Reclaim the Fourth Power

by Mario Kaiser
updated September 21, 2022

Modern democracy is broken and needs to be fixed, for several reasons I've outlined here for example. One of those reasons is the massive disparity in political influence exerted by big corporations and their lobbyists as opposed to the people. There are countless examples of political decisions being made in spite of the public's disapproval.

An example from Germany from 2017: our former minister of agriculture swung a European Commission vote to allow the use of the infamous weedkiller Glyphosate in Europe for five more years – against a strong civil opposition and even his own government, jeopardizing the reboot of the coalition that was negotiated at the time. While this scandalous case thankfully isn't the norm, it's a still prime example of how too much lobbying power (the agricultural lobby has always been very powerful in Germany) can ridicule the whole democratic process.

It's no wonder that people like you and me feel powerless in the face of a system that's under so much pressure from corporate interests. But the problem here is a case of misrepresentation: we, the people, are just badly organized. We don't collectively funnel money to an entity which exerts pressure on policy makers to make ourselves heard. Somehow we think that because we vote for politicians, they always have us in the back of their heads. And while that might be the case, it's still an entirely different thing to have something in the back of your head and to have an actual human being constantly nag you, call you, write to you, pull you aside at standing receptions and tell you how important it is that you do a certain thing.

And in the end, that's good news: corporate interests are not all-powerful. We can do what they do. We can make ourselves heard. In fact we did that a lot over the past couple of years. The abolishment of roaming charges in the EU for example is a result of citizen lobbying. Alberto Alemanno, a EU law professor, wrote a book about how to become a citizen lobbyist, called Lobbying for Change (opens new window). He says the world needs a new generation of citizen lobbyists and I couldn't agree more. And while I like Alemanno's work (he's also co-founded "The Good Lobby", a civic startup trying to equalize the imbalance of lobbying power), I think that this "empowerment" approach might not be the only solution. I think training an army of citizen lobbyists definitely makes sense. But maybe we need other options, too.

If we truly want to reclaim the fourth power, there has to be an option for those who don't have the time or just don't want to spend it writing emails to politicians. Corporations are paying people to do the lobbying for them, and why shouldn't we, as a people, be able to do that? I'd gladly pay a monthly sum in order to live in a society where decisions are made to the benefit of the many and not the few who are well organized.

I have a ton of ideas of how we could improve our democratic system, but let's be honest: it's hard enough for modern democracies to make laws as it is, let alone change and evolve itself. If we want to fix the system, we have far better chances if we're doing it from within, when trying to fix the system with its own tools. To that end, we should become and breed a new generation of citizen lobbyists as well as beat corporate interests with their own weapons: because in the end, we have a lot more money. Corporate interest isn't so powerful because they can spend so much money on lobbying, it's so powerful because we spend to little.

But we could. Heck, we can do that on the couch, while watching Netflix. We just need a lobby organization whose mission it is to counterbalance the corporate interests on a diverse range of topics.