Amazon’s electioneering in Seattle is extra proof that capitalism and democracy are incompatible

This yr’s election for Seattle metropolis council was a referendum — not on any challenge or get together, however on the flexibility of Amazon, the 13th largest company on Earth, to control public opinion and subvert democracy as a way to preserve political management over its hometown.

Amongst all seven metropolis council seats that had been up for election, there was a pro-Amazon candidate and a candidate that favored populist will over the wants of huge firms.  Amazon spent cash to assist seven totally different candidates, one for every open seat. As you may count on, the entire candidates Amazon backed had been neoliberals — a superb, normal political time period to refer to those politicians’ collective perception in social liberalism (so long as it would not intrude with the revenue margins of firms) and financial coverage of deferring to the ruling elite and their consultant-class lackeys on such coverage issues.

Neoliberalism is an anti-democratic political place; it presupposes that the liberal capitalist democratic order maintains some steady state when the ruling class pulls the levers that govern society, and retains the pesky plenty barred from interfering of their accumulation of capital. “[Neoliberalism] means the dismantling of publicly owned business and deregulation of capital, particularly finance capital; the elimination of public provisions and the thought of public items; and essentially the most fundamental submission of every thing to markets and to unregulated markets,” scholar Wendy Brown instructed Salon in 2016.

The votes are nonetheless being tallied, however comparatively talking, it appears Amazon’s electioneering was partly profitable: three pro-Amazon candidates appear all however sure to win election to metropolis council, three appeared destined to lose, and one race remains to be very a lot up within the air, the competitors between District three incumbent Councilmember Kshama Sawant and her competitor Egan Orion.

But three (or 4) victories out of seven is an effective consequence for Amazon when you think about their bang-to-buck ratio. Amazon’s revenues final yr had been $232.eight billion; they spent about $1.5 million backing neoliberal candidates in Seattle, by means of donating to an Orwellian-named political motion committee (PAC) referred to as Civic Alliance for a Sound Economic system. $1.5 million might sound like rather a lot to you or me, however it’s pocket change for Amazon — 0.00064% of the corporate’s 2018 revenues. That is the equal of somebody with a $100,000 annual wage donating 64 cents to a political trigger. 

Vote tallies proceed to return in, however as of publication, three-term Councilmember Kshama Sawant is working just a few hundred votes behind Amazon-sponsored Egan Orion, and she or he could be unseated. That will swimsuit Amazon’s pursuits properly: Sawant’s coverage platform was that of a left-populist, and she or he, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was working to construct a democratic coalition to battle for the financial rights of the plenty over the “rights” of firms like Amazon. These embody Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimal wage, which Sawant helped usher in; the continued battle for complete lease management; and taxes on large firms to assist pay for housing and homelessness providers. This sort of folks energy terrifies firms and their CEOs, preferring neoliberal candidates who imagine in rule by the elite.

All of that is to say {that a} company’s huge sums of cash, when invested in public relations corporations to craft a propaganda message, work fairly properly. Trendy firms perceive that individuals’s minds are malleable; one solely wants the correct dosage of industrial-psychological manipulation to sway public opinion. 

The truth that the sum of money that Amazon sank into the race spent was a pittance (to them) is vital. It implies that they know now how a lot it prices to control public opinion for their very own acquire. Spending twice as a lot and even ten occasions as a lot on the following metropolis council race would nonetheless represent a rounding error to their accountants — as consequential to Amazon’s checking account because the lack of a single drop of blood is to a blue whale. 

A part of the philosophical justification for democracy is that the plenty are intelligent sufficient to determine what’s greatest for them and what is not. However cash is mostly the figuring out consider who wins an election — or extra particularly, the flexibility of cash to pay for propaganda. One of the vital but under-appreciated tutorial research of the previous half-decade, a paper by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen titled “How Cash Drives US Congressional Elections,” discovered a linear correlation between a candidate’s battle chest and their likelihood of victory for all Senate and Home elections from 1980 via 2012. On this chart from their paper, the horizontal axis exhibits the distinction between the Democratic and Republican candidates’ marketing campaign cash. The vertical axis exhibits the share of votes the Democrat gained over their GOP opponent. The correlation is outstanding.

 “The conclusion must be that spending by main political events is certainly strongly associated to the proportion of votes they win and has been for so long as we’ve knowledge,” the authors write.

That is all to say that propaganda works extremely properly — and the sorts of propaganda that wealthy folks and business have the capability to fund can sway folks routinely to vote in opposition to their greatest pursuits. To make use of a loaded time period, “brainwashing” is actual, nevertheless it would not appear like we expect it does, creating vortices over our eyes as we stare upon a candidate. It is only a operate of cash.

Once I was a child, I bear in mind my liberal household crowing about conservatives “voting in opposition to their greatest curiosity.” Nevertheless it’s not merely conservatives that do that. There is a choice bias for the sorts of liberal candidates that make it previous the Democratic primaries, or the events that we’re “allowed” to vote for; all of that is managed, roughly, by the cash and affect of those wealthy folks. Industrial psychology is so refined, so sinister, that it isn’t in any respect troublesome (with cash) to control the populace en masse such that they vote for the ruling class’s most popular candidates, whether or not neoliberal liberals or neoliberal conservatives.

This all goes again to a phrase that is develop into in vogue recently: post-truth. We’re instructed we’re in a brand new epoch of American civilization, the post-truth society, the place many people deny details as a result of we’ve chosen a distinct social media actuality bubble, or as a result of our pricey chief tells us so. We frequently hear that this phenomenon was uniquely created by Trump and his underlings who aspire to be like him, however notably by his distinctive skill to confidently fabricate details, concepts and insurance policies with out blinking.

But this Trumpian trait, I believe, is extra a operate of being a wealthy asshole who has been surrounded his total life by yes-men than it is because of some form of nascent political transformation. All billionaires and CEOs are uniquely satisfied of their godliness and self-righteousness; simply have a look at Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, who suppose that they alone have the fortitude and knowledge to guide humanity to the celebs; or Mike Bloomberg or Tom Steyer, who really feel they’re uniquely located to determine our political fortunes for us. No, the post-truth society precedes Trump, or any of those males who fund (or develop into) political candidates. It’s one thing innate to capitalism itself.

Democracy and capitalism are incompatible inasmuch because the wealthy are given free license to make use of public relations groups and entrepreneurs — propagandists, largely — to control and dictate public opinion, and sway many to vote in opposition to their greatest curiosity. They, and their suppose tanks and assistants and corporations, inform us what political positions are reasonable, and that are not possible; which candidates are viable or not; which future paths are doable for humanity. It is rather troublesome to suppose past the specter of the longer term they set out for us via their media. This extends to artwork, notably movie and video video games — however that story is one greatest saved for a distinct article.

In sure western democracies, there’s marginally extra management over the flexibility of the wealthy to affect elections. However the influence of stated rules are marginal at greatest; even when the wealthy cannot give to candidates, they usually personal papers or media retailers, and might, in different methods, subtly dictate the political actuality of a nation-state. In different phrases, you possibly can mood the methods through which capitalism and inequality distort and undermine democracy; however you can not get rid of it utterly as long as its innate class antagonisms stay intact. Meaning the post-truth society is with us now, because it has at all times been; it’s intrinsic to our financial system.

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