The news has been dominated by the Supreme Court, whose term began last week; the Federal Reserve, and whether it will start responding to inflation by raising interest rates; and Facebook, which a whistleblower claimed intentionally seeks to enrage and divide Americans in order to generate ad revenue.

What's the common thread here? The growing influence of these three power centers over our lives, even as they become less accountable to us. As such, they present a fundamental challenge to democracy.

Start with the Supreme Court. What's the underlying issue?

Don't for a moment believe the Supreme Court bases its decisions on neutral and objective criteria. I've argued before it and seen up close that the justices have particular and differing ideas about what's good for the country. So, it matters who they are and how they got there.

A majority of the current nine justices — all appointed for life — were put there by George W. Bush and Donald Trump, presidents who lost the popular vote. Three were installed by Trump, a president who instigated a coup. Yet they are about to revolutionize American life in ways most Americans don't want.

This new court seems ready to overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that anchored reproductive rights in the 14th Amendment; declare a 108-year-old New York law unconstitutional, thereby allowing anyone to carry a firearm; and strip federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency of the power to regulate private businesses. And much more.

Only 40 percent of the public now approves of the Court's performance, a new low. If the justices rule in ways anticipated, that number will drop further. If so, expect renewed efforts to expand its size and limit the terms of its members.

What about the Fed?

Behind the stories about whether the Fed should act to time inflation is the reality that its power to set short-term interest rates and regulate the financial sector is virtually unchecked. And here too there are no neutral, objective criteria. Some believe the Fed's priority should be fighting inflation. Others believe it should be full employment. So, like the Supreme Court, it matters who runs it.

Presidents appoint Fed chairs for four-year terms but tend to stick with them longer for fear of rattling Wall Street, which wants stability and fat profits. (Alan Greenspan, a Reagan appointee, lasted almost 20 years, surviving two Bushes and Bill Clinton, who didn't dare remove him).

The term of Jerome Powell, the current Fed chair, who was appointed by Trump, is up in February. Biden will probably renominate him to appease the Street, although it's not a sure thing. Powell has kept interest rates near zero, which is appropriate for an economy still suffering the ravages of the pandemic.

And Powell has also allowed the Street to resume several risky practices, prompting Massachusetts Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren to tell him at a recent hearing that "renominating you means gambling that, for the next five years, a Republican majority at the Federal Reserve, with a Republican chair who has regularly voted to deregulate Wall Street, won't drive this economy over a financial cliff again."

Finally, what's behind the controversy over Facebook?

Facebook and three other hi-tech behemoths (Amazon, Google, and Apple) are taking on roles that once belonged to governments, from cybersecurity to exploring outer space, yet they too are unaccountable.

Their decisions about which demagogues are allowed to communicate with the public and what lies they're allowed to spew have profound consequences for whether democracy or authoritarianism prevails. In January, Mark Zuckerberg apparently deferred to Nick Clegg, former British deputy prime minister, now vice president of Facebook, on whether to allow Trump back on the platform.

Worst of all, they're sowing hate and division. As Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook revealed last week, Facebook's algorithm is designed to choose content that will make users angry, because anger generates most engagement — and engagement turns into ad dollars. The same is likely true of the algorithms used by Google, Amazon, and Apple. Such anger has been ricocheting through our society, generating resentment and division.

Yet these firms have so much power that the government has no idea how to control them. How many times do you think Facebook executives testified before Congress in the last four years? Answer: 30. How many laws has Congress enacted to constrain Facebook during that time? Answer: Zero.

Nor are they accountable to the market. They now make the market. They're not even accountable to themselves. Facebook's oversight board has become a bad joke.

These three power centers — the Supreme Court, the Fed, and the biggest tech firms — have huge and increasing effects on our lives, yet they are less and less answerable to us.

Beware. Democracy depends on accountability. Accountability provides checks on power. If abuses of power go unchallenged, those who wield it will only consolidate their power further. It's a vicious cycle that erodes faith in democracy itself.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of "The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It."

(27) comments

threecents

Of course Facebook benefits from the add revenue from deliberately divisive "news". That was Limbaugh's business model, but it is particularly effective on the internet where clicks equal add revenue. As the Senate concluded, Facebook's role in spread of deliberately false information has also been used by Russia to divide our country. Why most of the fake news spread through Facebook has a conservative slant is something everyone can ponder for themselves. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR1BQoTRllsw4ZiLKEo7NV2rfafuld-d7Co6ru0hQDKCn3fHA5hJYmwEvHk

NewMarketParent

@threecents

Exactly.

Marketing works and when you have a bad product, you have to advertise more and harder. FB is injecting hate directly into conservatives veins and they absolutely love it.

Awteam2021

There are 47 federal regulation agencies and commissions. Are they all Marxist? Now we have social media, on an Internet platform with no regulations, no oversight.

The FDA has oversight of what foods and drugs are appropriate to put into our bodies, what’s allowed legal to distribute and plus required ingredients and warnings. Should there be the same oversight in what we are fed over social networks? Should they have the same over-sight as driving a car, drugs, food, healthcare? Or are you more inclined to prefer the misinformation that was spread about Hillary Clinton having a child sex ring caged In the basement of a pizza parlor in Washington DC which led to a Qanon believer who drove from North Carolina, heavily armed, to free the hostage children? That’s the kind of misinformation spreading over social media and gets people harmed…, the pizza parlor doesn’t even have a basement. 🤷‍♂️

Note: please don’t say we don’t have a Democracy, we have a Republic when you don’t know what the differences are, or referring to what happened in 1787, so we can’t do anything today because of what happened 244 years ago... and pdl603 what’s your definition of Marxist?🙇‍♂️ JSK, not to be left out …

Yep, critical thinking, basic civics, as well as personal financial management should be taught in public high schools. 🎤

phydeaux994

The two worst Presidents in History, both elected by and supported by a minority of American citizens by an evil compromise made by our Founding Fathers to appease slave owners, have appointed the majority of the Justices on the Supreme Court whose views mirror the views of the Taliban. Religious Fundamentalists, misogynists, bigots, who take away the Rights of all who do not fit their view of “civilized” people. They interpret the Law all Americans must live under, and if you break those Laws a harsh punishment is carried out by the “base”. Death threats, violent attacks, vandalism, intimidation by those dressed in Military garb carrying Military style weapons. That is what we will soon be facing if the Republibans regain control of the Executive and Legislative Branches to join the Judicial Branch they already own. At that point America will be RULED by one man, another fallen Empire.

Riptide262

The author has a fair point on the supreme court. The real culprit is the senate and the machinations mcconnell is willing to perform in the name of party politics. There is no way both Kavanaugh and Barrett should both be on the court. If you wait for the next election Barrett would be gone. If you appoint as soon as the vacancy opens up then Kavanaugh would be gone and Merrick Garland would likely be on the court.

Tanstaafl

Barrett should be ashamed to even show her face, much less accepting any nomination. She is not even slightly qualified. She should be an embarrassment to herself, but does not seem to have the intelligence needed...

pdl603

The little American Marxist wants all power centralized. That is why he is attacking both the SCOTUS and the FED.

Hayduke2

pdl - I know it is a hard concept but try to attack the information, not the author. What part of the article is inaccurate or doesn't raise valid issues for thought?

NewMarketParent

@Hayduke2

PDL is just here to search for a Faux News narrative to push.

Tanstaafl

PDL is the usual troll. FNP should stop him.

Blueline

Little Boy Blue blowing his nonsensical horn, once again.

NewMarketParent

@Blueline

I don't even know if you could consider it a horn.

Horns serve a purpose.

PDL is just dumping hot stinkies all over.

jsklinelga

"heir decisions about which demagogues are allowed to communicate with the public and what lies they're allowed to spew have profound consequence?" Had to laugh when I read this Mr. Reich of all people saying this. Who decides to allow his misfabrications and distortions into print?

Now, finally, after years of liberal slant the Supreme Court has a conservative majority (the primary reason Trump was elected) and it is now evil. Dumbly partisan And to show his utter lack of understanding about our country and our government he refers to the poplar vote with regard to the Election of a President.

He belongs in some cloistered hideaway with no access to the media. And it would not hurt if the American hating VP joined him. Just for laughs.

olefool

I've onlu\y one reaction to jsk's comment... "BAARRRFFFFF'..... Get a mop and clean that up jsk, you should recognize the ipisch you're living in it all the time...

veritas

What kind of mind conjures up thoughts such as this?

olefool

Yeah, it's kinda foul, I'll admit... But it mirror's the thought processes of the trumpsters, especially the ones on here...

phydeaux994

What kind of mind conjures up rhetoric that any SANE person would BAARRRFFFFF at veritas? jsk’s mind is lost somewhere very deep in QAnon Land. And to think he was a screaming Liberal Democrat until Trump revealed the Real Truth to him. 😘🦧🐑

threecents

[thumbup]OF and Fido[thumbup]

public-redux

A rational mind, perhaps.

Hayduke2

Wow, calling the author of this column " dumbly partisan" - do you ever read what you write?

Dwasserba

“misfabrication?” 🤔

threecents

Bingo for DW

shiftless88

Really, jsk? Wow.

Awteam2021

Meanwhile, back down to reality… Actually having an extremely conservative court may put more pressure on Congress to make legislative changes “ amendment/s“ to protect women’s healthcare and protecting voters rights. That’s a good thing.

phydeaux994

What Congress are you talking about Aw? The one now pushing for repealing Roe vs Wade and Legislating voter suppression laws? The one fighting every effort to help the Country’s people suffering mightily from the COVID-19 devastation?

NewMarketParent

@awteam2021

I have seen nothing in recent history to suggest that as a possibility. This is all a part of the judiciary capture plan the conservatives have been at for a while now.

Tanstaafl

And your info from Mitch McCinnelk, Ted Cruz, ALEC, AFP? Oh yeah, the best you can and quasi-quote? I am off to sleep and cannot obliterate your "misinformed" slanders now, but be aware you are getting repetitious.

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