Sunday, November 27, 2005

Our Democracy is Wearing Thin

842 million suffer from chronic hunger around the globe. That is more than the population of the US, Canada, Japan, Europe combined. In addition, 14,000 children die of hunger every month around the globe.

Forbes magazine reported - in the 19th annual list of the world's billionaires - 691 people control more wealth than 3 billion -half the world’s population - earn in an entire year. This concentration of wealth infects and corrupts the political system, and so we have today, in Congress, 56 lobbyists for every one representative that "we the people" have elected. One percent of households in the United States control more wealth than 95% of households put together. Frances Moore Lappé argues, "Thin democracy is always vulnerable to takeover by narrow unrepresented elite."

Ms. Lappe's understanding is that "supply and demand" is not the main force behind capitalism rather it is “highest return to existing wealth” or in other words, corporate decisions are based on highest return to shareholders, the highest return to the people that already have the most wealth.

Ms. Lappé believes democracy has been reduced to electing others to do for or to us...turning over our decisions to an impersonal or automatic force called the "free market". We are blinded to the degree of concentration of wealth and private power and the consequences of it, due to the illusion of "choice". As consumers, we now have more choice than we ever did, but in reality, ten corporations are responsible for over half the products we choose and Altria tops the list.

Ms. Lappé, unlike so many others, does offer hope. She believes we not only operate out of self-interest and greed, but we also have a need for compassion, fairness, and connection.

Frances Moore Lappé states we need to:

1. "Remove the power of wealth from the political process."
2. "Infuse the power of democracy into the economic process."

Examples that not all is lost:

Costco pays $5 more than Wal-Mart per hour and their labor costs are 40% less than Wal-Mart because they have less turnover.

The socially responsible investment movement is worth $3 trillion dollars today.

Fair trade coffee spread out to 300 campuses and helped 800,000 coffee producing families throughout the world.

Studies show that for every $1 we spend locally $3 more dollars circulate in our economy than if we spent our money elsewhere, that money goes back to a corporate headquarters ten states away.

Regarding monopoly, Franklin Roosevelt said to Congress in April 1938,

“The liberty of democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point that it is stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism.”
--Franklin Roosevelt


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