“What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in?” Sanders said after the McCutcheon ruling. “To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd. The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders commenting after the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC ruling
(NATIONAL) — What Senator Bernie Sanders evidently did not know when he spoke those words earlier this month is that America wasn’t just headed toward an oligarchy – a form of government in which a powerful, dominant class exercises control over the general population – but indeed had stopped being a democracy years ago and has been a full blown oligarchy for a considerable period of time.
It turns out that former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich was also wrong when in late March he wrote, “America is not yet an oligarchy,” but added that’s where a handful of billionaires are taking us.
Both men were flat wrong according to the results of a new study set to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics.
The authors of what appears to be a landmark and historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page. Their 42-page report is called “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.”
The study, done at Princeton and Northwestern Universities concludes that the U.S. government no longer represents the interests of the majority of its citizens – meaning average working class men and women – but those of the rich and powerful, of which the 1% are at the top of the heap in the power and control departments.
AVERAGE AMERICANS HAVE LOST CONTROL OF THEIR COUNTRY
In short: the wealthy few and powerful individuals in consort with big business interests now develop, move, manage and control public policy in this country to their wishes and designs while the average American has little power over anything in government anymore.
By extension that infers the average American no longer has control over his or her own life to a large degree or can even control in which direction the country is headed now or will be headed in the future because the act of voting – an act enshrined as the one thing that has always secured democracy in America – no longer works.
According to this study America, to a large degree, now has the type of government that has traditionally ruled Mexico or Russia.
The DailyKos reports the anecdotal evidence of that has long been there from, “Modest gun control proposals that saw 90% public support, to unemployment compensation, to infrastructure spending, to women’s rights; where a plurality exists even across party lines, the median public interest seems to hold no sway in policy making.”
The same report notes, “We are all losers here. Despite the trappings and tradition of a representative democracy, the truth is those are just theatrics. At this point, even the echos of democracy are becoming faint. Spectacles like GOP presidential nominees making the pilgrimage to kiss the ring of King Adelson now happen with full knowledge, the vampires are out of the shadows and discover it’s fun in the sun. While satirists rightly lampoon it, media practically celebrates it and the Supreme Court in practice has endorsed it as a victory for the 1st Amendment.”
Some Americans, if not many saw the control shift away from democracy developing many years ago.Writing in a Feb. 2010 piece in OtherWords, columnist Donald Kaul penned:
“Democracy has been in decline here for some time…just look at our pathetic voter turnouts…we have traded our democratic republic for a corporate oligarchy on the model of a banana republic.
Americans are fond of saying that we’re the greatest country in the world. Would the greatest country in the world make a trade like that? I don’t think so.
And the corporations to whom we’ve given the keys to the store aren’t even American companies. They’re multi-nationals operating in their own self-interest without regard for the national good.”
The study analyzed extensive data, comparing nearly 1,800 U.S. policies enacted between 1981 and 2002 looking at the expressed preferences of average and affluent Americans as well as special interest groups.
THE RICH + BIG BUSINESS INTERESTS = CONTROL OF U.S.
The results of the peer-reviewed report, say the authors, empirically verifies that U.S. policies are determined by the economic elite, not the democratic process.
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” say the authors.
And if that isn’t frightening enough to millions of Americans who are not in that elite group that now runs the country, the authors point out that the data available to them – the numbers they crunched – are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the United States by the super-rich.
Some items from the study:
~ A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper purports to do just that, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.
~ Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. The authors say the study provides substantial support for theories of “Economic Elite Domination” and for theories of “Biased Pluralism,” but not for theories of “Majoritarian Electoral Democracy” or “Majoritarian Pluralism.”
~ Prior to the availability of the data set that the authors analyzed for the study, “No one we are aware of has succeeded at assessing interest group influence over a comprehensive set of issues, while taking into account the impact of either the public at large or economic elites – let alone analyzing all three types of potential influences simultaneously.
THE ILLUSION OF LIFE IN A DEMOCRACY
The authors also point out that despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy operating in this country, “Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” even though average working Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance such as regular elections, freedom of speech and freedom of association.
This study is getting a lot of buzz and attention on the Internet but seemingly less so in newspapers – many of which are now controlled by huge media organizations (business interests) that also own and control multiple radio and TV stations as well as other media – and even less play on the nightly news half hour shows on networks like CBS, ABC and NBC which, the study somewhat infers when it refers to intertwined impact of “business interests” in tandem with the elite, may be part of the problem
So far the results do not appear to have resonated much if at all with America’s Joe and Jill Sixpack who, the study’s authors intimate, may still labor under the delusion they live in a democracy.
For a many reasons it may be difficult for some Americans to wrap their heads around the idea they no longer live in a democratic country.
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” says the peer-reviewed study.
The study purports to be the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the U.S. is a democracy because until recently it has not been possible to test “contrasting theoretical predictions [that U.S. policy making operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model.”
The authors say their report is an effort to do so using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.
They conclude the numbers show without ambiguity that the U.S. is not a democracy anymore. It is clearly an oligarchy.
Writing in CounterPunch Eric Zuess sums it up this way:
“American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.”
HOW THE DATA WAS BROKEN DOWN
The two professors came to their conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions that were asked between the years 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues.
They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organized interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.
A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (just 1 out of 5 in favor) is adopted only about 18% of the time. But they discovered “a proposed change with high support (4 out of 5 in favor) is adopted about 45% of the time.”
But on the other hand when a majority of average citizens disagrees with the economic elites and/or with organized interest groups, they generally lose.
What’s more, because of a strong “status quo bias” built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
Finally, the DailyKos points out what it considers one additional and ominous note to the report that many Americans may have missed:
“The date range for the data set for this study was 1981-2002. Did you catch that? The set of data does not include study beyond 2002, yet the conclusion even then is that we’ve become an oligarchy. Consider all that’s then missing in the equation:
The Iraq War, drones, the 2008 criminally-caused economy crash, the rise of the Kochs, the most obstructive Congress in history, OWS beat down by government proven collusive with the banks, Citizen’s United, McCutcheon, Wikipedia’s leaks & Manning’s torture (arguably), Edward Snowden revelations.
Even without the rigors of research, it would be obvious to conclude that 2002 compared to today was practically a majoritarian paradise. It boggles the mind and fuels the urgency of the issue.”