John M. Becker

Think the U.S. is a Democracy? Think Again

Filed By John M. Becker | April 17, 2014 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: 1%, 99%, background checks, campaign finance, democracy, gun control, income inequality, oligarchy, stacked deck, wealthy

oligarchy-exclusive-club.pngA major new study of the American political system from Princeton and Northwestern Universities has reached an alarming, if unsurprising, conclusion: we don't have a democracy, we have an oligarchy -- a government that's not of the people, by the people, and for the people, but rather of, by, and for the rich and powerful.

The study, titled "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," looked at the beliefs of average Americans over a 20-year time period and analyzed the degree to which those beliefs were reflected in public policy.

The Telegraph reports:

After sifting through nearly 1,800 US policies enacted in that period and comparing them to the expressed preferences of average Americans (50th percentile of income), affluent Americans (90th percentile) and large special interests groups, researchers concluded that the United States is dominated by its economic elite.

The peer-reviewed study, which will be taught at these universities in September, says: "The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organised 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."

Researchers concluded that US government policies rarely align with the the preferences of the majority of Americans, but do favour special interests and lobbying organisations: "When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it."

An example of this is the issue of gun reform. Polls taken in the aftermath of the Newtown school shooting found that an astonishing 90 percent of Americans support expanding background checks for gun purchases. (That truly is an incredible number -- you can't get nine in 10 Americans to agree on anything!)

But despite that overwhelming popular support, did we actually get expanded background checks? Nope, because the average American has no power in our oligarchy. Corporations, wealthy individuals, and interest groups like the National Rifle Association do -- and the NRA successfully squashed gun reform efforts.

Tragically, given the Supreme Court's recent McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision removing limits on the number of political campaigns individual donors can contribute to, the situation is likely to get far worse before it gets better.

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