By Fr. Bud Grant
Corporations are deemed citizens; spending money is equated with free speech. These recent judgments by the nation’s supremely activist judges probably sound the death knell of American democracy.
Exxon Mobile, the world’s richest company, could outspend the 2008 presidential campaigns with 1 percent of its $456 billion income. Sure, Exxon will have competition from Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson and Bank of America. No word yet on whether these will have to produce valid birth certificates to prove that they really are American corporate-citizens before they exercise their civil liberty by patriotically spending billions on political campaigns.
How shall we adjust to life in a corporatocracy? Environmen-tally speaking, perhaps things aren’t that bad. “Green” sells and businesses have adjusted images accordingly. Corporations take global warming more seriously than government. We now may not get a cap-and-trade policy through legislation, but many multinational corporations already collaborate in their own systems. Such large-scale initiatives are vastly more effective than the best efforts of the most conscientious green-head, and there aren’t many of them anyway.
Of the 64 percent of eligible Americans who vote, environmental concerns rank only ninth on their legislative priorities, according to the Los Angeles Times. We punish politicians who tell us that to save the planet we will have to pay more taxes and reduce our standard of living.
Moreover, our political systems don’t appear to have the subtleness needed to respond to our earth emergency. It now takes 60 votes, instead of a simple majority, to get anything through the Senate. Even before losing their filibuster-proof majority, Democrats illustrated what a colossal hurdle that is. Consider that the new senator from Massachusetts got 51.9 percent of the vote from the 54 percent of registered voters who bothered to cast ballots, and this was considered “a decisive margin” by the New York Times. Having to corral 60 votes in the Senate means that the government of the people is simply hamstrung.
Let’s let the giants of business take over. Those men (yep, still mostly men, white, East Coast, middle-aged, and with more than one college degree) — have amply demonstrated economic acumen (this isn’t facetious: they talked the government into bailing them out of their self–inflicted, greed-triggered crisis, turned it into a huge profit, and now wail at the injustice of being taxed on their loot-taking: genius). The environment might be better off if managed by big business/government.
Here’s a modest proposal: Catholic schools and universities should abandon their heritage of educating America’s immigrant poor, lifting them into the middle class. Instead they should reach out to the children of the economically elite. Let us train our new masters in the values and principles which they will need in order to protect us from our own ignorant selves. Yes, let’s invest in the 1 percent of Americans who control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth instead of the bottom 80 percent who control just 16 percent or perhaps the top 5 percent who earn 3.58 times the median income.
Sure, the rich-owned government might not provide health care or decent wages, but it will lunge forth in episodic acts of outrageous generosity when, say, an earthquake or typhoon strikes, and then retreat to the business of business-government, which is business, of course.
The environment? Well, the corporatocracy may not be interested in preserving non-useful species, let alone whole ecosystems, but they value resources — literally — and they won’t allow the golden-egg-laying-goose to die. Business giants meet behind closed doors as a matter of course; they are good at deal cutting; they might even be able to salvage something from Copenhagen.
So that’s it. Given that we are likely to be governed by powerful corporations, we might as well try to educate them to their responsibilities as benign oligarchs. Inculcating a green conscience into the elite few — wealth-buffered from the immediate consequences of their decisions — might be easier than convincing the masses that saving the planet will hurt. Let’s just hope that the worthy folks that run Exxon America recognize the necessity of reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.
(Father Bud Grant is an assistant professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)