What is money? What is speech? We take these concepts for granted and operate as if we know what they are, but do we, really? More importantly, does the Supreme Court understand the relationship between money and speech? Apparently not, or more likely, the Court is in denial about that relationship, for entirely political reasons.
“Money talks.” What does that mean? If money talks, what can it say? Of course, nobody has ever heard money actually speak. It is just a figure of speech to say that money talks – meaning of course that using money exercises power. In our times, money has become the most important factor in determining who gets to speak publicly and what s/he gets to say.
Money and power
Money is not any particular form of communication — or is it? We all acknowledge that money is a medium of exchange for valuing goods and services. So, as we all know, money has power. Is speech a “service”? Certainly, money can “buy” speech. One has only to listen to congressional speeches to know that! Money can be used to control material objects and even to control the behavior of people — including some speech. Why? Money represents value in the abstract and therefore can be used as a form of social, political, and of course economic power. Because everyone agrees to use money as an abstract symbol of value, it becomes inherently valuable in itself. Money contains the power to buy almost anything, including speech. But, of course, “money can’t buy me love.” Some human values may appear to be monetized, but what is bought or sold is really something else. So, such exchanges degrade the human value.
Money communicates value and therefore power over something — almost anything it is applied to. Money symbolizes power and when applied, it exercises power. But does it represent ideas, like language does, or are ideas just one of the things money can exercise power over? What does money communicate — power or ideas, or both?
Clearly, in the industrial world money can be and is used to produce mass communication. That has been enabled by technology. In the days of the founding of the republic, speeches were made in the town hall at face-to-face debates. The power of one’s voice and the persuasiveness of one’s ideas, not a microphone or transmission to other cities, made the difference. Newspapers were entirely local. No radio, no television, no Internet.
Today, political speech is widely distributed. But the speaker or his ‘sponsor’ must pay for the use of the technology required for mass communication. Speech is no longer free, at least if you want to be heard by many. A lot of money is needed to produce mass communication, marketing, etc. Sure, we still have political rallies, but the candidate is usually preaching to the choir. Such staged exercises are covered by the mass media as “political events.” When did you last attend a real face-to-face debate of issues of national importance?
Until it is applied to communication, money is merely abstract economic power — that alone can be a major influence over public policy. But money can used to censor speech and control who gets to be heard. The power of money is used to control the content or the channels of communication in society. Public speech depends on expensive technology to extend the power of ideas beyond the human voice in a face-to-face debate. Speech is no longer free.
Money is the exact means used by the corporate elites to control the political discourse, such as it is, in the U.S. today. They use their nearly unlimited economic power to frame so called “public debate.” Our constitutional right to “free speech” contemplated individuals speaking to groups of people in open political discourse. Nobody needed even so much as a microphone or other economic means to extend the reach of their communication.
Corporations are not persons, another cruel joke by the Corporate Court. The founding fathers worried over the potential of corporations to influence politics, even in the eighteenth century. Like Adam Smith, they recognized the potential that even early corporations had to manipulate otherwise free markets. The Supreme Court, with the greatest corporate bias ever, has merely enhanced the existing undue power of corporations over the American people.
Corporate propagandists try to conflate corporations with “the American People.” They are trying very hard to destroy “net neutrality” so that they can profit by controlling the flow and content of Internet communication. The corporate elites already control the content and distribution of ideas on television and the other mass media. We need freedom of speech for persons — over all media. The extended “management” of all public communication by the power elites will consolidate control of speech by the corporate state.
Yes, money is not speech. But the unlimited application of money to control political speech is the death knell of democracy.