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May 31, 2015


The Constitution of 1789 and its first Ten Amendments of 1791 set forth specific powers and rules and limitations of government with an executive-legislative-judicial approach in distribution. Subsequent amendments such as women’s suffrage, direct election of senators, prohibition and post-slavery grants of rights to vote have nothing to do with the fundamental powers and limitations of governance granted our government by those two historic documents. Though some of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were of the view that voters should own real estate in order to have the right to vote since those without it could have no possible interest in voting, such a thoughtless limitation was (thankfully) not included in the final document.

Let’s mix history with political philosophy in this part of the essay. The Athenian model of democracy (self-government as opposed to government by divine appointment of royals and their successors, dictatorship, conquest, palace intrigue etc.) fleshed out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights was not perfect. Only free men voted. Subsequent amendments were made which added women and minorities to enjoy the voting franchise and voting age requirements were adjusted downward in another move to expand this precious right to vote bought and paid for by the blood of heroes.

We were moving ahead nicely to the Greek ideal of the demos, but we still had to prove that human societies could self-govern successfully and for the benefit of all over the long term. Bumps along the way to the ascent of democracy include such anomalies as Hitler, Genghis Khan, the Holy Roman Empire, various royals appointed by God and lately, and within our experience, statutory attempts (some successful) by Republicans to limit the voting franchise to those felt most likely to support their cause and that of their superrich patrons who have redefined democracy to mean freedom to exploit and rule the rest of us.

Thus politicians have joined capitalists and libertarians in supporting policies that weaken our democracy (aka the right of self-rule), aided and abetted by such inane holdings of the Supreme Court as McCutcheon and Citizens United, which provide the financial grease apparently designed to undo our democracy and reinvent it into some form of corporate-owned Orwellian version of 1984 where democratic idealism vanishes and is replaced by rule of the oligarchy.

If this or something similar to it happens (if it hasn’t already and is in fact an unnoticed fait accompli), democracy will have fallen from internal rather than external conquest (in what can loosely be called a version of palace intrigue) as money, influence and power take over America via a bloodless coup and our Athenian idea of power to the people (aka democracy) fades away into the mists of history to join such artifacts as the Holy Roman Empire which, as Voltaire noted, was neither holy, Roman nor an empire. We will as citizens face an uncertain future at best when corporations and their managers complete their final purchase of our government and what I thought was our economy. I have no idea of how it will be to live under corporate dictatorship (unless I am living under one now while the last vestiges of democratic rule are systematically destroyed – but all without fanfare lest those with pitchforks catch on).

I am no Voltaire or Nostradamus, far from it, but I think it is safe to say that this new system (literally purchased from the ruins of the old one in which we now live) will fail as a viable economic system even if it succeeds in its ultimate objective of extracting every last penny of profit available for the taking in that brave new world of untrammeled greed, since as Piketty noted with his r > g  formulaic conclusion based on three centuries of research, capitalism will fail as capitalists will have become victims of their own success with no new fields to conquer.

End of philosophic/historical/futuristic discussion for this part. All is not yet lost.  In Part II I will discuss how well capitalism is working for all of us these days and what if any choices we may still be able to make in selection of an economic system or refinement of an old one that can work within a democracy. Stay tuned.    GERALD    E

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