Large corporations-controlled US has no real democracy
Published: Mar 30, 2023 08:53 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:
The so-called Second Summit for Democracy has just begun. Many observers said Washington is using ideological bias to split the world. Is the US qualified to hold such a summit? What are the adverse effects of Biden's attempts to consolidate a 'democratic' alliance?

Ben Norton (Norton), founder and editor of Geopolitical Economy Report, an independent news outlet, told the Global Times (GT) reporter Lu Yuanzhi that the US government is controlled by large corporations and by capital, but in China, it's the government that disciplines capital and corporations, and ultimately dictates what social policy will be. "By any objective definition, that is a more democratic system, because the goal of democracy is to serve the interests of the people," he added.

GT: In your opinion, what is democracy? What kind of democracy should every country insist on? Can the US set worldwide criteria for democracy?

Norton: If looking at polls, the US is not a democracy. Last year, a study done by a group calling itself the Alliance of Democracies, which is backed by NATO, concluded that 49 percent of people in the US consider their government a democracy, whereas over 80 percent of people in China consider their government to be a democracy. 

That shows that according to the people who live in the country, China is a democracy while the US is not. 

No one country should determine what democracy is. The US should not claim that some countries are supposedly undemocratic. Throughout its history, the US has been doing this with a very imperialist attitude in which Washington can decide who is or who is not a democracy.

The US frequently claims that its allies are democracies, even when they engage in undemocratic behavior, whereas its adversaries are not considered democracies. This shows that for Washington, the term democracy is a politicized term. And they refuse to interrogate the fact that in the US, there is a profound lack of democracy.

The US is functionally not a democracy. It's a plutocracy. It's a system in which the rich can buy representation in the government. It's a system in which large corporations can essentially buy politicians. The Supreme Court of the US passed a ruling that's known as Citizens United, which said that corporations are considered as people. And they can donate as much money as they want in electoral campaigns, which essentially means that bribery and corruption is legal in the US. You cannot have a functioning democracy when you have billionaires and large corporations that can decide what the government will actually be. 

The so-called Summit for Democracy is actually a summit of US allies. That's why the US refuses to invite countries that do have democratic governments. The US cannot claim that this is a Summit for Democracy when it invites regions of the world that are actually not even countries let alone democracies. 

GT: Compared with Western democracy based on an electoral system, what's your take on the characteristics and advantages of people's democracy in China?

Norton: When looking at polls, it is seen that the Chinese people consider their country to be a democracy. I would argue that it shows that in many ways, the US system is less democratic than the Chinese system.

The US system is not a democracy. A study by a professor at Princeton University found that when quantitatively measuring the impact that average voters in the US have on government policy, it is negligible. That is to say that average voters have zero impact on government policy. Some scholars concluded that the US is an oligarchy, instead of a democracy. In the US, it is a capitalist democracy, in which capital has a vote, large corporations have a vote, but not working people. The poorer you are, the less influence you have in the government. The richer you are, the more influence you have in government. 

As for China, with its unique system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, there is a system in which working class people can be represented by the government because the government is not controlled by corporations. That's the fundamental difference between the Chinese and the US governments. 

The US government is controlled by large corporations and by capital. But In China, it's the government that disciplines capital and corporations, and ultimately dictates what social policy will be. It does so in the interests of the majority of working people in China. 

By any objective definition, that is a more democratic system, because the goal of democracy is to serve the interests of the people. 

Ben Norton. Screenshot of Norton's virtual interview with the Global Times.

Ben Norton. Screenshot of Norton's virtual interview with the Global Times.

GT: Stereotypes of the US and some Western countries toward China's democratic system are deeply rooted, and none of them attempts to understand the complexity of China's governance system. What factors lead to such a situation? Do you think it will change?

Norton: There are two main reasons why the US and the Western bloc led by the US fail to see the democratic characteristics of the Chinese system. One, there is a deep-seated racism that goes back to the colonial era in which European powers partially colonized parts of China. They refuse to see countries that are not their allies as democratic. Any country that is not a Western ally is basically deemed "authoritarian." Despite the fact that polling shows that leaders in many of the Global South countries are much more popular than leaders in so called Western democracies.

The other fundamental reason is because the US has spread the propaganda for 100 years that if a government is socialist, by the US' definition, it is authoritarian. It is part of a sophisticated information war that the US has waged against socialism and socialists going back to the Russian revolution in 1917. The US has said you cannot be democratic and a socialist, because they want people to conflate capitalism and democracy.

But the fact is that in many ways, capitalism and democracy are antithetical. Capitalism is a system in which capitalists rule. You cannot have an economic democracy, if you have an economic capitalist system. The US has tried to say the exact opposite that a socialist system cannot be democratic. But in reality, socialism is much more democratic.

GT: When the US held the first Summit for Democracy in December 2021, you said that the "so-called 'Summit for Democracy' is such a joke," as the countries and regions the Biden administration invited were not necessarily democracies. What do you think is Washington's purpose in holding a democracy summit?

Norton: Unfortunately, the reality is that the US is waging a new Cold War. We should try to do everything we can to prevent the new Cold War from escalating and encourage peace and dialogue. But we have seen very aggressive actions by the US government. It started with the administration of Barack Obama who declared a so-called pivot to Asia, which actually means a pivot to war in Asia, specifically a war on China.

Under the Donald Trump administration, the US drastically escalated the new Cold War, imposing illegal, unilateral sanctions, starting a trade war, militarizing, and eventually trying to support separatist forces in Taiwan island.

Now the Biden administration is continuing Trump's very aggressive policies against China and Russia, drastically escalating the proxy war with Russia. And as part of this new Cold War, the US is trying to divide the entire world into two camps.

The US is essentially telling countries that you have to join our camp, or you can be in the "authoritarian camp." In his state of the union address, President Biden said that the conflict in the world is between supposed "democracy and autocracy" despite the fact that the US is not a democracy and many US allies are actually autocracies. Ironically, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell admitted in a speech in Brussels that many autocratic authoritarian systems are Western allies.

So it is propaganda to say that it is a conflict between "democracy and autocracy." Actually, it is a conflict between unipolarity and multipolarity. The US is trying to maintain its imperialist, unipolar system in which the US controls the entire world economically and politically. And the other side is represented by countries who are peacefully trying to struggle for a multipolar system in which all countries are treated equally. There is not a unipolar, imperial hegemony who can dominate the planet. With the so-called Summit for Democracy, the US is trying to recruit countries to its camp for the new Cold War.

However, there are many countries can see through this. That is why so many countries in Latin America boycotted the summit. And that's why in other parts of the world, including in Asia and Africa, there were countries that boycotted the summit, because they can see that this is politicized and it's not actually about democracy. 

GT: The US is co-hosting the second Summit for Democracy with Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Zambia. The first summit was not widely welcomed among the invited countries and some of them declined to attend. Why do you think Washington wanted to co-host with another four countries this time?

Norton: The first summit was diplomatically a disaster, because so many countries boycotted it.

Clearly, the US is trying to do a rebranding exercise, and they're using a marketing strategy by portraying the summit as supposedly multilateral by inviting US allies. And specifically, they choose allies from different continents - Costa Rica from Latin America, the Netherland from Europe, Zambia from Africa, and South Korea from Asia. 

I should point out that South Korea has been militarily occupied by the US since the 1950s. And there are about 28,000 US troops there. 

It is an example of how the US talks about democracy, but is still violating the sovereignty of countries that it's been militarily occupying for decades. 

Zambia is a country that is currently suffering under neoliberal austerity policies that are being imposed by the IMF. The US is economically exploiting Zambia while claiming that it is helping Zambia on the international stage by giving this platform to co-host the summit. It's an attempt to portray what is fundamentally a unilateral, political summit organized by the US to serve its political interests as a multilateral summit.

GT: At the first summit, there seemed to be a lack of public interest in the event. For the second one, public opinion seems even more lukewarm. What do you think about this?

Norton: The world is moving toward multipolarity, which means global democracy, because you cannot have a global democracy with empires.

Going back to the 1990s, after the fall in the Soviet Union, the US declared that it was the only superpower across the world. George H.W Bush declared a new world order. And US hoped to prevent any other power from emerging that could challenge US hegemony and control over the entire planet.

This is also articulated in the book The Grand Chessboard, by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was the former US national security adviser. He talked about plans for the US to maintain world dominance, to prevent any other countries from challenging US domination of the world. You cannot have democracy in a global system of unipolar hegemony. The only way to have global democracy is to have global multipolarity. 

What we're seeing is the emergence of new multilateral organizations like the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In Latin America, there are systems such as the Union of South American Nations. In Africa, there is the African Union. In Asia, there is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These are all examples of ways for regions of the world to exercise more democratic influence on decision-making. More and more countries in the Global South, which represent the majority of the global population, are tired of being lectured by these arrogant, neocolonialist Western powers.

They are trying to develop their own unique systems of democracy based on what their own people want.