You cannot separate money and politics

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American dollars placed on the American flag. People have differing views about the connection of money and politics, however both are intertwined. Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

There exists a long and prominent trend in United States politics to conceive of and/or work toward the separation of “money” and “politics.” Liberals will often argue that “money should be kept out of politics.” Similarly, conservatives might think that “the government should be kept out of the economy,” the “economy” referring at least to monetary transactions.  

The argument from all parties is that, ideally, there should be two separate spheres of society: one in which the citizens gather equally to decide what is right and one in which businessmen are free to pursue profits and that the interference of these two spheres should be limited. The basic flaws in this argument make clear: We don’t understand the concepts involved.  

Money is a measurement of social power. Think about it: What can you do with money? You’re going to spend it, either on goods or services which you’ll consume, or to buy some form of property which allows you to start a “business” or, in other words, to become a capitalist. Capitalism is obviously about control of private property, the labor market and money, which itself is just one measurement of the control capitalists have in society. 

Given this understanding of money, what’s confusing is any conception of “politics” such that it could somehow not interact, or interact only to a particular extent, with money. Some people consider politics to mean “the United States Government” or maybe even just “elections.” These are highly simplistic conceptions of politics which there is no reason for us to use. Instead, we should think of the term politics as meaning, “the struggle for power between different people.” This definition will encompass every activity in other definitions of “politics” and will include all monetary exchanges too.  

It seems like when people say we should “remove money from politics,” they really mean that wealthy people have a disproportionate influence on the election of US government officials, and that this should be changed. It’s a valid concern to have, but, like the many other ways the wealthy control society, isn’t this just a feature of capitalism? 

Suppose we change campaign finance regulations to eliminate contributions from businesses and Super-Pacs. Well, campaign contributions could still come from individuals, and still the wealthiest individuals, capitalists, will be able to fund the elections better than anyone else. So, then suppose we remove individual contributions entirely, and publicly fund all elections. Even then, given that most public funds come from taxation, the wealthiest localities would be the best situated to fund elections.  

Money in a capitalist society is the basis of all economic activity and government, and the system is constructed such that capitalists retain control over most money, while most workers are only paid in wages at subsistence, sometimes including luxuries.  

Control over society by the wealthy, through money or other means, is a feature rather than a bug of capitalism. Because of this, attempts to challenge this control will either take the form of anti-capitalist organizing and politics or will be meaningless and counterproductive. Calls to “remove money from politics,” like many other liberal reform efforts, attempt to fix a harmful symptom without addressing the illness itself.  

While it is nice to imagine a capitalist society in which the wealthy kept their hands out of the government, this will only ever be an imagination. We need to understand the totality of control that capital inherently represents for capitalists over other people, over governmental institutions and ultimately over the entire society. This system must be wholly accepted or removed. 

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