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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Corporate Power and Democracy

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Since the American Revolution, Democracy has become the dominant political system in Western and large capitalist societies.  The driving factor is that democratic governments are thought to derive their legitimacy from popular sovereignty, as opposed to divine sovereignty.  However, the states and their people recognized the impracticality of actual direct democracy and opted instead for republicanism, or representative government.  Since this form of governance is still based in popular sovereignty and the theoretical rule “of,” “by,” and “for” the people, it is still often referred to as “democracy.”  As democracy has been observed over time, political scientists have redefined it”as a system whereby elites competed for the votes of a largely passive electorate.”  This position became known as “elite pluralism,” and its success rests on the idea that “as long as one group of elites was without power, its members could appeal to the public to replace the incumbents with those presumably more favorable to their interests.” (Mizruchi and Bey, 2005,311)  Since the success of this type of democracy requires competition, or division, of the elites, many detractors of democracy in capitalist states claim that the elites are, in fact, unified due to “common interests in maintaining their privileges” as well as “common socialization experiences (including attendance at elite prep schools and universities), common membership in social clubs and policy-making organizations, and social and kinship ties.” (Mizruchi and Bey, 2005,311)  Many also believe that these unifying traits are not only shared by the political elites, that are symptomatic of representative democracy, but also in the capitalist class.  If this were to be proved the case, then the elites meet the full requirements for a group to be powerful, “resources and unity,” and would threaten the effectiveness or success of democracy.  The extent that this threat, based on the possible causes and perceived “degree of business unity” the topic of four contemporary theories regarding corporate power and democracy, highlighted by Mark S. Mizruchi and Deborah M. Bey and discussed below. (Mizruchi and Bey, 2005,312)

The “Elite Theory,” by G. William Domhoff, posited “that a power elite, drawn from the social upper class, corporate leaders, and officials of policy-making organizations, collectively dominates American politics,” and that all of the unifying traits mentioned earlier are, in fact, present.  However, despite many revisions and the sophistication in Domhoff’s theories, he points to actions by the state that are opposed by business and those that they advocate as both being in the interest of business, and neither, according to Domhoff, detract from the “view that the elite perpetually dominates” and “thus raises questions about nonfalsifiability” and the overall legitimacy of this theory.(Mizruchi and Bey, 2005, 323)

The next two theories are best understood in the context of the “Berle and Means Thesis,” which basically states that “because of the large and increasing size of corporations, and because of the consequent difficulty of maintaining substantial family holdings in individual firms, stock holdings in large U.S. corporations gradually dispersed.  The consequence of this dispersal…was the usurpation..of power by the firm’s managers.  These managers…were viewed as a self-perpetuating oligarchy, unaccountable to the owners who had elected them.” (Mizruchi and Bey, 2005, 312)  With this in mind, Michael Useem, found that since the “largest single block of stockholders by the 1990s was not individuals,…but institutional investors,” they were the dominant power holders in business.(Mizruchi and Bey, 2005, 324)  Useem, however, made no claim to their unity and so his theory mostly contradicts that the managers are unaccountable, at least in recent decades, due to the influence of institutional investors.  The third theory, proposed by Gerald Davis, also attempts to negate the Berle and Means thesis by claiming that it makes no difference if a corporation is owner or manager run since they both must conform to “pressure from an amorphous, but no less real, source,” the “capital market.” (Mizruchi and Bey, 2005, 324-325)  The elites are “compelled to vow allegiance to ‘shareholder value'” and their “structures and policies are driven by anticipations of their economic consequences.” (Mizruchi and Bey, 2005, 325)  However, while Davis tries to use this observation to show a unity of purpose and political domination by the anonymous members of the “capital market,” but the very nature of this group, where no individuals, elite or otherwise, or their interests can be specified indicates that Davis’s theory simply creates a generalization so broad that almost anyone could be a part of it.  If that is the case, then the dispersal and division of interests that would exist in the “capital market” would actually be a boon to democracy if they were the truly the dominating force.

The fourth theory is conceptually different than the previous theories due to its international scale.  “Several scholars have suggested that with the increasing globalization of economic activity” and “the extent to which corporations have the ability to move capital outside their borders” giving “them leverage over their host states…national governments have lost the ability to regulate their own business communities.” (Mizruchi and Bey, 2005, 329)  This would certainly appear to diminish the power of national governments, but it does not necessarily mean an increase in corporate power, or the general business community, since that would still require unity in effort, which faces all of the difficulties present in the earlier theories.

I would like to close with my theory on corporate power and politics.  The first part explains why corporate interests seem to be advanced, overall, in spite of real conflicting interests within the corporate community. The state holds a monopoly over “legal” coercion and this is its only real service it has to offer on the marketplace.  The “passive electorate” is not as concerned, or as dependent a customer, of government coercion; whereas, corporations are interested in using state coercion to prevent or reduce competition and to advance its interests.  So overall, the government responds to the market for coercion, acting in the interests of various corporate entities who are most able to afford it, in means of resources and influence to protect the political elites’ privileges.  This does not require unity from the various corporate interests and the inconsistency of the policies enforced through state coercion seem to support that there is no need for unity from the corporate community in order for the state to act generally in their favor.  This on its own is destructive to society and damaging to the democratic ideal but does not cause a complete collapse of they system because of the lack of unity.  However, this trend may very likely lead to the second part of this theory which will lead to the collapse of democracy.  As the state continues to use coercion to choose the “winners” and “losers”, whether among the corporate community or between the corporate community and the rest of the electorate, there will be fewer and fewer parties competing or seeking the state’s coercive service.  Common sense dictates that it is easier for a few to coalesce, than the many, and so this increased centralization of both political and corporate elites will make it much more likely that complete unity, and the destruction of democracy will occur.

Mizruchi, M.S., & Bey, D.M. (2005). Rule Making, Rule Breaking, and Power. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (310-330). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mar 30, 2011

Political Participation: Consent of the Governed

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Recent response in a class concerning political participation, centralization of government, and consent of the governed:

The “reversal” of the “amount of responsibilities held by each level government” is going to be very difficult to bring about under the current system and with the history of the United States. Since the Civil War the federal government no longer depends on consent of the governed. While everyone should agree that the Southern states were wrong to insist on continuing the institution of slavery, the implications of the Civil War are far more universal than a single issue. Since that war, states no longer have the illusion that they could withdrawal their consent from a contractual agreement their predecessors entered into and if you are not able to withdrawal consent then you are not able to truly give it. The consequences of this is that the states no longer act as a true check against the expansion of federal government since they are no longer competitive with it, but are in fact subordinated to it. As long as the states to do hold the power to check the federal government either through nullification, refusal to enforce federal laws, or through the possibility of peaceful secession, then there will be no way to reverse the roles as you advocate.

Mainstream political thinkers call nullification and secession extreme views but they were tools often utilized by the states prior to the civil war. While the attempted secession of the South may have been the first time a group of states went through with secession, there were several other incidents where groups of states threatened to secede in order to protest and influence the federal government. Also, just because one advocates the right to secede” does not mean that one advocates actual secession. The mere possibility or threat of secession would be enough to check the federal governments power in most cases. As for nullification, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison passed resolutions in Kentucky and Virginia stating the right of states to judge the constitutionality of laws passed by the federal government and to refuse to enforce those laws they viewed as unconstitutional.

These principles can be applied all the way down to the individual level. Many western philosophers have recognized a “consent” problem with any government body, since it holds a monopoly on coercive power in a geographic area and the residents in that location have no real option in giving or withdrawing their consent. However, they try and rationalize it through the idea of “implied consent.” In other words so long as the people are not in revolution it can be taken for granted that they continue to consent to being governed by the current political establishment. This is also how they bypass reaffirming consent from generation to generation, since even if we assume that the founding generation actually all consented to the establishment of a government it does not follow that their children and grandchildren also agreed to the formation so their consent was never provided. People confuse the act of voting or other forms of political participation as giving consent to be governed by the current system, but the boundaries of political participation is only to influence “how” you are governed not “if” or by “whom”, you are governed. While many people may not have explicitly realized this consent problem they still feel the restrictions of their choices to those provided by the current political paradigm and if their will lies outside of that paradigm they quickly lose incentive to participate in the political process.

Filed under Philosophy, Politics
Mar 26, 2011

Political Participation: Reasons for its Decline

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Response in recent class on why political participation is in decline:

In a democracy, the government draw its sense of legitimacy from popular sovereignty, the idea of acting in accordance with the general will. However, if the citizens stop participating in the political system, for example not voting, then that system begins to lose legitimacy since it is hard for it to claim that it has a political mandate of the majority of the people. The United States is currently heading in this direction. A recent international survey cited in “Money, Participation, and Votes” by Jeff Manza et al, showed that “turnout in U.S. national elections ranks an extraordinary 138th among 170 countries that hold elections.” (2005, p. 208) National election results show that voting participation among the voting age population is slightly over half on Presidential election years and just slightly over one-third during mid term elections. This coupled with job approval ratings for the President below 50% and for Congress below 25% (www.realclearpolitics.com) and a grim picture for America’s political system starts to emerge. Also, there appears to be a trend in the increase of citizens who self-report being unaffiliated, independent, or supporting third-parties, none of which have noticeable, let alone proportional to their support, representation in the government. One of the questions Jeff Manza, Clem Brooks, and Michael Sauder try and answer is what is causing this decrease in political participation.

Manza et al, broke the sources of political participation, or lack there of, into two categories: individual sources based primarily on “social cleavage” and institutional sources, effects that are inherent to political system itself. “Social cleavages” are divisions in society “stemming from race/ethnicity, class, gender, religion, language, or national identity” that “give rise to groups of people with shared interests or statuses.” (Manza et al, 2005, p. 205-206) However, the studies in this area are full of statistical uncertainties and often contradict each other leading the authors to “conclude that there is at best only modest evidence for an increase in social cleavage impacts on turnout.” (p. 213) Instead it appears more likely that the American citizens’ “lack of interest in politics, low levels of political efficacy, or apparent apathy toward election outcomes may reflect substantive views of the party system or the character of elite political conflicts.” (p. 210)

What are the flaws inherent to the American political system that causes such political apathy. The likely culprits are increased centralization, single-member districts, two party system, amount of representation, and perceived illegitimacy of the current role of government. As government has become more centralized and most important decisions that impact citizens’ lives being made at higher levels, the individual’s influence drastically decreases. His voice is now 1/230 million as opposed to 1/10-100 thousand at the local level. This sense of having the impact of a grain of sand on a beach could lead to the economic calculation that political participation is not worth one’s time or effort. Another source of disillusionment with the political system is the single-member district, which inevitably leads to a two party system. The lack of variety in candidates or parties could lead many individuals to believe there is no one that represents their views even running for office. Also, since 1920 Congress has frozen the number of representatives at 435, in spite of the fact that the population has increased dramatically. As each member now represents hundreds of thousands people, their constituents feel as though they are lost at sea when it comes to influencing their representatives. Finally, many individuals believe that the government is not acting in a beneficial role in society and refuse to provide legitimacy for the very institution they oppose by participating in it.

Manza, J., Brooks, C.,& Sauder, M. (2005). Money, Participation, and Votes: Social Cleavages and Electoral Politics. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (33-53). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
President Obama Job Approval. Retrieved March 23, 2011 from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/
Congressional Job Approval. Retrieved March 23, 2011 from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/

In a democracy, the government draw its sense of legitimacy from popular sovereignty, the idea of acting in accordance with the general will. However, if the citizens stop participating in the political system, for example not voting, then that system begins to lose legitimacy since it is hard for it to claim that it has a political mandate of the majority of the people. The United States is currently heading in this direction. A recent international survey cited in “Money, Participation, and Votes” by Jeff Manza et al, showed that “turnout in U.S. national elections ranks an extraordinary 138th among 170 countries that hold elections.” (2005, p. 208) National election results show that voting participation among the voting age population is slightly over half on Presidential election years and just slightly over one-third during mid term elections. This coupled with job approval ratings for the President below 50% and for Congress below 25% (www.realclearpolitics.com) and a grim picture for America’s political system starts to emerge. Also, there appears to be a trend in the increase of citizens who self-report being unaffiliated, independent, or supporting third-parties, none of which have noticeable, let alone proportional to their support, representation in the government. One of the questions Jeff Manza, Clem Brooks, and Michael Sauder try and answer is what is causing this decrease in political participation.

Manza et al, broke the sources of political participation, or lack there of, into two categories: individual sources based primarily on “social cleavage” and institutional sources, effects that are inherent to political system itself. “Social cleavages” are divisions in society “stemming from race/ethnicity, class, gender, religion, language, or national identity” that “give rise to groups of people with shared interests or statuses.” (Manza et al, 2005, p. 205-206# However, the studies in this area are full of statistical uncertainties and often contradict each other leading the authors to “conclude that there is at best only modest evidence for an increase in social cleavage impacts on turnout.” #p. 213# Instead it appears more likely that the American citizens’ “lack of interest in politics, low levels of political efficacy, or apparent apathy toward election outcomes may reflect substantive views of the party system or the character of elite political conflicts.” #p. 210#

What are the flaws inherent to the American political system that causes such political apathy. The likely culprits are increased centralization, single-member districts, two party system, amount of representation, and perceived illegitimacy of the current role of government. As government has become more centralized and most important decisions that impact citizens’ lives being made at higher levels, the individual’s influence drastically decreases. His voice is now 1/230 million as opposed to 1/10-100 thousand at the local level. This sense of having the impact of a grain of sand on a beach could lead to the economic calculation that political participation is not worth one’s time or effort. Another source of disillusionment with the political system is the single-member district, which inevitably leads to a two party system. The lack of variety in candidates or parties could lead many individuals to believe there is no one that represents their views even running for office. Also, since 1920 Congress has frozen the number of representatives at 435, in spite of the fact that the population has increased dramatically. As each member now represents hundreds of thousands people, their constituents feel as though they are lost at sea when it comes to influencing their representatives. Finally, many individuals believe that the government is not acting in a beneficial role in society and refuse to provide legitimacy for the very institution they oppose by participating in it.

Manza, J., Brooks, C.,& Sauder, M. #2005#. Money, Participation, and Votes: Social Cleavages and Electoral Politics. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz #Eds.#, Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization #33-53#. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
President Obama Job Approval. Retrieved March 23, 2011 from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/
Congressional Job Approval. Retrieved March 23, 2011 from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/

Filed under Philosophy, Politics
Mar 26, 2011

Nationalism and Democracy: The Unintended Consequence of Decivilizaiton

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Below is a response I posted in one of my classes:

The Treaty of Westphalia and the American Revolution marked another shift as well that is directly tied to the concept of Nationalism and can help explain the problems that the critics associate with it: “war, poverty, exploitation, colonialism, terrorism” and crime.  They marked the shift from monarchical government, where the legitimacy of power was gained through divine sovereignty, to democratic government, where the legitimacy comes from popular sovereignty.  Both forms require a monopoly on coercion over a geographic area, but the irony is that the form of government that appears more benevolent and fair-minded to its subjects, democracy, is actually equally or even more damaging to the societies who live under them.  The reason being that monarchs were seen as coercive and a burden on their subjects and thus much more susceptible to revolution; whereas, democracy takes “privileges, discrimination, and protectionism” that was once restricted to “princes and nobles” and opens them up to “be exercised and accorded to everyone.” (Hoppe, 2007, 83)  Nationalism is then the concept of identifying with the State, making one inseparable from it.  The groups in the text still apply here as each type: “individualistic and civic”, “collectivist and civic”, and collectivist and ethnic” (Greenfield & Eastwood, 2005, 256) describe who the privileges etc. can be accorded to and who will identify with the state, practice nationalism.  It follows then that any attack on the state will be viewed by each respective group as an attack on their perceived current or potential power and so resistance will be prevented or crushed in a decentralized manner through the nationalistic groups, protecting and adding legitimacy to the central government.

Nationalism and war: Total war,war on the entire population of a state vs war between just the militaries, is the result of all of the citizenry, or the various groups depending on the type of nationalism, identifying with the state.  In the age of monarchies, conflicts were “merely violent dynastic property disputes,” that could be “resolved through acts of territorial occupation;” however, modern wars have “become battles between different ways of life, which can only be resolved through cultural, linguistic, or religious domination and subjugation (or extermination).” (Hoppe, 2007, 37)  When there is no way to separate the populations from the state, due to nationalism, the wars have to be between the populations.

Nationalism and terrorism: Unlike the text, it does not appear to me that terrorism is the tactic used by people who subscribe to nationalism, but the tactic of those who do not identify with a state to use against those who subscribe to nationalism.  Those who use terrorist tactics see the citizenry as inseparable from the state and as the source of power and legitimacy for the state whose course they wish to change. This leads them to believe that tactical influence and victory can be gained by attacking this source of power, the citizenry, as opposed to attacking the State directly.

Nationalism and Exploitation/colonialism: Since the citizenry identify with the State and entry into positions of power are available to the citizenry, “everyone is permitted to openly express his desire for other men’s property.” (Hoppe, 2007, 87)  This can be through advocating redistributional policies within the population (exploitation) or through advocating territorial expansion in order to take property from outside the population (colonialism) and will be supported by the majority who see the gains of the State as their gains, or due to their hope to eventually enter into a position of power themselves and have the property available to achieve their own ends.

Nationalism and poverty/crime: The more general and damaging effect of nationalism is that it creates a higher time preference (in economics higher time preference refers wanting things sooner; a more short term outlook for both goals and consequences).  This is due to the uncertainty caused by mass amounts of legislation and regulation that results from the increased legitimacy granted to States of nationalistic populations and from the disincentive to accumulate capital due to increased exploitation/property redistribution that occurs for reasons mentioned above.  The resulting decivilization caused by higher time preference is a complex process to explain here but I will use the conclusion from the Chapter, “On Time Preference, Government, and the Process of Decivilization” from Hoppe’s “Democracy: The God that Failed” to sum up the effects:

“…as far as government is concerned, democratic republicanism [nationalism] produced communism (and with this public slavery and government sponsored mass murder even in peacetime), fascism, national socialism and, lastly and most enduringly, social democracy (‘liberalism’).  Compulsory military service has become almost universal, foreign and civil wars have increased in frequency and in brutality, and in the process of political centralization has advanced further than ever.  Internally, democratic republicanism [nationalism] has led to permanently rising taxes, debts, and public employment.  It has led to the destruction of the gold standard, unparalleled paper-money inflation, and increased protectionism and migration controls.  Even the most fundamental private law provision have been perverted by an unabating flood of legislation and regulation.    Simultaneously, as regards civil society, the institutions of marriage and family have been increasingly weakened, the number of children has declined, and the rates of divorce, illegitimacy, single parenthood, singledom, and abortion have increased.  Rather than rising with rising incomes, savings rates have been stagnating or even falling…And the rates of crime, structural unemployment, welfare dependency, parasitism, negligence, recklessness, incivility, psychopathy, and hedonism have increased.” (Hoppe, 2007, 42-43)

Greenfield, L. & Eastwood, J.(2005). Rule Making, Rule Breaking, and Power. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (33-53). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hoppes, H.H. (2007) Democracy: The God that Failed.New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Mar 26, 2011

Defining Power: Coercion vs Voluntary Cooperation

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Recent Essay for political sociology class defining power:

Power may be better understood as coercion, to differentiate from natural, electrical, or even Bertrand Russel’s definition (as cited in Janoski, 2005) as “simply the capicity to realize ends” by the individual. To treat power as a synonym for coercion would fit the definitions provided by Max Weber (as cited in Janoski,2005) as “the chance of a man or a number of men to realize their own will in a social action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action.” The other similar definitions cited in the text (Janoski, 2005) correctly state this kind of power leads to “zero-sum” contests and is “thus inextricably linked with conflict in social life”; however, the application of the definition seems overly broad to include any type of influence, dependence, or interaction between individuals. This view presents a very cynical take on human nature that casts every relationship and every type of coordination or interaction between individuals with the roles of exploiter and exploited. Not only is this overly broad application cynical but it also diffuses any analysis and makes extracting any concrete principles regarding the concept of power nearly impossible since this application makes power “sociologically amorphous” since “all conceivable qualities of a person and all conceivable combinations of circumstances may put him in a position to impose his will in a given situation.” (Max Weber as cited in Janoski, 2005)

Coercion, the use of force explicitly or implicitly, is only one way individuals and groups interact with each other and will inevitably lead to “zero-sum” contests but individuals and groups can also interact through voluntary cooperation, in which case they will be mutual beneficiaries and cast off the doomed outlook that every relationship is that of “exploiter” and “exploited.” Even if a disinterested third party finds the interdependence of various relationships to be unbalanced, so long as it is voluntary each party involved in the interaction will be exchanging some good, service, etc that they value less for one that they value or more or else they would withdrawal their participation, absent coercion.

With this definition of power, it is clear that power is the very essence of politics. “The modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination.” (Weber as cited in Janoski, 2005) The state is power, or coercion, incarnate. The difference between state power and individuals exercising power, though, is that state power has been legitimized by appealing to divine sovereignty, historically, or popular sovereignty, by wrapping itself in the enigmatic “general will.” In all the examples of exploiter/exploited relationships provided in the text one can easily find evidence of explicit coercion of one individual or group over another, which would be condemned by most any observer, or with a little more effort be traced to the implicit coercion of the laws, regulations, influence, and support of the state lingering in the shadows of the interaction, choosing the winners and losers in relationships that are no longer free.

 

Janoski, Thomas. (2005). Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization. Cambridge University Press.

Filed under Philosophy, Politics
Mar 14, 2011