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Dollarocracy: How the invisible hand uses media to take over the world

October 25, 2014

A book review of Dollarocracy, by John Nichols and Robert McChesney
By Aitza M. Haddad
“Democracy demands full public financing of elections, as well-funded public broadcasting system, and subsidies to preserve print journalism where it is viable and to promote the development of “new media” journalism sufficiently substantial to fill the void created by the collapse of reporting by sol-called old media” – Dollarocracy, Nichols & McChesney (p.271)  
Prepare to have one of the most eye opening conversations you have ever had. Dollarocracy, more than a book, is like having an afternoon coffee with two masterminds who will carefully and elegantly take you on a one way trip to the inside machinery of one the most complex, powerful systems in the world. Well, it would probably be more than just one coffee. But if you are intrigued about how democracy really works in a capitalist system where people no longer read books but use media as their main source of information, this is the book for you.
“America has never been a pure or perfect democracy” (p.257). Dollarocracy, written by media scholar Robert W. McChesney and journalist John Nichols (Nation Books, 2013) begins by taking the reader on a trip into the past, showing how journalism contributed to increasing Americans’ voting behavior, but also to shifting their perceptions about the power to vote and political campaigns. Before the 1970s, the authors explain, political campaigns were greatly sponsored by corporations and their success was practically predicted according to how much they cost. The exposure of this plutocracy produced an era of serious attacks on corporations by new politicians, and which ended in the 1980s with the newly elected President Ronald Reagan. This era found a middle ground when in the 1990s President Bill Clinton “taught […] Democrats to ‘triangulate’: moving to the right in order to appeal to corporate interests while keeping a working-class and liberal voting base” (p.32). Since then, however, corporations have been gaining more and more constitutional rights while US residents are losing them. Additionally, as the authors explain, no one seem to care anymore about the fact that today, for a political campaign to be taken seriously, it needs to cost more than previous campaigns for the same position, and for citizens’ votes to be counted, they need to come with an ID.      
Dollarocracy then puts you in the present landscape by talking about what nobody seems to mention or understand about President Barack Obama’s political campaigns. More than breaking demographical patterns and utilizing social media more and better than any other president before, the book explains how his 2012 campaign was the first time journalists covered a political campaign mostly, as a business story. By this same token, the authors explain how although the Internet has come to make some things better, it has not solved many of the social crises it was expected to fix.  Instead, it has contributed to the death of serious journalism, and in turn, to the growing power of US corporations.
Because of all of the above, by 2010, the authors explain, 86% of Americans felt that the system was broken. However, 81% of them had hoped that it could be fixed. But for the system to experience a significant transformation and be fixed, Americans need “to build a movement that goes to the heart of the matter of corporate control of elections and governance” (p.263). The authors provide a series of steps that could be taken by Americans to demand America to be America again. This doesn’t mean for the United States to mirror its past, nor should other countries around the world, but the authors believe, “as Thomas Paine suggested almost 240 years ago, [that Americans are still] well benefited by “frequent interchange with the ideas and ideals of our fellow citizens of the world” (p.271). They also call for stronger and more serious journalism that could expose political propaganda and could help constituents to get more organized and educated. Many epistemic groups – communities with an “informational” and a “active dynamic” role in the shaping of more egalitarian media policy, regulations and administrative practices, such as Howard Media Group, Institute for Public Representation, Free Press, Common Cause, and others – have already taken an active role in educating the nation. However, Americans still need to better understand the power of their vote and they must vote. This book is a great resource to encourage that. America has come a long way from a monarchy, to a de facto plutocracy we have today, the impression of a Democracy that is only disguising a plutocracy on its way to becoming de jure. In short, the power to prevent this mutation that would turn whatever is left of democracy couched within our current plutocracy into a pure Dollarocracy, even if not known or understood, still relies on the constituents.
To better understand how Dollarocracy works, and get your own copy of the book, now in paperback, visit: