Three centers of power increasingly dominate our lives, but are less and less accountable: The Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve, and Big Tech.
The Supreme Court
Start with the high court. These nine unelected individualsall appointed for lifeare about to revolutionize America in waysthe majority of Americans don't want.This court ispoised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 reproductive rights ruling; declare a century-oldNew York lawagainst carrying firearms unconstitutional; and stripfederal agenciessuch as the Environmental Protection Agency of the power to regulate private businesses. And much more.
Let me remind you that fiveof the current justiceswere put there bypresidents who lost the popular votein their first election. Only40 percentof the public now approves of the Supreme Court's performance, a new low. Yet because justices are appointed for life, its members are immune to checks and balances, no matter how unpopular their rulings may be.
The Federal Reserve
The Federal Reserve is almost as unaccountable as the high court.
Presidents appoint Fed chairs for 4-year terms, but tend to stick with them longer for fear of rattling Wall Street, which wants stability and fat profits. (Alan Greenspan, a Reagan appointee, lasted almost 20 years, surviving two Bushes and Bill Clinton). President Biden has just reappointed Jerome Powell, the current Fed chair, for example.
Because it sets interest rates and regulates finance, the Fed can either keep the economy going near full employment or put millions of people out of work. Powell haskept interest rates near zeroappropriate for an economy still suffering the ravages of the pandemic.
But he has also bailed out America's biggest corporations bytaking on their junk debt, which they then used tobuy back their own stockto the benefit of their CEOs and major investors. And he's allowed Wall Street to go back to risky bettingprompting Senator Elizabeth Warren to say this:
Warren: "Your record gives me grave concern. Over and over you have acted to make our banking system less safe, and that makes you a dangerous man to head up the fed.
Lastly, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook all wield enormous power over our lives, and they too are unaccountable to the public good. They're taking on roles that once belonged to the government, whether it's blasting into space or running cybersecurity.
And their decisions about which demagogues are allowed to communicate with the public and what lies they're allowed to spew have profound consequences for whether democracy or authoritarianism prevails.
Worst of all, they're sowing hate and division. AsFrances Haugen,a former data scientist at Facebook, revealed, Facebook's algorithm is designed to choose content that will make users angry. Why? Anger generates the most engagementand user engagement turns into ad dollars. (The same is likely true of the algorithms used by Google, Amazon, and Apple.)
And yet, decisions at these companies are accountable only to their shareholders, not the public.
Beware. Democracy depends on accountability. If abuses of power go unchallenged, those who wield power will continue to consolidate it. It's a vicious cycle that erodes faith in democracy and breeds cynicism.
So how do we break the cycle and hold these power centers accountable?
I'll be honest. It will take vast amounts of public pressure and intentional organizing to get these solutions enacted.
Our only option is to turn up the pressure and keep fighting for our democracy.