Taking the Risk Out of Democracy

Ever wonder why corporations spend billions on business friendly propaganda each and every year?

Because it works, that’s why. Corporate propaganda has succeeded in convincing a majority of Americans that their interests lie with corporations–the business of America is business–and any attempt to ameliorate this state of affairs is tantamount to socialism, and as such is un-American.

The United States is nominally a representative democracy, however corporate interests have an outsized influence on the policies we enact. These corporations spend enormous amounts of money to get the American people to identify free enterprise (meaning state subsidized private power with no infringement of managerial prerogatives) as the American way. In addition to the day in and day out pro-business advertising and PR, corporations have waged intensified propaganda campaigns, deploying the term free enterprise as a means of gaining support for corporate policies.

I was reminded of the power of this business propaganda when I read the account of a tour guide at a historical slave plantation.

“One theme that came up with some regularity was that folks would assume that since so-and-so was very wealthy, he was probably pretty good as a slaveholder to work for. The angle that they were coming from — and I think this is something that they were taught, not that they came up with — was that if a person had the means to “care” well for enslaved people, then that’s what they would use that money for. In some ways, that’s such a sweet, naive thing to think, right?

The rich slave owner as a benevolent patron is this stereotype that people have been taught without realizing it. It’s so weird to think that a rich slave owner would be nicer to work for. If you think about the bigger companies today, they’re usually the worst to their employees. It’s so backwards. It’s almost tantamount to saying that rich people are nicer, and then, the converse, that poor people are meaner. It’s such a weird thing.”

Except it’s not a weird thing at all from a corporate point of view.

It’s money well spent.

Alex Carey wrote a book about business propaganda, entitled Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. Carey argued that the 20th Century has seen three related developments; ‘the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism uses Carey’s Taking the Risk Out Of Democracy to contrast a New York Times article about why Americans don’t take vacations, and makes some interesting and salient points about the effectiveness of corporate propaganda.

“I’ve been in what little spare time I have reading history, particularly on propaganda. One must read book is by Alex Carey. Carey taught psychology in Australia, and he depicts the US as the breeding ground for the modern art of what is sometimes more politely called the engineering of consent…Anyone who has studied the history of public relations in the US will not only tell you it works, but also will be able to provide numerous examples, starting with the Creel Committee in World War I, which turned a pacifist US into rabid German-haters in a mere 18 months. But Fischer would rather appeal to Americans’ vanity and exceptionalism. Carey, by contrast, documents the intensity of messaging efforts, the channels used, and tracks how polls and headlines changed. And contra Fischer, he finds Americans to be particularly susceptible to propaganda (by contrast, Australians’ native skepticism of authority, keen sense of irony, and strong community orientation gives them a wee bit of resistance, although Carey described how they were being worn down too).”

One of the most pernicious falsehoods promulgated has been the idea that only the government is capable of oppression, while ignoring the potential for corporate tyranny. Looking around at our corporate controlled world this is obviously not the case.  The real question is who rules, to what degree, and to whose benefit? Conservatives and neoliberals want to eliminate government as much as possible, to let the market rule. But we’ve seen the result of that. America, today, is much closer to a plutocracy than a democracy. Corporations write our laws, buy our elections, and control the political focus.

We’ve had a sea change in the way we Americans view the world thanks to this ever present corporate propaganda, most visibly in the embrace of neoliberalism by economists and policy makers. The idea that governments should protect citizens against the excesses of free enterprise has been replaced with the idea that government should protect business activities against the excesses of democratic regulation. Thus, corporations have succeeded in taking the risk out of democracy, in that we the people pose no danger to their agenda.

It’s their world. We just live in it

 

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