THE BLOG
07/29/2015 01:10 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2016

Government That Reacts to the People

Does democracy work best when government reacts to the people or the inverse?

Unless one is a despot, I suspect an overwhelming majority, at least in theory, would offer democracy works best when government reacts to the people.

But why has it been more than 40 years since government reacted to the people? From 1960 to 1974 the people had government in a perennial reactionary posture.

Beginning in the 1960s into the early part of the 70s, America experienced a period that took seriously the notion of "We the people." But that would eventually change when the magnetic pull of business interests became dominant.

The decade of the 1960s was unprecedented in that it had a major grassroots movement for nine consecutive years. This produced landmark civil rights legislation, changed public opinion on the Vietnam conflict, and produced a host of legislation largely in response to the Civil Rights Movement known as the Great Society that placed an emphasis on poverty.

As the 70's began that momentum was still in place. That tree-hugging environmentalist Richard Nixon signed environmental legislation such as clean air, safe drinking water, and protection for endangered species into law. It was the mid 1960's when Ralph Nader began his crusade for consumer protection that carried into the 70s.

During this time period the pendulum definitely swung in favor of the people. But two things occurred:

First, the fervor that created change in the 1960's and early 70s dissipated, perhaps due to a naïve assumption that elected officials would inherently do the right thing going forward. The second was Lewis Powell.

Shortly before Nixon nominated Powell to the Supreme Court, he wrote a manifesto directed at the business community. In his book, "Who Stole the American Dream, Hedrick Smith defined Powell's memorandum as creating "The seismic shift of power that set in motion marked a fault line in our history."

According to Smith, "The Powell Memo" was an anti-union, free market dossier--a call to arms--that urged the business community to adapt a more muscular political approach. It gave birth to a new politics and a new economy that continues to exist into the present day.

As Smith points out, this change did not become manifest with the election of Ronald Reagan, as some may suspect, but rather during the administration of his predecessor Jimmy Carter. But this trend, aided and abetted with bipartisan support, reflects the systematic desires of business to trump the will of the people.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, slow and unequal wage growth in recent decades stems from a growing wedge between overall productivity and pay. In the three decades following World War II, hourly compensation of the vast majority of workers rose in line with productivity. But for most of the past generation (except for a brief period in the late 1990s), pay for the vast majority has lagged further and further behind overall productivity.

Moreover, the report states pay growth decline has been especially evident in the last decade, affecting both college- and non-college-educated workers as well as blue- and white-collar workers.

The American people have seemingly accepted this slow and methodical change--death by 1,000 economic changes that favor business.

How is it that corporations have amassed constitutional rights once reserved for individuals? Why does the federal government dare not include a "quality" index when releasing its monthly jobs report? Why was it crucial for the banking industry to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act?

The only way to change this trend is to reclaim the grassroots spirit of the 1960s and early 70s--prodding, provoking and demanding change on myriad levels.

When has a growing middle class that left the back door ajar for others to enter been bad for the country?

American politics remains hamstrung by a narrowly focused business ethos. The electorate has been beaten and bludgeoned by cynicism and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the status quo serving the political and economic interest of a few remains intact as it suffocates the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, legitimizing the prophetic observation of former Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandies:

"We must make our choice. We may have democracy or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."