will enable them to create and unblock further avenues, and so on and so forth. We’ve already begun to see this process in action with the invention of super PACs. And the growing disparity between the classes will, of course, exacerbate the problem.

So please, don’t commit the sin of throwing your hands up and saying it’s hopeless because we’re already a plutocracy. Go out and vote. Write your congresspeople. Donate to political causes. Talk about what needs to be done with others. Because considering it a lost cause already is too easy.

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