BY NOAM CHOMSKY – 12 OCTOBER 2013
I’d like to comment on topics that I think should regularly be on the front pages but are not – and in many crucial cases are scarcely mentioned at all or are presented in ways that seem to me deceptive because they’re framed almost reflexively in terms of doctrines of the powerful.
In these comments I’ll focus primarily on the United States for several reasons: One, it’s the most important country in terms of its power and influence. Second, it’s the most advanced – not in its inherent character, but in the sense that because of its power, other societies tend to move in that direction.
The third reason is just that I know it better. But I think what I say generalises much more widely – at least to my knowledge, obviously there are some variations. So I’ll be concerned then with tendencies in American society and what they portend for the world, given American power.
American power is diminishing, as it has been in fact since its peak in 1945, but it’s still incomparable. And it’s dangerous. Obama‘s remarkable global terror campaign and the limited, pathetic reaction to it in the West is one shocking example. And it is a campaign of international terrorism – by far the most extreme in the world. Those who harbour any doubts on that should read the report issued by Stanford University and New York University, and actually I’ll return to even more serious examples than international terrorism.
According to received doctrine, we live in capitalist democracies, which are the best possible system, despite some flaws. There’s been an interesting debate over the years about the relation between capitalism and democracy, for example, are they even compatible? I won’t be pursuing this because I’d like to discuss a different system – what we could call the “really existing capitalist democracy”, RECD for short, pronounced “wrecked” by accident. To begin with, how does RECD compare with democracy? Well that depends on what we mean by “democracy”.
There are several versions of this. One, there is a kind of received version. It’s soaring rhetoric of the Obama variety, patriotic speeches, what children are taught in school, and so on. In the U.S. version, it’s government “of, by and for the people”. And it’s quite easy to compare that with RECD.
In the United States, one of the main topics of academic political science is the study of attitudes and policy and their correlation. The study of attitudes is reasonably easy in the United States: heavily-polled society, pretty serious and accurate polls, and policy you can see, and you can compare them. And the results are interesting. In the work that’s essentially the gold standard in the field, it’s concluded that for roughly 70% of the population – the lower 70% on the wealth/income scale – they have no influence on policy whatsoever. They’re effectively disenfranchised.
As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy. When you get to the top, which is maybe a tenth of one percent, people essentially get what they want, i.e. they determine the policy. So the proper term for that is not democracy; it’s plutocracy.