Economic Democracy

April 22, 2002

KUNM, 89.9 fm, Albuquerque, NM

Since the end of the Cold War, the measure of human progress has been economic. We judge success by economic development, material wealth, money in the bank. More or less forgotten are human rights, organizing labor, or social equality. The themes of the new century are corporate expansion, the balance of imports over exports.

As a result, in modern America the bottom line of an annual report is more important than a corporation’s labor policy or its treatment of women or its concern for the preservation of species. No post-Cold-War consensus yet exists, no theme or story yet has made it to the public imagination or the main stream press in which we sing of community, or the arts, or global interdependence.

It is troubling, further, that most economic institutions, those which matter for economic growth, are not subject to popular influence. Neither you nor I can affect the Federal Reserve Bank or the President’s elite Council of Economic Advisors. These bodies meet in secret. The public is also, and importantly, banned from corporate board rooms, excluded by an almost religious doctrine of property's inviolability.

We are, therefore, at the outset of the new century, in a sort of crisis of governance. The common man or woman has no access to institutions that may decide to raise the price of sugar or gasoline, or to denude the Amazon forests or dry up the Aral Sea. We have archaic procedures to appear in public hearings before the county commissioners or the city council. We can petition the Congress; we can vote; those with lawyers and time can sue in the courts for violation of civil rights or labor rights. But there is no cause of action on behalf of unborn grandchildren, no cause of action on behalf of community; all our suits are on behalf of individuals or corporations. Citizens appearing in county hearings do not affect the federal reserve board or the board of Chevron Oil or decisions to drill on the North Slope or in the Caspian Sea. Any individual's life, anywhere, in the world, may be affected by these decisions, the survival of his or her children may be affected, but he or she is largely powerless to enter the conversation.

The Bush administration has been systematically rolling back, American participation in global treaties. The Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Kyoto Treaty, the law of the sea, treaties to ban land mines, have been rejected. When the interests of the smaller corporate community have been threatened, the larger community, the global community, has been ignored. The United States now also wants to end the United Nations’ system of international war crimes tribunal.

Our preoccupation with corporate gain has left us unbalanced, even callous, to human suffering, to the health and education, the aspirations of the world which are not covered by any profitable objective. That is why the economic institutions, the Federal Reserve, the board rooms, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund must in some way be democratized. Until the decisions which substantially control our welfare are brought under our influence we shall all—all over the world—feel helpless and helplessness is what breeds despair and despair is what breeds terrorism.

If we want to fight terror we are going to have to fight for popular access to power. Everywhere. There is not a military in the world, not a missile in the world, not a bomb in the world, smart enough to root out despair. Only fair participation in the institutions which dominate our lives can do that. The one-word solution to terror is not power but democracy. That includes democracy in those entities which make minions of our Congress and our Presidency and dominate our markets, our trade, our foreign policy, and our general welfare. That includes democracy within the arena of economic power which until now has been off limits to the people.