Institutions Should Serve People

Class war, regardless of which side you may be on, is no way to run a democracy. The goal should not be victory of one side but popular control over all our social institutions,  be they corporations, unions, or government. Institutions must exist only to the extent that they serve people, not vice versa.

References to “class war” have become increasingly common in the U.S. since both the Great Recession of 2008 and Washington’s scandalous responsibility-free bailout of financial corporation criminals. The blatant Supreme Court pandering to the almighty dollar as the final arbiter of “democracy” encompassed in the equally scandalous “corporate personhood” decision in 2010 made “class war” seem all the more appropriate as the theme of 21st century U.S. politics. The revenge of the super-rich against the U.S. working and middle classes since Reagan, i.e., the very successful effort of the super-rich to overthrow the New Deal compromise and return American society to the 1920s, may indeed amount to a class war against the people by the elite. That truth, however, does not mean that class war, even if being forced upon us, is a good thing. Quite the contrary: class war is quite likely to spell the death of democracy. While the people must fight for their freedom, if the hard target of a renewed social consensus be spurned in favor of the easier target of class victory, the result is likely to be dictatorship.

A case in point is the current Michigan battle over the “right to work.” Letting unions continue to force prospective employees to become union members is, in principle, no better than letting corporations force prospective employees to turn their backs on unions. Success in Michigan, for those concerned about strengthening American democracy, should be measured in terms of worker freedom of choice, not the victory of either corporation or union. Both of the latter are institutions governed by powerful elites, and elites when free to choose always choose self-enrichment. The goal of the struggle in Michigan, then, should be the strengthening of worker rights…to bargain with both corporation and union.

Workers need a bill of worker rights. Such a bill should promote institutional transparency and individual freedom of choice. It should balance corporate power with union power. It should aspire to level the table and do so for the purpose of creating a more perfect union for individual people, not for the purpose of giving one institution victory over the other. If the ruler for judging success should be the quality of life for the majority of individuals (over the long term), then the primary guideline for applying this ruler should be measuring the performance of all institutions against the criterion of the degree to which they serve society, i.e., the individuals in society.

The implications of that guideline are profound and require clear enunciation. Perhaps the core implication is that no institution, private or public, has a “right” to exist. People should not serve institutions; institutions should serve people. That, obviously – if you think about it, would entail revolution. Nevertheless, such should be the goal.

The primary obstacle to our democracy seems today to be institutions: not necessarily any specific institution, for the Pentagon, the Imperial White House, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Wall St., and–yes–sometimes even certain unions are all candidates. Modern society simply appears very much at the mercy of institutions, all of which are characterized by lack of transparency, absence of real personal responsibility on the part of officers for their behavior, and disregard for the interests of society.

To make this discussion simple, think in terms of three institutions – corporations, unions, and government. Dictatorship by any of the three would be a miserable situation for virtually everyone. It follows, then, that our goal is not to defeat any particular institution but to allow its existence to the degree that it serve the people and to direct its behavior to that end. A workable version of a social structure promoting that goal would probably require multiple corporations and multiple unions among which individuals may choose guarded by multiple levels of government empowered with strict regulatory powers, all existing in an environment of intense public scrutiny.

Now, I leave you with the following question to ponder: what kind of worker bill of rights would promote this visionary outcome?

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