Europe has always been the world’s most divided and war-torn continent (the past 60 years of relative peace have helped us forget this inconvenient truth). In the 20th century, we decided to finally finish the job by tearing ourselves (and much of the outside world) to pieces in the two biggest wars ever seen. Although the Americans tend to overestimate US involvement in the European part of World War II, it’s undeniable that we owe America a huge debt of gratitude; firstly for joining the war in 1942, but perhaps even more significantly for the huge bail-out Europe received afterwards – better known as the Marshall Plan. Yes it’s true, the USA itself reaped huge rewards by holding Western Europe away from the Soviet Union; the bail-out kept America in the game as a global superpower – and after 1990, THE global superpower. But to deny US generosity would be wrong: to put it in American terms: they saved our asses.
The bail-out had far more than financial consequences. It allowed Europe to escape a spiral of poverty and bankruptcy, and implement a continent-wide social democracy, providing freedom, prosperity and a generous safety net to all Western Europeans. With universal healthcare, our life expectancies rocketed, and Europe’s workers became healthier and more productive, yielding economic gains. Generous welfare safety nets enabled people to take more risks, and thus encouraged entrepreneurialism. Social mobility rocketed.
Meanwhile across the Atlantic, America was heading in the opposite direction. The military-corporate war machine didn’t want to be closed down, and found an excuse to turn the short-term war into a permanent one: the “Red Threat”. So long as Americans could be kept ignorant and afraid (a condition which requires endless warfare), the corporations and military could endlessly undermine freedom and democracy, and grab power away from the people. To their own surprise, the US corporatocracy won the Cold War; this wasn’t the plan. Without war, the American people would demand a smaller military and greater freedom. New “threats” needed to be found (and, as we know, they were). As George Orwell wrote in his classic Nineteen Eighty-Four:
The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous (full quote)
In WWII, American troops arrived in Europe to discover that they were better fed and taller than Europeans: now that has reversed. Europeans are now more likely to progress through the social hierarchies than Americans. The American Dream is still alive and well… but in Europe, not America.
Sooner or later, as Eisenhower warned in 1961, the power of the military-industrial complex would come to outweigh elected government, at which point democracy will be under mortal threat. That time may have now arrived. The 2000 Presidential election was clearly rigged by corporations working hand-in-hand with the Republican Party in Florida. The 2003 Iraq War was fought with the money and lives of ordinary Americans, for clear corporate objectives. In the 2010 Citizens United case, the US Supreme Court decided that free speech entailed allowing corporations to spend as much as they liked to influence election outcomes – effectively abandoning the principle of “one man one vote”. Money has always played a huge role in US elections; now it is the only thing that matters. The corporate aristocracy warned of by Thomas Jefferson in 1816 now truly holds the power in America.
Chief among those corporate aristocrats are the Koch Brothers. They are chiefly responsible for turning the Tea Party movement into a force which in turn drove out right-of-centre conservatism from the Republican Party, and transformed the party into a nakedly pro-corporate force. The brothers lobby heavily for their oil, gas and chemical interests, and spend big to ensure that right-wing Republicans who support their aims will win elections. From a British perspective, the activities of the Kochs are simply staggering: our democracy may have flaws, but buying elections in this brazen way would be, quite simple, illegal.
The US could easily improve its democracy by borrowing from Europe’s older and and more democratic systems: restrict lobbying and bar politicians from accepting donations from vested interests; restrict political advertising to political parties only; impose spending caps as well as donation caps; adopt voting systems that allow new parties to enter the arena; take easily-rigged electronic voting systems out of corporate hands; make registering to vote as easy as possible; extend democracy into the corporate boardroom. But while corporations can own US politicians, and buy elections, none of these things will happen.
In the shorter term, individuals can target the Kochs by boycotting their products. Shoq Value (@Shoq on Twitter) breaks down the Koch products and brands that Americans should avoid.
Koch products also reach us in Europe via their company Georgia Pacific EMEA, which provides a handy brand list on their website. European believers in freedom and democracy can ensure that they and their friends and families avoid the Koch brands listed below. OK; it ain’t the Marshall Plan, but it’s a start. America once saved our asses from fascist rule – let’s return the favour.
- DEMAK UP
- Lotus and Lotus Professional
- nouvelle soft
- Thirst Pockets