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The fifth power is a term, apparently created by Ignacio Ramonet, that intends a continuation of the series of three classic branches of Baron de Montesquieu's separation of powers and the fourth power, the mass media. The term fifth power can be used to refer either to economic systems or to the Internet.
If, by the fifth power, what is meant is the economic system, it refers to the power that government exerts in the economic sphere through public companies and the mechanism of economic intervention, which is fundamentally financial. Historically, the relationship between power and economy has been defined within a narrow scope, primarily as the mercantilism of the Modern Age. However, since the U.S. stock market crash of 1929, four contemporary positions have emerged:
- Capitalism advocates a minimum or subsidiary state restricted to legislation which aids the effective function of the free market. This system, first proposed by Adam Smith, has gained ground in the spirit of globalization prevalent since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
- Communism advocates total control of the economy by the State, including common ownership and control of the means of production by the workers and of property in general and the construction of a planned economy.
- Fascism advocates a central, authoritarian style of economic intervention which is commonly defined as corporativism.
- Social democracy advocates government regulation of private enterprise and control over private competition, fair trade, progressive taxation, and public funding for government-subsidized programs. In this system, strategic sectors such as transportation, energy, and the military, can be controlled by the public sector.
A second candidate for the "Fifth Power" is the Internet, which represents a new sort of social mass medium which cannot be included within the narrower, one-way scope of the media of the fourth power. If considered as the fifth branch of power, it is the only one to be controlled by society itself without regulation by the state.
According to Ramonet, Internet users collaborate to form a powerful engine of debate and democratic action. With globalization, the 21st century has the potential to finally bring communication and information to all people. The Time's "person of the year" 2006 (YOU in a mirror-PC screen) carries the same message.