“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
When Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke sat and entertained a challenge (masked as a question) from Chase Bank Chairman Jamie Dimon regarding regulations, the power play was on. How is it that Dimon has to come to a public session to wrangle concessions from someone who probably makes as much as one of his junior staff members?
Similarly, President Barack Obama, whose publicly stated salary is $400,000, pales by comparison to others in the “boys club” with which he wields power. Internationally, the intricate web of power relationships with wealthy heads of state — and those to whom they listen — have become more transparent due to the “Arab Spring.” What is the relationship between wealth and power? Is there a strong or a fuzzy relationship between positions of money and positions of power? Let’s look at some power brokers:
Politicians: We all know that politicians are power brokers. They make the laws that govern our lives. They truly are “brokers”, though, in that they represent the will of various groups of people, and mediate among those groups.
Legal Systems: The various components of the legal systems –local, state, federal; police, court, etc. — all serve to interpret and enforce those laws that have been erected by the politicians. Tension is constantly brought to bear by the people who initiated the power, via their politicians, to insure a system of equity and justice for all.
Corporate Leaders: Corporate Leadership, whose ultimate power resides in its ability to efficiently provide goods and services to society, controls various resources in its pursuit of that mission. It will only control those resources to the extent that it (1) can faithfully execute its mission, or (2) manipulate the marketplace for awhile.
Media: There has been a tremendous shift in this segment over the past several decades. In the 1950’s and 1960’s when ‘the news was just the news’, we turned on Walter Cronkite and his distinguished colleagues and trusted them to provide a fact-based accounting of the day’s news. Looking back, we can assume that some level of bias accompanied their attempts at truth-telling, but theirs was a totally different product than today’s news entertainment shows. The value added approach to news production has an intentional bias to what will sell and titillate rather than what is news. After all, much of real news is downright boring. Much of the rest of it challenges us in ways we dare not think about. We’d rather just have a beer.
Clergy: Provide a religious framework and affiliation for our lives.
Medical: Help control our personal health agenda.
Academic Professionals: Provide the gateway to lifelong learning and critical thinking.
All of these power brokers help shape the contours of our lives, and vie for power among themselves as we make our journey. The quintessential question, though, is: where is the locus of power? How does power get mediated among power brokers? Money is not necessarily the arbiter of power. Many of us know from school board meetings, that there can be a charismatic/leadership energy that will define the locus of power. Anyone who is a parent knows that teenagers have found the secret to power!
Many times technical jargon is used as a gateway to mask the lack of authentic power. For instance, when the financial meltdown occurred in 2008, discussions within the financial community revealed that many of the participants had coined terms and phrases to make things sound complicated so as to deter unwanted participants. To this day, institutional investors disdain the ma’ and pa’ investor who do not belong in “the club.” Many acronyms and technical terms are used to make transactions confusing, so that investors will have to use professional money managers whether they want to or not. Obviously, this is a way to hang on to power. If it were indicative of authentic knowledge, then we would not have had the 2008 meltdown in the first place. What is more, we wouldn’t be experiencing such anemic economic performance today.
But economic power pales in comparison to the allure of military power. Nothing satisfies the need for power more than war. Whether we are direct participants on the battlefield, suppliers to those at war, or policymakers directing the conflict, we all get an adrenaline rush equal to none at the prospect of winning the war! It is a zero sum game. Ultimately both sides lose, because resources are depleted in the process of trying to win. An odd paradox exists when we believe that peace can be achieved through destruction. Perhaps its contra-force, impotence, provides its most potent alternative, since it can lead to love –the genesis of all that is.