5 New Rules for an Economy That Works
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Jim Hightower likes to tell the story of the moving company in Austin whose slogan is, "If we can get it loose, we can get it moving." The thousands of people occupying Freedom Plaza in Washington and Zuccotti Park in New York, along with the tens of thousands others protesting around the country may have pried us loose from our cynicism and despair.
The 99% is growing stronger and larger. The next step is to move the country. Which requires us to decide where we want to go and how we want to get there. Which in turn requires us to agree on the new rules for a new economy.
Last week the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street adopted a declaration of principles that will inform the new rules.
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
From that declaration of principles a program will emerge. Conversations about the elements of that program have already begun. Grassroots driven fundamental change is not without precedent. We can look to the Arab spring. #Occupy Wall Street was self-consciously inspired by the occupation by Egyptians of Tahrir Square.
But we can also look to our own history. At the end of the 19th century a political movement arose to confront many of the same concerns that torment us: concentrated wealth, corporate power, the influence of money on democracy. The populist uprising led not only to the passage of state and national laws (e.g. anti trust legislation, minimum wage and maximum hour statutes) but several Constitutional amendments. In 1913 the 16th Amendment allowed an income tax; the 17th Amendment, ratified the same year required the direct election of Senators; the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, gave women the right to vote.
Five New Rules
The conversation about program will go on for months. To contribute to that conversation I offer five new rules: two of them Constitutional Amendments and three of them laws.
1. Corporations are not persons.
The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 gave blacks the constitutional right of citizenship: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
In 1886, in a case that had nothing to do with corporate personhood, the court clerk wrote a headnote to the case that contained these fateful sentences, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”