Donald Trump announced yesterday that the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are once again in play. Is there anyone who doubts that the Koch Brothers are behind those initiatives? Money has always been the mother's milk of politics. But these days, George Monbiot writes, it's dirty money:
The dirtiest companies must spend the most on politics if they are not to be regulated out of existence, so politics comes to be dominated by the dirtiest companies. It applies across the board. Banks designing dodgy financial instruments; pharmaceutical companies selling outdated drugs; gambling companies seeking to stifle controls; food companies selling obesogenic junk; retail companies exploiting their workers; accountants designing tax-avoidance packages: all have an enhanced incentive to buy political space, as all, in a fair system, would find themselves under pressure. The system buckles to accommodate their demands.
There are ways to fix the problem. Monbiot proposes that:
Every party would be entitled to charge the same small fee for membership (perhaps £50 or $50), which would then be matched by the state, with a fixed multiple. Any other political funding, direct or indirect, would be illegal. This would also force parties to re-engage with voters. Too expensive? Not in the least. The corruption of our politics by private money costs us hundreds of times more than a funding system for which we would pay directly. That corruption has led to financial crises caused by politicians’ failure to regulate the banks, environmental crises caused by the political power of the dirtiest companies, and lucrative contracts for political funders; and overcharging by well-connected drugs companies.
There are other equally important reforms such as developing an informed citizenry:
Germany provides a brilliant example of how this could be done: its federal agency for civic education publishes authoritative but accessible guides to the key political issues, organises film and theatre festivals, study tours and competitions, and tries to engage with groups that turn their backs on democratic politics. It is trusted and consulted by millions.
Switzerland offers the best example of the next step: its Smartvote system presents a list of policy choices with which you can agree or disagree, then compares your answers with the policies of the parties and candidates contesting the election. It produces a graphic showing whose position most closely matches your interests. There is some excellent civic technology produced by voluntary groups elsewhere (such as Democracy Club, Crowdpac and mySociety in the UK). But without the funding and capacity of the state, it struggles to reach people who are not already well informed.
All this would cost money, of course. But until our leaders stop being headwaiters to the wealthy, the only thing the rest of us will do is bus the tables.
Image: Keyword Suggestion