Democracy is one of the most important institutions in the history of humankind. Thanks to democracy, people who rule a group, a community or a state will act in the interest of the ‘most’ instead of their own interest or in the interest of the ’few:’ Democracy entrenches the will of the people. In a ‘real’ democratic state, all the people should be involved in making decisions about its affairs. According to the World Forum on Democracy, electoral democracies now represent 120 of the 192 existing countries and constitute 58.2 percent of the world's population. But are modern democracies ‘real democracies?’ It depends on many factors. First of all on how ‘common thought’ is produced (Education system), disseminated (Media industry), funded (who is behind the production and dissemination of thought) and on how parties are funded. According to Donnachadh McCarthy, ‘green’ Journalist and author of the book The Prostitute State, the production and dissemination of thought, as well as, the funding of parties in the United Kingdom (Although it’s a rule we find in many Western countries) are in the hands of a few super-rich people. Now politics acts in the interest of corporations rather than in that of the majority of the population. Moreover, the ‘decline of democracy’ now is favored by a progressive reduction of people turning up at the polls for election days. Donnachadh McCarthy says ‘We no longer live in a functioning democracy…We live in what I call The Prostitute State,’ a state where politicians are corrupted, media is ‘captured,’ academia is hijacked, and party fundraising is involved in a tax-haven system. The final results of such a ‘fake democracy’ is a deepening climate and environmental crisis (as the few want to keep their own business based on non-environmental-friendly practices) and the destruction of social justice (wealth and power is ever-more transferred to a small group of global corporate elites and billionaires).”
What exactly is a ‘Prostitute State?’ Why is it dangerous for us? What are its pillars? Are there any solutions to re-gain a more democratic system? Donnachadh McCarthy answered to these and other questions..
Donnachadh McCarthy: He is an author, broadcaster and journalist on environmental issues. He was Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrats during the two years leading up to the Iraq War and an elected member of its Federal Executive for seven years. He served as a councillor in Southwark, was a Parliamentary candidate in Peckham and was elected to be a London European Parliamentary candidate. He was twice short-listed to be the party’s London Mayoral Candidate. He was the on-screen eco-auditor for the hit BBC 2 TV series, “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, ITV’s “How Green is Your House” and Sky’s “Green Britain Week”. He is the author of three books: Easy Eco-auditing; and Saving the Planet without Costing the Earth; The Prostitute State – How Britain’s Democracy Has Been Bought.
INTERVIEW - (September 2015)
Subject: Falling Democracies and Climate Change
Question 1: Welcome Donnachadh McCarthy. In an article published in Resurgence & Ecologist (March/April 2014), ‘The Real Power in Politics Lies with the Corporate Lobbyists,’ you said: ‘ we no longer live in a functioning democracy but rather in what I think of as The Prostitute State’ (That is, the title of your book). Please could you explain to us the meaning of this statement?
Sure. While working as a politician in of the Liberal Democrat party, I saw a lot of ethical proposals democratically adopted by the party conference, systematically blocked by corporate lobbyists who were able to influence the party’s leadership. I thought that feature was specific to my party. It wasn’t and when I left politics, I took a look at the wider political landscape and I realized that lobbying and corruption were actually endemic in all of the democratic system. The corporate elite have captured what in my book I consider to be the 4 pillars of democracy: they have bought the political system, they own the media system, they are increasingly taking over our education system, and through fiscal tax havens they are able to capture ever more wealth. This is what I call The Prostitute State: a State where politics is controlled by a tiny elite of the super-rich and big corporations.
Question 2: Let’s delve into what exactly is ‘The Prostitute State.’ You says it has four distinct pillars: 1) a corrupted political system, 2) a captured media, 3) a hijacked academia, 4) a criminal tax-haven system. Let’s focus on the first one (a corrupted democracy). In your book you says ‘the political classes are now the lobbying classes, with voters left powerless.’ This is a very strong phrase. Could you explain to us what are the mechanisms that allow lobbyists to influence politicians? Does this concerns all politicians, or just the majority of them?
Well, first of all let me say that not all politicians are corporate lobbyists and not all politicians are corrupted. However, a sufficient minority of politicians, especially around the party leaderships, are ingrained in the corporate lobbying system. Such politicians work in favor of vested interests, instead of working for the wider population.
It’s not just a question of lobbying….
Beside lobbying, funding is another aspect of corruption. When party’s campaigns are funded by particular corporations, then such parties are committed to these corporations. Take the case of Health System: a huge amount of funding for the major parties comes from the corporate health sector which is pushing toward further privatization of the sector. We are talking about a 2 billion pound industry just in the UK alone and 3 million pound each year is spent in lobbying activities per MP.
Question 3: The second pillar of The Prostitute State is ‘a sponsored academia.’ You says ‘the increasing corporate domination of our education system is undermining the crucial freedom of thought required for the education of our future democratic citizens.’ Can you tell us in which way do corporations dominate the education system and why such a thing undermines the possibilities of having future democratic citizens?
I think that in any actual democracy, education should be ‘free;’ people should be free to have access to different ways and sources of instruction in order to develop their thoughts and cast their votes freely and intelligently.
In the UK, the education system includes universities, secondary and primary schools. Universities are increasingly funded by corporations and many professors’ research projects are sponsored by corporations; their works are thus compromised and are not made on behalf of our society: research instead now increasingly works for the needs of the corporate elite. Secondary and primary education too has been handed over to corporate sponsors. Because of this, teachers are less free in what they teach. In summary, academia in our country has been increasingly hijacked by the corporate elite. Think Tanks also are very important parts of research; they produce documents that are supposed to be independent and are diffused through the media system. The problem is that many of these think tanks are funded by corporations and thus, their documents are influenced by them. Education and research should be free from those vested interests.
What’s the most important level of education on this matter?
Secondary school! Everybody goes to secondary school. That is the level were the majority of people should independently form a mentality able to express their vote in a well-informed and democratic way.
Question 4: The third pillar is ‘tax havens.’ Based on your experience in the UK Parliament, you argues that all parties are dependent on funding from tax-haven-associated companies or individuals. What’s the problem in this case?
After the Second World War, corporations and very rich people found a way to place offshore their profits and income in order to avoid paying taxes: move their money to tax haven countries…The consequences of such a system are very, very profound:
1) Less profits to tax. That means less collected income for the government. Less income for the government means less public services for citizens (and less welfare).
2) Less income from corporations also pushes the government to find other sources of income. The result is an increase in taxes imposed on working people.
3) Extreme concentration of wealth. People who avoid paying taxes become ever richer over time. In the UK, for example, 5 families now own the same amount of wealth as the bottom 20% of society.
4) Political capture. As politicians are financed by such super-rich, it then follows that they would never pass laws which act seriously against the tax haven system.
Question 5: The fourth and final pillar of The Prostitute State is ‘a captured media.’ In your book, you say that ‘Five tax-avoiding billionaires control over 80% of UK daily newspapers; almost 18% of the rest is largely in the hands of international financial corporations, leaving only The Guardian at 2.6% to represent the interests of the non-billionaire section of society. These five billionaires also own a significant proportion of our TV, film and book industries.’ What’s the consequence on our society when the media is captured by such a minority of people?
Let’s think for a moment: there are just five billionaires who control almost everything we watch (the television/cinema), everything we read (magazines, internet and newspapers) and listen to (radio stations). All that means: 1) they almost control the way we spend our money; 2) they control our culture; and 3) they even manipulate our daily conversations. Isn’t that a real threat to democracy? Real democracies are based on a diverse source of information and views; conversely, the media reflect just the tiny 1%; the will of the rest of the population is not taken into account.
The link between the media and the political system is obvious, especially here in the United Kingdom: for the past 25 to 30 years no Prime Minister would have won an election without the support of Mr. Murdoch (Ndr: US/Australian/British Media Magnate)…. The result is that this minority, this élite is able to do what it wants and to protect its own interests.
Question 6: In your book you argue that The Prostitute State is responsible for two of the most negative global crises of the current century: 1) the climate and environmental crisis; 2) the destruction of social justice. Could you tell us why The Prostitute State is connected to this big issues?
Let’s start with the climate and environmental crisis. It’s beyond all doubt: we live in a consumerist society (created and promoted by corporations); we consume too much of our ecosystem, more than it can afford; we are thus seriously threatening the very survival of those ecosystems; the way things are going can only lead to total destruction. The data proves what I’m saying: in the past 50 years, half of the planet’s Nature has been destroyed. At this rate of destruction nothing will be left to the following generations. The ecological crises are strongly linked to a deeper phenomenon: the climate crisis. We probably have five, or maximum ten years left to act in order to stop the increase of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere. Otherwise, the CO2 concentration threshold (Ndr: 500 part per million) sentencing us to irreversible climate change will be reached.
So, what are politicians doing? Are they giving a serious response to the climate change crisis? The answer is no! Why? Simply because the government is controlled by the corporate pro fossil-fuel lobbies. And that’s the main point in my thesis: ‘if we don’t tackle The Prostitute State, we won’t save the planet.’
Let’s move on the second point of discussion: the social crisis. Historically humanity has always been unequal, following an hierarchical social scheme. However, in the 20th century, after the First World War, a process of increasing equality in our society took place. That continued until the 1980s, when, with the Thatcher/Regan revolution, there was a reversal of that process; so the top 1% of the population have since then gained an increasing percentage of GDP and wealth. Over the last 30 years there has been a transfer of income and wealth from working class towards the top management and the owners of capital. Now the tiny élite of society protect their wealth through a system of ‘political capture,’ ‘media capture’ and ‘academic capture.’
Question 7: Your experience with The Prostitute State does concern the United Kingdom. Do you think such a prostitute state is also a feature of other democracies around the world? Which ones in particular?
Yes it is. Democracy in most developed countries is undermined by the fact that the media is controlled by a few rich people, including in the United States, South America and Italy. In Australia there are only 2 corporations that own the media. The question is: how can we get a real democracy if endemically and systematically the rich grab and control our communications and propaganda through the media?
It’s not just a question of ‘media capture’…Lobbying, for example, is very powerful in the United States: the amount of money spent on lobbying in the USA is the largest in the world (5 billion dollars or more); in the European Union lobbying is not as powerful as in the UK and in the USA, but it is increasing.
Question 8: What solutions do you propose in your book to demolish The Prostitute State and regain democracy in our countries?
First of all, we need to know the mechanisms which corrupt our democracy. Then my approach is threefold:
1) Individual actions: as Mahatma Gandhi said: “we must be the change what we want to see in the world.” That is, if we want to end The Prostitute State, we should not feed it. So, ask yourself: Where are you buying your food? Where are you banking? What are you investing in? Does your money favour small local firms or big tax-dodging corporations and their corrupt lobbyists?
2) Campaigning: once you have got a certain level of personal integrity by having weaned yourself off giving your money to The Prostitute State, you can then start working with your own local communities, Transition Town groups and whatever campaigning role you feel can be useful to tackle the Prostitute State.
3) Peaceful direct actions like Mahatma Gandhi carried out. Sadly, the issues have become so urgent that the first two approaches alone will not save humanity in time. Thus mass peaceful direct action is needed globally if we are to save humanity from climate and social catastrophe.
Question 9: Finally you are an experienced ‘green writer.’ Besides re-gaining democracy around the world and opposing The Prostitute State, what do you think we, as singular citizens, small firms etc… should do so as to improve our ecological sustainability?
I’ve written 2 whole books on that! Summing up, whatever you do (shopping, buying your house, making a trip) ask yourself with the time, money and knowledge that you have, can you can do whatever you are doing in a more ecological way.
Start out with small things. So, for example, one of the most important things in cold countries concerns the heating system: to what temperature do you heat your house? (It should never be over 19C). For how many hours do you heat your home? Are you buying green electricity for your home?
Food is also important, both in terms of the place of origin of the food (choose local food instead of long-distance food) and in terms of the quantity of meat you eat: eating meat has twice the carbon footprint of eating vegetables! I’m not asking everyone to be vegetarian… I’m just asking you to reduce the amount of meat in your diet, eating it for example just once a weak; that would improve your health and the health of Earth.
Thirdly: flights: Avoid long flights if you possibly can! Avoid flights completely if it isn’t necessary. Choose the less polluting way of travelling if possible.
In conclusion, we can afford 1 tons of CO2 per person per year if we are going to save the planet; the average in the UK is 12 tons per person per year; in Italy it’s about 10 tons.
So to sum up – we each can make a significant difference by buying green electricity, heating our homes efficiently, reducing our meat consumption and avoiding all long haul flights.