Our system of government requires citizen involvement in order to work and unfortunately, this is where things have broken down. As citizens – and as owners or consumers, voters, constituents, etc. – we have ignored our responsibilities. We’ve left it to others to “represent” us and in doing that we’ve given them the power to make decisions – crucial policy-making, world-changing and legal decisions that affect us all every day. We are disenfranchised in the political and in the ownership process. This is the real and frustrating truth. But as futile as it sometimes seems and as hard as it may seem, we must now take that power back.
There are many levels on which we must address the corporate capture of our government: as voters, as consumers in the marketplace, as citizens with a voice. My particular area of interest is corporate ownership. I have been beating the drum of responsible ownership for over thirty years. In 2002, I began an op-ed for Forbes with this riddle:
“What do an abandoned child, a stray dog and a derelict automobile have in common with the modern U.S. corporation? They all need someone to be responsible for them. They have no owners.” (Forbes, 2-11-02)
Ten years later, the analogy still applies. Corporations need involved owners. Democracy needs involved citizens. Without them, our form of democratic capitalism ceases to work. No institution can carry out its objectives without the intelligent involvement of its participants. Look, I’m a capitalist. I believe in capitalism but only as a system that enriches the lives of people. Corporations are not people and should not have a power over society; should not burden society.
But a ray of hope emerged this past year: Occupy Wall Street. People voicing their dissent, coming together to exercise the rights and responsibilities that make our system work. Did it change the world or even the country? No, but it’s a place to start – a crack in the wall. I hope we’ll see more of that in 2012. I’ll continue to push for responsible and accountable ownership and you push in whatever way that makes sense to you. With pressure on all sides, we can begin to take back our power as citizens and as owners.