To date, honourable – more than honourable, exemplary – approaches to dealing with a disembowelled democracy have argued that money must be removed from the equation. As the US Senator John McCain quite famously argues:
“’Corruption [Webster’s]’, is the impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle… Unlimited amounts of money given to political campaigns have impaired our integrity…”
“Who is corrupted by this system? All of us are corrupted by it because money buys access and access is influence.”
“I am attacking a system. I am attacking a system that has to be fixed.”
“This system makes good people do bad things.”
But what if we’re doing it the wrong way round? The underlying assumption runs as follows: those of us previously satisfied with liberal democracy’s achievements in the field of relatively free markets assume that all we need to do is return liberal democracy to its former integrity by removing the money which pollutes. As McCain himself says: “This system makes good people do bad things.”
Yet what if the reality is actually quite the reverse: what if bad people make a good system do bad things. And instead of taking the money out of the equation, what if we were capable of using this resource to turn the system back to our advantage?
What am I saying exactly? That instead of making markets free again by returning liberal democracy to its former overseeing glories, we might just as easily return liberal democracy to its former overseeing glories by making markets free again.
So what’s the issue with our markets at the moment? Our large corporate infrastructures are responsible only to a microcosm of society: managerialist executive classes and big, equally corporate, shareholders. (The small fry mean nothing in this game. In fact, the small fry, like the rest of us, are simply getting fried.) What if our large corporate infrastructures, as they were and as they are, were obliged by law to focus, instead, directly on enfranchised voters – enfranchised not because of the financial participation they held in that company but rather because of their legal citizenship in the society that company generated most turnover from?
You want to do business in a country? Then you have to justify all your decisions to an annual referendum of the citizens of that country. (Or something like that, anyhow. Something like that.)
What I am looking to achieve with this shift in the frame, this shift in a way of conceptualising business rights and obligations with respect to people, is to see money not as the problem mostly plaguing us but, rather, as a fundamental part of the solution. Nothing long-term useful will be achieved by simply quarantining such a resource – for, in truth, from time immemorial we’ve always needed some kind of shareable medium of exchange. But maybe something long-term useful could be achieved if we looked to harness, in a societally constructive way, the undoubted ability of corporations to impact on the world and its people.
Don’t let us look to demonise anyone in this challenge. As Eugene Robinson points out, of those who might clearly represent the so-called “1%”:
[…] They are just believers in capitalism (which is great) and trickle-down economic policy (which by now should be thoroughly discredited). […]
And whilst some of that “1%” might indeed like to feel itself currently victimised, I’m sure quite a large proportion would – on a sober day – be happy to accept the unfairness of the whole thing to the vast majority of the manifestly poor.
So do let us look to recover systems which have always aimed to bring a semblance of fairness to our economy – not by ring-fencing in purple-prosed pigsties the tool that is “evil” dosh but, instead (if at all possible) by opening up the idea that the influence which money clearly buys at the moment could just as easily be substituted with a liberal democracy of the fair. For the issue is never going to be in the purchase itself – the issue will always be in what some inevitably bad people (not good people inevitably made bad) are making of a system which was (initially and incidentally) once probably quite good.
Let’s not look to stop the traction of money.
Let’s simply look to radically change our purchasing habits; in reality, what we buy.