In a comment on my recent piece on Bernie Sanders and the attack on our democracy represented by the U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United, one reader attacked Sanders as a communist. In response, another notes:
There are some words you just can’t use in the U.S. “Communism” is (one). “Socialism” is right behind it.
Better words are “Prioritarianism,” or its better-known cousin, “Utilitarianism.” Utilitarianism argues that human beings and their governments should make decisions based on the greatest benefit (increase in pleasure/decrease in pain) for the greatest number of people. Prioritarianism adds the wrinkle that benefits should be weighted toward those experiencing greater pain (the less fortunate). The Citizens United decision clearly does not promote the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. It promotes decisions that benefit a small number of already well off corporations, their principals, and their stockholders.
(I’m) not sure what the framers of the Constitution had in mind, but I doubt the Citizens United decision adheres to their intent.
Precisely, my friend.
The framers had extremely tight controls on corporations, as they knew very well the dangers of handing over huge amounts of power to “fictitious persons” with their considerable fortunes behind them. I’m by no means an expert on legal history, but I’ve come to learn a bit about this particular issue. As one of dozens of examples I could provide, in the early days of our nation, the formation of a corporation needed to be specifically and carefully petitioned, and, if such petition was in fact granted, the entity was formed for an extremely specific purpose and time-frame, at the conclusion of which it was dissolved immediately unless there was an extremely compelling reason for its continuation.
I won’t bore you any further with the details, but trust me, our Founding Fathers would be totally nauseated if they could see how the perversion of the laws regarding corporations have deeply marred the democratic republic for which they fought so hard and made so many sacrifices. Perhaps you know someone who made similar sacrifices over these last 236 years; I know I do.
Coincidentally, I was discussing the relevance of this just a few hours ago with a friend who wanted me to update him on the energy scene. It all comes down to this: We will have clean energy eventually, not necessarily because it’s the right thing, but simply because we’re actually very, very close to grid-parity, i.e., the point at which the cost of an incremental megawatt-hour of electricity from solar or wind (or a perhaps some of the other flavors) will be the same as that of coal. No, we’re not weeks away or months away, but we are years, or perhaps a decade away.
The question isn’t if we’re going to get there. The question is how much damage we will have done to the planet in the process. And here’s where Citizens United comes in. As long as the corporate powers in the energy space can spend as much as they want to influence our elections, thus preserving the status quo, you can bet that the replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy will be delayed as…long…as…possible. All of this because the (short-term) winners are the executive teams and mega-shareholders of the Chevrons of the world, who, for some reason I don’t claim to understand, put a greater priority on their earnings per share than on the well-being of the seven billion denizens of our small blue planet.
Sorry if I come off as short on sympathy for that way of thinking about our rights and responsibilities as human beings here on Earth in the 21st Century, but it honestly makes no sense to me whatsoever. I’m a capitalist, and I like money as much as the next guy, but I’m not interested in getting rich at the expense of your lungs.