Limiting Power

Credit where credit is due: not only has the Trump administration rekindled civic engagement (scholars tell us that the number of people on the streets protesting exceeds the number who protested the Vietnam War), but his accidental ascension to the Presidency has highlighted the need to revisit constitutional provisions that no longer serve their intended purposes.

The problem, of course, is that We the People are too divided and too historically and civically illiterate to be trusted with the task of constitutional revision.

When–and if–the time ever comes that we are capable of making careful revisions to our foundational document, there are a number of issues to consider. The most obvious, of course, is the Electoral College, but there are also several aspects of federalism that should be reconsidered in light of contemporary technology and transportation. For example, there is no reason elections should continue to be administered by the states. A national, nonpartisan agency could maintain a national registration database, ensure standardized procedures and hours, and dramatically curtail partisan game-playing of the sort we’ve seen in Georgia and the incompetence Hoosiers experienced in Porter County, Indiana.

There is an even more significant assumption that we  need to re-think.

The American Constitution limits the power of the state. It was written at a time when governments were the entities wielding the most power, and focusing on the state made sense because constraining power was the whole point. The protection of personal autonomy–our individual right to direct our own lives, so long as we don’t harm the person or property of others and so long as we are willing to let others do the same–was the goal, and it required restraints on power.

I thought about that when I read this article from Common Dreams. Today, many governments are less powerful than multi-national corporations.

As corporations in the United States and around the world continue to reap record profits thanks to enormous tax cuts, widespread tax avoidance schemes, and business-friendly trade and investment policies, an analysis by Global Justice Now (GJN) published Wednesday found that the world’s most profitable companies are raking in revenue “far in excess of most governments,” giving them unprecedented power to influence policy in their favor and skirt accountability.

Measured by 2017 revenue, 69 of the top 100 economic entities in the world are corporations, GJN found in its report, which was released as part of an effort to pressure the U.K. government to advance a binding United Nations treaty that would hold transnational corporations to account for human rights violations.

“When it comes to the top 200 entities, the gap between corporations and governments gets even more pronounced: 157 are corporations,” GJN notes. “Walmart, Apple, and Shell all accrued more wealth than even fairly rich countries like Russia, Belgium, Sweden.”

As difficult as it can be to subject governments to the rule of law, constitutions and legal systems do provide mechanisms to hold them accountable.  By contrast, it is incredibly difficult for citizens to hold powerful corporations to account.  Increasingly, as the article notes, trade and investment deals allow corporations to demand that governments do their bidding rather than the other way around.

“From a coal mine in Bangladesh that threatens to destroy one of the world’s largest mangrove ecosystems to hundreds of people at risk of displacement from a mega-sugar plantation in Sri Lanka, corporations and big business are often implicated in human rights abuses across Asia” and the world, Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific noted in a blog post on Wednesday, describing the U.N. treaty as a potential “game-changer.”

“Companies are able to evade responsibility by operating between different national jurisdictions and taking advantage of corruption in local legal systems, not to mention the fact that many corporations are richer and more powerful than the states that seek to regulate them,” Friends of the Earth concluded. “We must right this wrong.”

The question, of course, is how?

It is becoming increasingly clear that massive reforms to global law and governance will be required if human liberty is to survive the changes that increasingly confront us. Given the numbers of people who have an overwhelming fear of change and who respond by embracing tribalism and autocracy, the odds of a successful “reboot” look pretty daunting.


  1. Individualism and autonomy are important and are written into the Constitution for a reason. For everyone has individual rights to property. If we forget the mistakes of history that have been discussed in books like the Gulag archipelago and in the life of Ivan Denisovich Then there really is no reason for a constitution that allows us to be separate from other countries and or allow us to have separate ruling states within.
    It is the ideals of the west and its use of capitalism and religious values that has allowed us to influence most the rest of the world. Those who are most impoverished in this country, we have heard over and over again that they are richer than those people in other countries will ever be able to helped in other countries because there are not safety nets.
    Each state has lost its autonomy with the acceptance of the 17th amendment. The United States is less of a republic and which states can wield the check and balance of an over arching federal government. The two party system if not kept in check by each state or entity will fail our government and it’s ability to secure the individual rights with in each state.
    On the other hand there seems to be reasoned with what Professor kennedy is stating. The huge political clout that large corporations have overshadows the small company in Hometown political influence.
    Recently there have been complaints about Amazons move into New York which gave it a $2 billion tax cut or entitlement to move there. This is a large corporation that is not going to pay its fair share. many other tech companies coming to impoverished inner-city areas increase the amount of rent creating more homelessness.

  2. As Einstein noted, the answer to how will not be summoned by the same level of consciousness which created the problem.

    He also noted that capitalism was evil for what it does to the human spirit and it has infiltrated our public school systems. We don’t need to all attend Christian schools to reverse the trends in society…we need less capitalism which goes against our instincts of being both independent and social creatures.

    With market-based economies, competition rules. This pits humans against humans. Winners and losers. Workers can’t win because it’s more critical that shareholders profit and CEOs rewarded.

    Look at productivity gains…all the increases in the last four decades have gone to shareholders and CEOs disproportionately. This same mentality is now harming smaller local businesses because they don’t understand that if you have a shortage of employees, you need to raise your wages. They say all we can pay is $10.00 an hour. Well, if everyone else is paying $10.00, guess what?

    And despite capitalism destroying the human spirit, the lack of social responsibility destroys communities and the globe. Economists refer to these as externality costs…pollution. Take a drive around Indiana in all the cities where industry pulled out once they got the green light to exploit other countries. What did they leave behind?

    The young progressives are already making a positive impact in Congress, and it’s not even January. They refuse to corporate donations so guess what they can do that corporate-owned democrat cannot?

    One last note, look at the Amazon/Bezos deal cut by New York. It’s pathetic! One smart Democrat immediately stepped forward to say, if we have billions to give Amazon, then we have billions to pay off student loans for our students. He quickly introduced a bill to do just that. Now, even rabid bigots in Indiana will start thinking…”Hey, I’ve got a $40,000 bill owed to Sallie Mae for educating my child, why can’t Indiana do that?”

    That’s how you start changing the game…

  3. It always gets down to this: the life and death struggle between the powerful and the meek, the rich and the poor, the greedy and the charitable, the ruthless and the honest. Today’s battle is shaping up to be between the capitalists and the socialists. However, neither political party in this country seems to grasp this… yet.
    Meanwhile, the birthrate in developed countries around the world has gone flat, in some countries it has fallen below what is needed to replace the existing populations. Think about the ramifications to world economics that is producing.

  4. “It always gets down to this: the life and death struggle between the powerful and the meek, the rich and the poor, the greedy and the charitable, the ruthless and the honest. Today’s battle is shaping up to be between the capitalists and the socialists. However, neither political party in this country seems to grasp this… yet.”

    Theresa’s comments are on target this morning; they could be condensed down to simply “follow the money”. But do we “follow the money” back to it’s source of control or forward to the source of the money itself, taken by those in control? Maybe we could find some answers to our questions regarding current “leadership” by watching reruns of “All In The Family”. The Meathead had all the right questions regarding politics and religion and Archie certainly provided answers…answer which today’s Republican evangelicals would understand and agree with.

    As for the Electoral College; it was enacted to protect the country from being taken over by such as Trump and his supporting administration and Congress, but enough states have wrested control from voters and it is now used as a weapon turned on the country.

    “As difficult as it can be to subject governments to the rule of law, constitutions and legal systems do provide mechanisms to hold them accountable. By contrast, it is incredibly difficult for citizens to hold powerful corporations to account.”

    Apparently the founding fathers assumed we would always have a government which would use the mechanisms they provided to maintain accountability. They, even those founding fathers who owned slaves, could not foresee the Legislature and the Executive divisions putting this entire country on the slave block to the highest bidder…and that the Judicial Powers established in Article III would not be the ones who uphold the clearance sale.

  5. It all comes down to getting the non-voters to vote, then stopping the attacks on the franchise. Only then can we begin to make the changes that are necessary.

  6. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that we not only need to bring our Constitution up to date but that with the impact of globalization we need a global constitution, especially given a planet that is heating and flooding. Thus what happens in Brazilian rainforests and mining near salmon streams are concerns of the whole world and not just those in the immediate vicinity.

    Multinational corporations, of course, would denounce such an arrangement because it would remove their opportunities to exploit local politics with bribes in one form or another. (See the New York-Amazon “win” just announced.) National politicians would also be defanged with an enforceable world constitution as well, so I understand that my suggested global constitution may now be labeled a pipedream what with cries of sovereignty from national politicians who do not want to lose their powers in governing individual states. Nonetheless, I think it a possibility as the oceans further acidify, Miami is underwater and oxygen is at a premium. We humans are not inclined to take definitive action until the emergencies are in our faces, but in this case, a tardy response may be too late to remedy the out of control emergency.

    So, a reconfiguration of our Constitution in need of repair to fit the times? Yes, and while we go about it, how about UN discussions on the possibility of a global constitution that also fits the times, as it were? Meanwhile, the terminal capitalists among us will be investing in the Colorado Rockies for the housing rush to high ground and the good fishing in Lake Kansas.

  7. Gerald,

    “We humans are not inclined to take definitive action until the emergencies are in our faces, but in this case, a tardy response may be too late to remedy the out of control emergency”

    Targeting environmental problems are virtually impossible to control, for many of the reasons you have pointed out. That’s why, relentlessly, attacking Donald Trump is so important. He’s an exception. He’s easy to figure out. He isn’t complicated at all. Thus, he’s about the easiest political target to be found.

    Most of us know, Pence wouldn’t be so easy. At the moment, he’s now the world’s leading spokesman for human rights. What, a great man?

  8. The Constitution is by no means perfect, but it was not intended to be the only source of laws. Given the debacle in Florida in 2000, Federal Laws could have been enacted to determine the various aspects of voting which would have applied to all states. A paper trail would be a must.

    Those of us on the “Left” – Democratic Socialists have for decades warned of the power of Corporatism and it’s ascendancy not only in the USA, but also World Wide. Marine Corp General Smedley Butler back in the 1930’s provided the information of how the US Military was used to impose the Corporate Rule of Law in Latin America and China.

    Various trade deals, like NAFTA were essentially written by and for Corporations, with Corporate Politicians in both parties all on board. We have a Republicrat Party, when it comes to Corporate Welfare, in this respect we are no different than some Third World or Banana Republic where the Politicians can be bought off.

    The latest outrage is the Amazon Deal.
    Using the hashtag #HQ2Scam, journalists and critics condemned New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam—all Democrats—for their desperate attempts to woo Amazon with tax breaks at the expense of their constituents.

    New York offered more than $1.5 billion in “performance-based” tax breaks to the company, while Virginia offered $573 million, with officials from both states applauding the company’s promise to bring jobs to both states.

    Journalist Hamilton Nolan wrote: “The problem is that as soon as one place offers a company tax breaks, everywhere has to,” Nolan wrote. “The only way for public—you and me and every other taxpayer and city and state government who all have much more pressing things to spend money on than bribes to Fortune 500 companies—to win this game is not to play. Nobody can play. The way to accomplish this is simple: We need a federal law banning these sorts of subsidies.”

    You would think if we had “fair and equal” tax laws applying to all a deal like Amazon’s would be illegal, i.e., Patty the Painter or Carl the Carpenter will not get a deal like Amazon.

    What you end up with when you have this Corporate Welfare, is the large Corporations evade paying their taxes. Shortfalls in tax collection result in a deterioration of the commons as we Proles cannot pay all the taxes that are necessary to have a modern, well educated society.

  9. At least the African-American community is starting to wake-up, I’ve just read:

    “What The Hell Do You Have To Lose?”Trump’s War on Civil Rights by Juan Williams, longtime writer for the Washington Post and NPR, and now a columnist for The Hill (Public Affairs, New York, 2018) p.260-261:

    “Of course, even the litany of racist behavior described in these pages cannot fully capture Trump’s lack of respect for people of color. It is outside the scope of this book to deal with the administration’s lack of response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico and with Trump’s desire to turn away immigrants of color from what he infamously called “shithole countries.” These pages have not dealt with his planned deportation of Dreamers, young people whose parents legally brought them into the country. Yet those stories all reinforce the picture of a president who has no concern, for people who aren’t white.”

    “In truth, much of America’s progress toward equality was made possible by a historic civil rights movement. People, mostly outside the government and mostly black, won hard fought fights to end segregationist laws and pass the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act, which are now essential parts of America’s history. So many victories were powered by the smarts and the personal sacrifice of people like Robert Weaver, A. Philip Randolph, James Meredith, Everett Dirksen, Robert Moses, and James Baldwin.”

    “That’s why the answer to “What the hell do you have to lose? is simple. A LOT. FAR MORE , IT APPEARS, THAN HE WILL EVER KNOW.”

    As a companion book, I would also recommend “Why Men Rebel” by Ted Robert Gurr (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1970.

    “Men’s resort to political violence is in part unreasoning, but does not occur without reason. Ignorance is almost always among its causes: sometimes ignorance of its consequences by those who resort to it, more often ignorance by those who create and maintain the social conditions that inspire it. But political violence is COMPREHENSIBLE, which should make it neither necessary or inevitable, but capable of resolution.” p. 359

    com-pre-hend(kam’ pre hend’, -pri) vt. [< L com-, with + prehendere, seize] 1. To grasp mentally; understand 2. to include; take in; comprise—com'pre-hen'si-ble adj.—com'pre-hen'sion n.

    To quote Gerald in his recent post on the environment: "We humans are not inclined to take definitive action until the emergencies are in our faces, but in this case, a tardy response may be too late to remedy the out of control emergency."

  10. “The Constitution is by no means perfect, but it was not intended to be the only source of laws.”

    Monotonous; very wise words, thank you. Like those who feel the need to remind us that Social Security was never meant to be our only source of income in our later years; but greed became a way of control for those in control…and here we are!

  11. 2/3 of each house to propose amendment 3/4 states to ratify more than 1/2 states over represented now=electoral college going nowhere. 2000 election=congress failing exercise constitutional power to judge election. Dems could have exercised the power and made Gore POTUS. Congress rules on validity of electors. See 1876 election. Point: Work with rules we have and have the courage to use them. Other remedy would be a constitutional convention. Which has a closer number of states having called for one than anyone notices. BUT , can you imagine such a thing in today’s USA ?

  12. JoAnn @ 10:17 am, back in the day Social Security could be supplemented in a variety ways: Union Pensions, Corporate Defined Benefit Pensions, and your own personal savings, IRA’s, etc., were add-ons.

    Extra disposable income was a necessity to build the so-called nest egg. Unions guaranteed a living wage, plus negotiated for future pensions and heath care. Thus, Unions had to be a target for Corporate America.

    Corporations also found the bankruptcy laws were friendly to off-loading the defined benefit pensions. My wife’s employer pulled this trick as a result she lost her pension through the company, even though they ended up re-organizing and loading the pension on the Feds via the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

    President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence have both found the bankruptcy laws friendly to the point of limiting current and future financial liabilities. Cleanup of Pence family gas stations cost Indiana more than $20 million.

  13. Gosh, I’ll bet Karl Marx did some hard pondering over these issues too. Todd’s suggestions and comments regarding capitalism are dead, solid on the mark for the outcomes of capitalism as predicted by Marx. The corporations can’t help themselves. The universities keep spitting out cost accountants and economists that sing the song of profit at the expense of everything else.

    The right-wingers scream socialism at every turn. They don’t know what they’re talking about, of course, but it still scares off the un-educated citizen and voter. I’m afraid we’ve crossed the Rubicon with capitalism and there will be no embracing of rational and egalitarian economy or a modification of our ruling document in the foreseeable future.

  14. My suggestion may seem simplistic, but it would work nonetheless.

    “Corporations are people, my friend,” said Mitt Romney, with the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, to which one wag answered, “I’ll believe they are people when one of them is executed in Texas.”

    Therein lies the answer. Prosecute corporations like people. No more allowing incorporation to shield the individual criminals who hide within the corporate shell. No more protection from RICO laws which would allow all the ill-gotten gains/worldly goods to be stripped from these heartless, evil capitalist swine. The solution is simple. Now we just need the guts to do it.

  15. Ditto to Vernon. The issue is, can capitalism be managed giving everyone a decent life. Government has the tools but lacks the will.

  16. Theresa: It always gets down to this: the life and death struggle between the powerful and the meek, the rich and the poor, the greedy and the charitable, the ruthless and the honest. Government in a nutshell. Thanks.

    One thing that I see often on line are authoritarians worried about NWO (the new world order) which they see as a dystopian vision of federalism on steroids, world government taking over for all nations and authoritarian special interests pushed even further out of their control.

    The fact that 3/4 of the 200 top economies in the world are transnational corporations rather than nations (does that consider the most wealthy individuals also?) gives a glimps of both how a NWO would look, how successful the spread of oligarchy has been, and where the power is even today in the assumed absence of a NWO. Davos replacing the UN.

    If those 157 out of 200 entities are driven as corporations by the one rule of capitalism, make more money regardless of the impact on any others, where in the direction that the world is now going do things next come to rest? It seems that the answer to that is everyone working for a super CEO of a global corporation that has swallowed all of its competition including the competition for labor. Orwell fell short in the dystopian department. It would be Big Brother without any competition for power. Democracy and freedom would become antiquities along with competition.

    Now that is dystopia.

  17. John Neal, “can capitalism be managed giving everyone a decent life.” I say that based on the past the answer is NO. And then there is the growing problem of shrinking populations in developed countries. How does capitalism allow for the growth of companies and corporations without population growth? IMO much of the corruption of business and thus government is due to corporate leaders seeing only the avenue of cheating and lying and laying waste the environment as their way to produce a profit now. It sure isn’t the gaining of new customers.

  18. Meanwhile in South Carolina a long article in today’s Post & Courier points out that although we are fourth from the bottom in education, inflation adjusted teacher’s pay is 7% below where it was ten years ago. And last year we lost 1700 teachers who believe that their profession is not meant to be eleemosynary. Few teachers are inspired by the constitutionally provided assurance of a “minimally adequate” education system, and few legislators have any interest in fixing the problem.

    Still we continue to draw successful businesses such as Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, Boeing and Michelin to our state. Presumably, these companies do not need educated workforces or good schools for the children of their employees. Or perhaps they are willing to forego these considerations for the sheer joy of paying workers $14/hour to do $25/hour jobs. In Boeing’s case, the motive for a move was to avoid union negotiations in Seattle – guaranteed by SC politicians not to be a problem.

    Each of these corporations received handsome tax avoidance packages for coming to SC and each mistakenly thought that its money and power would afford it a voice in making the state a little less backward. Wrong! Both Presidential-Prospect-In-Her-Own-Mind Haley and the currently clueless Governor MacMaster have ignored the repeated pleas of these corporations for improved infrastructure and schools. Here we mostly focus on how to improve the lives of politicians and, if possible, keep them out of jail. That’s a full-time job.

    Although there are a lot of good people in the state, few are ever asked to weigh in on how it should be run.

  19. It’s always been true that in demand workers are mobile and interchangeable workers are stuck in place. That’s a boon to most labor intensive corporations.

    Hire locals cheaply, pay the information workers enough to attract them nationally.

  20. Megacorporations are in many senses quasi-state actors already. Remember when Exxon (under Tillerson, remember HIM?) essentially had its own foreign policy on Russian oil, in opposition to the nation-state (the USA) hosting it? When the US is relegated to pressing China to rein in the abusive working conditions engendered by “domestic” corporations like Apple and Nike because they are beyond the control of government? When Walmart crushes local competition and goes on to replace hundreds of fulltime living-wage jobs with dozens of part time McJobs?

    There are not enough sensible people in this country to propose workable constitutional fixes to the problems that ail us, and the corporate powers-that-be will pull out all stops to prevent any changes that disadvantage them. Essentially this means that the USA is forever condemned to operate under a constitution designed for an isolated 18th century agrarian economy. IMO the Slavery Amendments were the only ones actually required to change US society; the rest (e.g. income tax, women’s suffrage) were needed to overcome conservative opposition to doing the right thing.

    The 2018 election results are a huge relief to me for many reasons. One that has not received a lot of discussion is that the GOP was only a few states away from being able to call a Constitutional Convention and propose amendments, or even rewrite it completely, without Congressional input at all. Of course one could see such an activity shepherded by the likes of the Koch Brothers for their exclusive benefit, and the GOP legislatures who called the convention would be capable of approving the result regardless of the will of the people. Admittedly this was a fringe possibility but at this point I’m not willing to put ANYTHING past the GOP.

  21. While global power in corporations transcends national borders, I think there are more important issues to consider in evaluating the power of the executive branch of government. How is it possible for the president to impose tariffs without Congressional approval? How is it possible for the president to wage war and spend trillions to support these conflicts, without Congressional approval? With Trump as president, we are witnessing the destruction of alliances and economic trading partnerships without Congressional oversight. Force the president to submit to Congress before acting in ways that destroy decades of hard work and negotiation. The power of the executive branch needs to be reduced.

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