Just over a century ago, trusts were the big economic news of the day. They have become described as unscrupulous business practices with the purpose of controlling certain aspects of the country’s economic workings. In many ways, this is happening again; not in industry, but in our very own election laws and campaign practices.
First, some history . . .
Back then, there were a handful of people who worked to manipulate conditions in order to gain control over a large aspect of the American landscape. These people were Rockefeller, Morgan and Vanderbilt. (There were others, but these three have become synonymous with that manipulation). Their goal: control industries in such a way that they benefitted not only in corporate profits, but also in their own financial gain. Those industries were the railroads, steel manufacturing and oil production, among others. They did this out in the open, and even with the government’s blessings in some ways. The Supreme Court, despite the purpose of the Sherman anti-trust act to control pricing, applied that law to making decisions against unions.
The trusts controlled rates and costs so much that they drove smaller businesses out of existence. They employed tactics that included: (Source: http://www.linfo.org/standardoil.html)
(1) Temporarily undercutting the prices of competitors until they either went out of business or sold out to Standard Oil.
(2) Buying up the components needed to make oil barrels in order to prevent competitors from getting their oil to customers.
(3) Using its large and growing volume of oil shipments to negotiate an alliance with the railroads that gave it secret rebates and thereby reduced its effective shipping costs to a level far below the rates charged to its competitors.
(4) Secretly buying up competitors and then having officials from those companies spy on and give advance warning of deals being planned by other competitors.
(5) Secretly buying up or creating new oil-related companies, such as pipeline and engineering firms, that appeared be independent operators but which gave Standard Oil hidden rebates.
(6) Dispatching thugs who used threats and physical violence to break up the operations of competitors who could not otherwise be persuaded.
These trusts indeed brought the economic benefits of lower prices and higher quality, but only in the short-term. Once the competition of the small companies was eliminated, there was no motivation to continue such work. As well, any new innovation and invention was quashed, discouraging any further research and development. This is from the same source as above.
Now, as for the comparison between the trusts of a century ago and today’s election system, let me continue . . .
We are hearing more and more about very influential people funding the campaigns of candidates for elective office, and at all levels. These people are using similar tactics used during the time period of the trusts of a century ago. Their goal: to control the government by electing people who agree with them so they can benefit in business and in their own personal gain. One difference: they are doing so as quietly as possible; their names hidden in the fine print of those PACS (political action committees) we see so much in the media. These PACS are funded in such a way that they air those negative ads that are misleading and unfruitful.
You know the names as well as I do. They are the Koch brothers, Adelson of Las Vegas, and George Soros. Both the Republicans and the Democrats benefit from such people in one way or another. They, like the trusts of Rockefeller, Morgan and Vanderbilt, have some government blessings to do so: the Supreme Court has defined corporations as people, and that money can be a matter of free speech. Many find these decisions as disturbing as the courts of a century ago regarding the trusts.
Look at the points listed about the trusts. Ask yourself if they are at all comparable to what’s happening in our election system today. I think some of them do.
Do they undercut and disparage their opponents? Do they secretly spy on each other? Do they manipulate the market? Do they try to limit voting practices one way or another?
In all cases, I say that they do.
Back in the day of the trusts, President Teddy Roosevelt took on those trusts. He took them to court and broke up the trusts that were so out of control that he deemed them ‘bad’. His goal was not to ‘trust bust’ as is so popularly held, but to regulate the doings of such business. He did not to wish to destroy the benefits of those industries, but to make sure they benefited the good of the country.
It is time for some similar action in our election campaign laws and practices. The undue influence of big money needs to be regulated. Included in the list of the three men I mention I also include special interest groups that may have a single issue (like the NRA or the pro- and anti-abortion people) or larger issues (unions and entities like AARP who speak for larger groups of people). These changes must be even-handed, addressing as many fair voting practices as possible.
It is time for our leadership, if there is any out there, to get these changes made. (I am skeptical that such leadership is there: we have had nothing but managers for a good 20 years or more). It’s too late for the 2014 election season, but it is reasonable to expect such matters to be in place well before 2016.
It is time to reclaim the vote as belonging to the people and not the money.
Other sources: http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/gilded-age/resources/theodore-roosevelt-and-trusts, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/antitrust, http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h951.html