Ivan Illich talked about “right-wing, manipulative” organisations. These are organisations which are organised for the benefit of the organisation; consumers of the product or service are manipulated to make them dependent on the service. These organisations are hierarchical; the needs of the consumer come last. An example might be the NHS – the primary beneficiaries are big pharma (and their stockholders), then consultants and senior managers, next ordinary doctors and nurses. Patients and cleaners are probably about equal. The needs of the patients are met but only once all the people above them in the hierarchy have organised matters to their benefit first. One key aim of these stakeholders is to ensure repeat consumption of their products and services.
Parliamentary democracy works essentially the same way. There is some kind of democratic function here. Individuals vote and in as much as different political parties get elected there may be some small changes in policies. (The different parties have to give the appearance of being different in order to attract votes, even if this means swapping policies between themselves. Very occasionally a party may offer change just outside of the normal absolutely the same range typically on offer). Who influences government in our democracy? The list, in order, may be something like this:
- the military-intelligence complex inc. arms manufacturers and space industry
- financial power (large banks and concentrations of capital)
- trade unions / all voices for socially moderated capitalism
- big business / Confederations of Business leaders
- foreign businesses and foreign investors
- various small lobby groups, charities, SME lobby groups
- The media in as much as they influence 8. (Of course in the West the media is largely a function of 2.)
- individuals through the party and election system
I’ve put Trade Unions and voices for socially moderated capitalism in third place. Some may think this high, but these voices are consistently heard in political discourse, in the UK at least. It is clear they have been co-opted by capitalism which understands they play a key role in legitimizing capitalism and ensuring widespread participation. 1. and 2. of course influence matters in a non-visible way.
Hospitals really do care for sick people. Parliamentary democracy really does deliver some degree of democracy. But they aren’t very efficient from the point of view of the end-user.