Waris Husain: Government, Inc.

To be published in Pakistan Post.

In Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s War” he cites to a statement by Pakistan’s president in response to the possibility of civilian deaths caused by the CIA drone attack program aimed at killing top-level extremists in Pakistan. Mr. Zardari stated, “Kill the seniors, collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.” This was not merely a statement to placate Zardari’s American counterparts; rather it was evidence of the way in which governments across the globe resemble corporations rather than institutions designed to protect civil rights. While some point to the way in which corporations can influence the government through political donations, what’s more remarkable is that the government itself operates like a corporation with the masses as nothing more than its consumer base to exploit.  

Corporations in the U.S. are incredibly diverse from the products they sell to the methods they use, but they are all required to hold elections that allow the shareholders to elect the board of directors who make the decisions for the company. Some may remark that there is nothing wrong with the government operating like a corporation because corporations are democratic in nature. What these critics fail to mention is that the significance of ones vote is determined by the amount of shares they own; or in other words, ones access to influence is through their wealth.
            The greatest feature of democracy is that it supports the equality of each person; one person is allotted one vote which requires the candidate to win the support of the majority of average citizens in order to win an election.  The equality of the person and his influence over the government has been lost in the corporate nature of the U.S. and Pakistani governments. Thus the government now serves as a business entity utilized and manipulated by the largest stakeholders to create profit for themselves at the expense of the people or “consumer”.

 The largest stakeholders in Pakistan’s government are the feudals, like Zardari, industry moguls, like opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, and the military. All of these groups have held power at varying times in Pakistan’s history, but their objectives and methods were all similarly corporate. The Army selfishly cultivated a religious fervor and hatred toward India amongst the public in order to justify allocating a third of the poor nation’s budget to defense without facing backlash from the public. Both civilian governments engaged in self-centered politics including corruption, tax-evasion, imprisoning or murdering dissenters, and nepotism. All this comes at the cost of the public who is seen as an element to exploit rather than protect.

In America, the corporate-ism of the government is much more systematic than the self-serving rulers of Pakistan, and the courts have actively protected corporate interests at the cost of ordinary citizens. The U.S. courts have created a fiction that corporations are somehow a human entities and their rights are recognized the same way as a private citizen. This has resulted in several decisions that seem to violate the democratic nature of our society.

For example, the Supreme Court recently found that corporations have the same right to free speech as an ordinary citizen and therefore no limits can be placed on political ads for broadcast corporations. This means that elite and wealthy candidates who have friends in the media industry will have a far greater ability to reach voters than others. Eventually this could erode our supposedly fair and equitable democratic system into an oligarchy where only the top echelon of the population has exclusive access to political power.

Even more frustrating is the way in which the Supreme Court has rejected legislation passed by Congress to punish private citizens for discriminating against minorities. Due to the federal nature of the government, the Courts have insisted that any legislation to control the private acts of citizens must be passed by states not the federal government. However, historically bigoted states have purposely not created adequate laws to protect minorities, whether racial or religious. The problem is that the Supreme Court has repeatedly required Congress to show the relationship between the anti-discriminatory law and interstate commerce in order to be permissible. Simply put, unless the discrimination affects business, Congress can’t prohibit people from spreading hate against minorities and other citizens.

The judiciary in the U.S. and the socio-political elites in Pakistan have acted like a corporate entity, where the largest shareholders have unequal control over the institution and often exploit the average citizen. Citizens should realize the ramifications of allowing a corporate governance: such an order would reverse our social evolution and reform societies back into unequal aristocracies and oligarchies. The citizens of democratic societies expect their governments to act as benefactors who protect the public from violations by the elite, not as corporate entities who treat them as consumers to derive profit from.

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