Put Not Your Faith in Princes — Even Liberal Ones

Democrats claim to be the party of ordinary working people (as opposed to Republicans, who are the party of the rich and big business), but it’s more accurate to say the two parties represent two partially opposed factions within the corporate ruling class. As Ralph Nader once put it, we have one corporate party with two heads.

The faction of organized capital represented by the Democrats is like a farmer who thinks he’ll get more work out of his livestock in the long run by feeding and housing them well and working them in moderation. The business coalition behind the GOP is more like a farmer who thinks he’ll come out ahead by working them to death and replacing them.

Republicans, generally speaking, take a more in-your-face approach toward serving the immediate interests of the plutocracy and maximizing short-term profit. Democrats place greater emphasis on promoting the levels of aggregate demand and middle class prosperity necessary for long-term economic and political stability. One might go so far as to say that Democrats serve the long-term interests of capital even when they conflict with the immediate interests not only of a particular sector of capitalists, but with those of a majority of capitalists at any given time.

The one exception is so-called “intellectual property,” where — with the exception of a few authoritarian outliers like Orrin Hatch — Democrats are far more shameless in carrying water for corporations whose business models are most reliant on patents and copyrights.

The reason for this is, in part, the prominent place in the Democratic coalition occupied by the information and culture industries — the RIAA, MPAA and Microsoft. Further, the Democratic coalition is made up disproportionately of the industrial sectors associated with what is variously called Cognitive, Green, or Progressive Capitalism. This business model, whose prophet is Paul Romer, depends on patents to capitalize the new “green” or “progressive” technologies — think Warren Buffet’s wind farms — as a source of rents. This wing of organized capital sees innovation and capital investment in green and high-tech industry as the new long-term engine of growth, the new profitable outlet for surplus investment capital, now that previous outlets like the tech boom and financialization bubble have run their course.

So we see Democrats who are normally regarded as among the most “progressive” in Congress — Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy — pushing the most draconian and authoritarian forms of copyright legislation. Never mind Joe Biden, formerly Senator from MBNA and now Vice President from Disney. He’s been a Democratic Leadership Council stooge for a long time now, so nobody would expect anything different.

Senator Klobuchar is chief sponsor of a bill that would make unauthorized streaming of proprietary content a felony. The bill provides for a five-year sentence for ten “public performances” of copyrighted works, by electronic means, in a 180-day period. Since under existing copyright law each viewing online counts as a “performance,” posting a video on YouTube that’s watched by ten people could put you in prison. Ditto for embedding the YouTube video on your blog.

In California, at the behest of the recording industry, a Democratic bill in the state legislature would allow warrantless searches of companies that produce copies of CDs and DVDs. It would allow police to enter plants without warrants, without advance notice, and without any statutory criteria for establishing probable cause.

And please bear in mind, this is not a minor issue. At present the state-enforced “intellectual property” monopoly is the central structural support of the global corporate economy. It is as centrally important to the global corporate economy today as the tariff was to the old American industrial economy of a hundred years ago. The dominant sectors in the global economy are those industries most heavily reliant on patents and copyrights: Entertainment, software, pharmaceuticals, agribusiness, biotech, and electronics. Patents and trademarks are the legal mechanism behind the so-called “Nike model,” by which corporations can outsource all actual production to the Third World, yet retain control of an archipelago of job shops in China and Vietnam through “intellectual property,” finance and marketing. A huge share of the overseas profits of American-based TNCs consists of royalties on copyright.

So when it comes to the one single thing global corporate power is most dependent on, Democrats are even more single-minded servants of big business than Republicans.

The lesson here is, don’t fool yourself about the Democrats being the party of the little guy. If their policies happen to help the little guy, it’s either a means to the end of guaranteeing the profits of the big guy, or a side effect of doing so.

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