World Federalism and Democracy
It has become increasingly evident that democracy at the national level is being weakened all over the world – even in the advanced liberal democracies of the West. Increasingly decisions that affect national populations are actually being taken in un-democratic global forums or in ‘independent’ national institutions that answer to a global body (such as the World Bank or IMF) rather than to national electorates. Thus for example, decisions about how and when to repay sovereign (national) debt are made in separate debt management offices that are not accountable to the public of that country, but which function in accordance with the demands of international financial institutions. Whereas in the past elected governments would decide how to run their economy and would decide how much money to allocate to debt repayments and how much to infrastructure investment or welfare, and so on, now we have a system were the debt repayment must come first and then the elected government can decide how to spend what is left over. This means that a major part of economic decision-making has now been taken out of the hands of democratic decision-making and is simply demanded by undemocratic global financial institutions.
There are many, many examples of this type of process, whereby economic decisions that were formally taken by democratically elected governments and now placed in the hands of others. The new style of international trade agreements, such as TTIP, take important decisions out of the hands of democratically elected national governments and put them in the hands of corporations or courts that are dominated by these corporations. Under these types of trade agreements a corporation can sue a government for doing anything that might lead to a loss of profit, including making new laws enforcing health and safety, quality standards, environmental protection, food labelling, and so on. These are decisions that democratically elected governments should be able to make, but the new style trade agreements are seeking to erode this democracy in the name of guaranteed profits for the rich.
Furthermore, many large corporations, and the wealthy individuals who own them, have substantial influence over almost all national governments and many of their officials across the world, through a variety of means from investments to lobbying to campaign financing, and even to outright bribery. Corruption is most certainly not something that is limited to poor and undemocratic countries. As globalization has progressed it has become increasingly prominent in the rich and supposedly democratic countries as well. The ‘revolving door’ between government and big corporations incentivizes government officials to help these corporations by selling them national resources (whether it is the health service in the UK, the Dead Sea in Israel, oil in Nigeria or the forests of Amazonia) at low prices to these corporations and giving them tax breaks and other forms of preferential treatment. The power of global capital can twist democracy and overshadow civil needs in even the most internally democratic countries.
Similarly, corporate ownership and commercial funding of most of the mass media gives the corporations decisive influence over the opinions, values and perception of the most people. The media likes to portray a simplistic nationalist narrative of ‘us’ versus ’them’ – the foreign ‘other’ that is ‘out there’, taking our jobs and causing us problems. Not only does this reinforce a tribal perception of a divided global society, marked with competition and fear of external threats, it also serves to hide the true causes of our current rapidly escalating levels of poverty and inequality. And it twists and damages what is left of our national democracy, by spreading limited and often misleading information, by demonizing politicians who promote credible alternatives (such as Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK), and by saturating people’s minds with inconsequential celebrity nonsense.
A global democratic system would lead to improved democracy at the national level by reigning in the power of the corporations. It will take global laws and global regulation to control these global corporations. National level political systems simply do not have enough power. Bringing these corporations under control will stop the unfair influence that they are having on our national systems and will free up democracy to flourish again.