Corruption Of Us Democracy Through Corporate Interest

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Socio-economic differences that exist under Capitalism have been exploited to advance the interests of the political and economic elite. Democracy no longer follows the will or the needs of the people, but rather all political decisions appear to be defined by corporate interest. Corporate interest has for decades been able to control foreign policy to maximise the profit-making abilities of corporations. Not only this, but the price of drugs that citizens rely on have skyrocketed. This is arguably due to Big Pharma funding the American political parties to ensure the industry remains unregulated. In addition, the existence of private prisons puts profit over the democratic and constitutional rights of citizens combined with the American legal system disproportionately penalising the poor. The further corruption of the media as a pillar of democracy along with the pushed narrative that the population, as individuals, rather than major corporations are responsible for climate change has rendered American democracy a “cruel hoax”(JC Scott, 2014, pp16) in favour of corporate interest.

In recent decades, American foreign policy has become defined by furthering corporate interest at any cost rather than defending the wider interests American interests. The most pertinent example is the Iraq invasion of 2003, whereby Bush hid behind the false pretence that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that posed an international threat to gain access to Iraq’s oil reserves. As well as this, Bush sought to exercise “hegemonic control” over the international order(Danju and Maasoglu, 2012, pp 684). The influence of corporate interest was clearly displayed in Vice President’s Cheney’s association to Halliburton, an oil company. The Pentagon, before the US military launched the invasion, was in talks to give Halliburton (whom Cheney had been a President of) complete access to Iraqi oil fields as part of a $7 billion no-bid deal (Masri, 2003). The lack of legitimate reason behind the invasion violated international law, as stated by UN Secretary General Annan in 2004 (Kramer and Raymond, 2005, pp 446). However, it could be argued that the invasion of Iraq was justified in that Bush reacted to Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait which may well have been interpreted as a threat to global peace and therefore he reacted to make the world a safer place, but left his motives open to suspicion with the heavy involvement of the oil industry. However, another equally valid example is the Guatemalan coup of 1954 whereby the CIA facilitated the overthrow of a directly elected President to protect the interests of a single corporation, United Fruit (Meers, 1992). Arbenz, through a series of socio-economic reforms, attempted to improve lives of the peasants yet had interfered in United Fruit’s business interests through land seizure. United Fruits, as a response, lobbied the US government and according to Taylor-Robinson and Redd (2003, pp78), used media and government contacts to portray Arbenz and his reforms as a “Cold War threat to the United States”, thus forcing the hand of Eisenhower. Allowing corporate interest to dictate US foreign policy clearly evidences the corruption of American democracy, yet equally has dire consequences for the rest of the world who fall victim to corporate greed.

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Furthermore, one of the best reported examples of corporate interest corrupting American democracy is Big Pharma. Pharmaceutical companies for decades have relentlessly pursued increased profit and have shown little regard for the impact that they have on American society. Big Pharma spent, between 1998 and 2014, $3 billion on lobbying the US government to ensure that the pharmaceutical industry remains unregulated in order to make certain that their business model remains highly profitable. Such companies then proceed to donate to the campaigns of candidates who share their economic and business views (Sekerka, Leslie and Comer, 2018, pp6). Such companies spend significant amounts of money advertising to the American public – Boehringer Ingelheim, for example, spent $464 million in 2011 advertising a blood thinner that then produced the company over $§1 billion of profit (Sekerka, Leslie and Comer, 2018, pp6). However, this in itself can corrupt democracy and has contributed to the opioid crisis. The producer of opioid OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, marketed the drug relentlessly as a painkiller and meant the amount of the opioid in circulation increased significantly. However, in 2007 Purdue Pharma was fined heavily for false advertising (Rummans, Burton and Dawson, 2018, pp346) – the American public was put at risk and purposefully misled for the sake of profit. The unregulated nature of the industry has allowed companies to ignore the impact they have on American people and have facilitated the bankruptcy of thousands. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies would argue that a large profit margin is a necessity due to the expensive nature of research – in turn allowing the production of new drugs to combat other diseases that benefits the whole of society. The American government’s negligence towards their own people whom they are meant to serve and protect in favour of the profit of the pharmaceutical industry reflects a clear corruption of democracy through corporate interest.

The American legal and prison system also evidences the impact of corporate influence on the rights of citizens. The private prison population has surged thanks to the war on drugs combined with tougher prison sentences, and has facilitated the rise of prisons that exist purely for the profit of the companies who run them (Mason, 2012, pp2). For example CCA and GEO, the two companies who run 50% of private prisons made, $2.9 billion in profit in 2010 alone (Mason, 2012, pp2) . The profitability of the private prison industry comes from cost-cutting measures through under-paying workers and at the expense of the wellbeing and rights of prisoners (Durham, 1993, page 33) with accusations of excessive brutality, and inadequate access to healthcare (Mason, 2012, pp11). This prioritisation of profit is exemplified through the bail system which disproportionately punishes the poor. Despite the suspension clause in the US constitution protecting habeaus corpus (Steiker, 1994) and the 8th amendment protecting against excessive bail (National Constitution Centre), many prisoners are held indefinitely without a trial date. However, with a shortage of legal representation combined with bail set at an unreasonable level (Brommer, 2013), it results in gross inequality with Professor Douglas Colbert commenting that “for the poor, bail is a jail sentence” (2011, Buffalo Law Review 333). It could be argued on the other hand that private prisons benefit society in that they are able to provide detention centres for a lower cost to the taxpayer than if they were state run – yet this comes at a huge cost to democracy and the human rights of inmates.The clear dismissal of the rights of prisoners and the legal system being rigged against the poor only further points to the corruption of American democracy through corporate interest.

The corruption of American democracy is also evident in the portrayal of the climate crisis and the government’s response (or lack thereof). Speth argues that capitalism cannot comprehend the needs of the environment and describes the economy as “flying blind” in this respect (2009, page 54). The state is best placed to combat such issues and regulate the economy, yet the American government seems reluctant to do so. This can be linked back to the disproportionate influence of the fossil fuel industry in Congress due to intensive lobbying; in 2016, the industry spent over $119 million in lobbying before the Presidential election (Noel, 2017). The industry was rewarded after in Trump’s first 100 days the US was pulled out of the Paris Agreement and “reversed, rolled back or delayed 23 environmental rules” (Noel, 2017). Furthermore, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exposed ExxonMobil during the questioning of a former ExxonMobil Climate Researcher in October 2019 – through her line of questioning she proved that ExxonMobil was aware of the looming climate crisis and worked to undermine the scientific arguments to protect their business. In addition, recent public campaigns have pushed the public to take a more active role in combatting the environmental crisis – such as the campaigns against plastic straws. This is a key example of the individualisation of responsibility, whereby the ordinary person is held to a higher moral standard than corporations who have a far more significant negative impact on the environment – over 50% of global industrial emissions can be traced back to 25 corporate and state producing entities (Griffin, 2017). It could be argued that oil companies are merely providing a necessary service and product to consumers and that therefore the only improvement can be made through personal consumption. However linking back to Speth’s idea of “flying blind”, corporations that are able to manipulate every aspect of society and cannot consider anything outside of their own short-term ability to generate profit are able to corrupt American democracy and blame the people.

A further example of the corruption of American democracy through corporate interest is the treatment of the working class and the media. The media has taken an active role in the demonization of the working class to protect the interests of the corporations who run them, and the oligarchs who control the narrative. This is evidenced through the strikes of the 1990s whereby newspaper articles adopted a position whereby they emphasised the effect on the consumer rather than the plight of the workers – the Washington Post ran a headline that states “hundreds of ….passengers…[spent] a night on cold floors…when drivers abandoned them to strike” (Martin, 2019, pp 9-10). This then stirs up feelings of anger towards the workers among the people despite them not being directly affected by the strike (Martin, 2019, 10) – undermining the striking effort in favour of corporate interest. Such treatment of the working class can be traced back to Reagan and his neoliberalism, for example his response to the PATCO strike in that he established a precedent whereby instead of negotiating with unions he instead replaced the striking workers (De Lange, 2016, 11). This had a continued negative impact on workers and their ability to negotiate– there has since been a large decline in union members and union density has declined by over 50% (De Lenge, 2016,11). Reagan’s contribution to the demonization of the working class goes further with him using the term “welfare queen” to argue for welfare reform. This helped create a narrative that demonised working class women whereby “single motherhood, divorce and a failure to hold a family together” resulted in their state dependency, and that this dependency is a result of the “moral failings” of working-class women (Gilliam, 1999, pp2). Some may argue that in this sense there is ‘no smoke without fire’ in that this caricature of the working class resonates with the public in that it reflects perhaps a proportion of people – yet this is taken to the extreme and results in the demonization of an entire group of already marginalised people. The media, being vital in educating the electorate, is being manipulated to serve the interests of the oligarchs who own them and creating a false narrative that demonises the poorest in society and thus is reflective of the corruption of democracy.

Therefore, in conclusion, the American government’s failure to act to control the influence of corporations within society is symbolic of the crumbling of democracy. The profit-making ability of such companies has become the primary motive for political and corporate decisions alike with little regard for the ordinary American, particularly the working class, who are ruthlessly demonised by the media. The whole system is rigged against them, with drug prices skyrocketing due to corporate greed despite the cries from the public for affordable healthcare. The imminent climate crisis – whereby the ordinary people are held to a higher standard than the corporations whom are the largest contributor to the environmental disaster. This is combined with corporate interest essentially guiding US foreign policy, sacrificing the lives of foreign civilians and the American armed forces for the sake of profit. With the unions weaker than ever, the working class have found themselves and their demands for a better quality of life largely ignored by the current political elites whose focus on re-election and pleasing corporate donors as more important than the people they are supposedly meant to serve. 


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