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United States Politics

Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy 818

Posted by Soulskill
from the cats-and-dogs-governing-together dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University have concluded, after extensive analysis of 1,779 policy issues, that the U.S. is in fact an oligarchy and not a democracy. What this means is that, although 'Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance,' 'majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.' Their study (PDF), to be published in Perspectives on Politics, found that 'When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.'"
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Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

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  • Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sandbagger (654585) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @02:12AM (#46764459)

    You lift the limits on campaign spending, declare that corporations have the right of political speech and are now surprised that the rich people have all the say?

    I have no sympathy. In fact, many of you cheered it as a sign of greatness and freedom that America was doing this. Your allies, however, were fucking appalled. Let

  • "little influence" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kthreadd (1558445) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @02:13AM (#46764461)

    It took a study to figure that out?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @02:24AM (#46764549)

    Benjamin Franklin chose his words well.

  • Re:Revolt? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FlyHelicopters (1540845) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @02:26AM (#46764561)

    Does this give us a free pass to revolt now?

    Yes, but you've had that right the whole time...

    You will, however, find it very much harder to do today than it was 230 years ago...

    It isn't just that the US military has tanks and stealth bombers (they help of course), it is that they more or less control the media, thus control what people see, read, and think...

    To this day, the average person continues to believe the news, as if everything they say is a "fact"...

    The other truth is... the American Revolution wasn't started by a bunch of serfs, it was started by rich land owners who didn't like their deal...

  • by cpm99352 (939350) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @02:35AM (#46764597)
    Technically I believe the United States is a Constitutional Republic.

    Danger: anecdote ahead...I listened to an NPR interview recently where it was stated there was significant fear during the Irish/Italian immigration waves that the immigrants were not capable of appreciating US' liberty, and would effectively dilute it. I now think that was accurate, and came to pass.

    One cannot argue that in today's United States we have liberty - cutting down a tree requires a permit, even when there are no safety considerations. Growing various plants is illegal. Operating a hair-cutting business without the proper permits is illegal. The list goes on...

    Republic? Long gone... One can debate, but I would nominate Wilson at the latest. FDR is the common scapegoat, but Wilson certainly set the stage. There may be earlier contestants, but this is not my area of expertise.
  • Re:Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DMJC (682799) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @02:58AM (#46764717)
    In Sydney we just arrested the State Premier for corruption over a bottle of wine. The system works. The Prime minister is not above the law in Australia. Something that the USA has never managed to sort out with their corrupt system. Nixon should have been jailed, but really the rot had started to set in long before then. The Greens in Australia are a credible threat to the Liberal and Labor parties. Unlike America, where there is no alternative political movement that can ever get into office. The minor parties in Australia actually get to set policy and ensure that the average person retains a speaking voice in our government.
  • Re:Duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pr100 (653298) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @02:59AM (#46764723)

    Try the Scandinavian countries instead.

  • Re:Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gslj (214011) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @03:21AM (#46764797)

    You know, I think the surest way to keep politicians semi-honest is to have a multi-party system and its corollary, the minority government. Just in my own lifetime I've seen a prairie protest party (Social Credit by name, not nature) disappear, a major party on the right (Progressive Conservative) go from the largest parliamentary majority ever to extinction, a party that wants to break the country in two become the Official Opposition, another prairie protest party on the right (Reform) try to take national power, a socialist party (NDP) go from perennial third or fourth party status to being the Official Opposition, Canada's other major party, the Liberals, drop down to a poor third, the party on the right reconstitute itself, the Green Party get a member in parliament for the first time... And I'm simplifying. New parties are always bubbling up, and the three biggest parties go up and down and sometimes disappear.

    Nothing keeps the rascals on their toes like fear of the electorate.

    -Gareth

  • by SigmundFloyd (994648) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @03:38AM (#46764849)

    It took a study to figure that out?

    It took a study to find proof.

  • Carter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bussdriver (620565) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @03:47AM (#46764885)

    Carter was the last President; after him, it has been a complete sham. One reason he had it so bad is because he went up stream against a system that was near death.

    You only have power in a corrupt system as long as you go with the flow; it's empty power but it is enough to still attract tools. Like a C or B movie villain's 2nd in command, the second he falls out of line all that power does nothing to stop a dramatic (and cliche) example from being made of them.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rvw (755107) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @03:54AM (#46764921)

    This is *before* those limits were lifted. As a citizen, I'm looking forward to seeing the power of the wealthy further cemented in this country, and so exquisitely draped in the pretense of democracy that my fellow citizens believe themselves empowered. It's gonna get better! (For the wealthy). How exciting for those of us who imagine ourselves upwardly mobile within the American caste system.

    George Lakoff explained how it works in his book Don't think of an elephant [amazon.com]. People don't vote for what's best for them (using logic). They vote their identity, and the conservitives have made excellent use of language to frame the debate in such a way that poor people actually feel good about removing social services, by voting Republican. Tax cuts are framed as "tax relieve", only relieving the state of so much money it can't afford social programs anymore.

    In their view social programs are bad for poor people, as poor people deserve to be poor, and this punishes them for not working hard enough. Rich people deserve to be rich. They are clever, otherwise they wouldn't be rich. If poor people want to be rich, let them work for it. Poor people are needed to serve the rich. (This is not my view to be clear).

    Another important frame: Pro Life! Abortion is bad, because it undermines the power of the father in the family. When a teenager becomes pregnant, it's her own fault, and she should live with the consequences. She didn't listen to her father, who is the moral authority and who decides what's good and what't wrong. When an adult woman decides to have an abortion because she wants to work on her career, she undermines this strict-father-morale as well. A career is not for women - they should stay at home and raise the children. Pro Life is not about life, it's about male dominance. Pro Life is not about the life of that baby - they don't care about that baby that probably would have little value to them. Pro Life is not about life, because it's OK to physically attack and occasionally kill people who work at abortion clinics. Casualties of war!

    How can you be against life? Are you for real that you want more taxes? Vote Conservative!

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @04:15AM (#46764987) Journal

    and you're advocating restricting your own political power and participation.

    So? Some people actually have morals.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @04:18AM (#46764995) Journal

    The European governing elites are far more removed from what average Europeans want than American politicians are from average Americans.

    Nope.

  • Summary Fail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShoulderOfOrion (646118) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @04:18AM (#46764997)

    As usual. It implies that the views of 'average Americans' are abrogated by the economic elite. As the PDF clearly states on page 14 "It turns out, in fact, that the preferences of average citizens are positively and fairly highly correlated, across issues, with the preferences of the economic elites." It also turns out that the paper defines 'average American' as someone at the 50% income level, and 'economic elite' as someone at the 90% income level or above, which works out to $146,000. The paper than argues that this 'elite' population fairly represents the truly elite (the top 2%) based on 13 policy preference questions--which aren't listed in the paper--with a correlation of r=0.91 vs a correlation of r=0.69 for the 'average' population.

    Sorry. There ain't nothing in this paper about the Koch brothers, Soros, Oprah, Bill Gates, or any of your other favorite elites. This is all about Joe the Plumber vs your mid-level Google executive.

    So how does the paper define the views of the 'average American'? Well, on page 15, there's this "Some particular U.S. membership organizations--especially the AARP and labor unions--do tend to favor the same policies as average citizens. But other membership groups take stands that are unrelated (pro-life and pro-choice groups) or negatively related (gun owners) to what the average American wants." A footnote 40 then directs you to another paper by one of the same authors, presumably for the corroborating data.

    Finally, on page 18, we encounter this: "Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system--federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism--together with further impediments due to anti-majoritarian congressional rules and procedures, the system has a substantial status quo bias. Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo, opposing a given policy change, they are likely to get their way; but when a majority--even a very large majority--of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants."

    In other words, here's the real summary: "Elite academic researchers at elite universities have conducted a study in which they find that the constitutional system put in place by the founders of the republic to prevent mob rule is thwarting their elite progressive agenda by working as intended. Oh, and throwing a lot of money around and making noise tends to draw attention to your cause, particularly when it aligns with the majority view, which it does most of the time."

    Nothing to see here. Move on.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @04:32AM (#46765035)

    Sorry, but no, you're not. You are not given the opportunity to vote for your representatives and leaders. You're given a false dichotomy, the illusion that you have a choice while in fact the system is rigged and perverted to the point to ensure that you actually have none. The main reason why there is no threat of violence or worse for making the wrong choice is simply that you CAN NOT make the wrong choice. You are simply not given an option that could be considered the wrong choice for those in power.

    The effort necessary to get a candidate elected that is not from either side of The Party is so overwhelming that it is near impossible to get it done. The last time a third candidate took a state in a presidential election was Wallace in 68, before that Thurmond in 48, Follette (if you want to count that single state) in 24 and Roosevelt in 12. Who was, btw, also the ONLY one of the four to even come close to playing a role other than the comic relief. It's been OVER A CENTURY since someone from a group that's not part of The Party came even CLOSE to being elected as president.

    What? Senators and congressmen you say, they come from independent groups and parties sometimes? Sure. Why not? It's not like one or a handful of them can put a dent into the majority held by The Party. It's a little known fact that such groups and "parties" existed in Communism, too. They were called Bloc parties [wikipedia.org] and served as the same kind of comic relief as the indies in congress and senate, as a show token for the democracy theater.

    I'm from Europe. I know what it is like if you actually DO have parties with diverging world views. There are countries where you actually have everything from far left to far right to choose from. When you have such a variety, you tend to not even notice the, from an Euro point of view, rather subtle difference between Republicans and Democrats. Every time I watch a debate between two of your candidates, it feels like the host is trying very, very hard to come up with questions that would not get the same answer from them. You get to hear the most outlandish topics being discussed because those are simply the ONLY petty rubbish they don't agree on.

    That's democracy? Really? When I think of the US and the term "separation of power", the only thing I come up with is that the corporations must not vote, so they get to choose who you may vote for by contributions. You in turn get no choice of candidates, your job is just to pick the lesser evil.

  • Re:Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stripe7 (571267) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @05:13AM (#46765185)
    Not only is the president immune from prosecution given the Nixon example, but none of the bank managers, presidents or CEO's were ever jailed for causing the last financial disaster. That if nothing else proves that the US is an Oligarchy.
  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @05:18AM (#46765193) Homepage

    If you need a paycheck, you are working class.

  • Rome 2.0 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zediker (885207) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @05:41AM (#46765281)
    Ahhh America, Rome 2.0. Now I just wonder who will be our Marius to kickstart our whole no limitations on terms, and Augustus to finally rule on us as princeps and make the transition from republic to empire official...
  • by NReitzel (77941) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:04AM (#46765323) Homepage

    Perhaps it's time for a constitutional amendment.

    In times of past, when it took weeks and months to communicate between far away places (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles) it made sense to structure the political organization of this country as a railroad organization. Today, it does not.

    What we need to do is simple: We need to define, in simple print, that corporate fictions are not in fact citizens, and as such, do not have political freedoms or civil rights as such.

    The concept if a corporate fiction as a person is a bit ridiculous anyway. A corporation can engage in activities that kill people (against the law) but they cannot be imprisoned. Finding General Motors (say) criminally liable for something that they have done corporately is a joke. They are already immune from such prosecution and bringing criminal charges that stick against board members or management is a very difficult thing.

    If corporate entities cannot participate in the democratic process; there is no proxy for voting in a general election. We should formalize this and extend it so that corporate fictions simply cannot make political contributions of any size whatsoever. If management has strong political feelings, let the members make a personal contribution in their own name and not from corporate funds. If a CEO wants to contribute millions to a political candidate, well, they're paid enough to write the check. If a corporation feels strongly about a political issue, they can encourage (but not require) that their employees write their own checks to whatever political cause is extant. A vote, and a political contribution, should only be permitted to come from someone who can be demonstrated to be a living, breathing person and not some vacuous entity dreamed up by invisible attorneys.

    This moves us back to the "one man, one vote" ideal our forefathers envisioned. Right now, we're moving ever closer to merchantilism and "One Dollar, One Vote" -- which, in my humble opinion, is not a good thing at all.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lorien_the_first_one (1178397) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:25AM (#46765411)

    We are living in Lesterland.

    http://lesterland.lessig.org/ [lessig.org]

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:31AM (#46765435)

    As long as the majority of people believe abortion, and gay rights and smoking are the litmus test of politics, we will continue to slip farther away frow constitutional rights of life libery and the pursuit of happiness, which does't really require democracy. Rather, a people not so gullible.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:55AM (#46765539)

    George Lakoff explained how it works in his book Don't think of an elephant [amazon.com].

    I once picked up this book in a bookstore. I read a few pages into the first chapter, where he claims that Republicans believe in beating newborn babies with "sticks, belts and wooden paddles". I stopped reading at that point, figuring that such a partisan shill can't possibly have anything useful to say.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:56AM (#46765547)

    This, like What's the Matter with Kansas assumes that voting should always be about self-interest, but both sides have segments that vote for what they think is best for the country as a whole rather than necessarily themselves.

    The pro life argument is generally not that the woman should be punished, but that abortion is the taking of a life and therefore murder. The vast majority of the pro life movement is not okay with murder (that's exactly what they are fighting against!) but if you want to understand the mindset that leads some on the fringe to kill abortion providers, ask yourself what you would have done at Sandy Hook if you were armed and in a position to confront the man who was murdering children.

    With regard to social programs, a number ARE bad for the poor based on empirical evidence that rather than lifting people out of poverty, they entrap people over multiple generations. Some examples of these are sliding scales in subsidies that make the marginal gain from having income from a job and income near 0 or even negative over certain income ranges. Another is the (at least historically) existence of incentives in favor of single mothers in many welfare programs. The latter is an example of something well intentioned, helping those in most dire need more, but which produced perverse incentives leading to more families in that dire need.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ibwolf (126465) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:57AM (#46765551)

    In most democracies there are usually two parties that most people vote for (Both of which are different shades of shit).

    Citation needed!

    Most (European anyway) democracies are parliamentary democracies with 4-6 major parties plus some number of smaller/fringe parties. Typically, no one party has a majority and coalition governments are the norm.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cantankerous Cur (3435207) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @07:31AM (#46765683)

    I can't say I agree

    Free market capitalism implies EVERYTHING and EVERYONE is for sale. (ex. politicians, laws, etc)

    The true measure of a country is its wealth distribution. The average person's life is better as the wealth distribution increases and vice versa. There are numerous ways to accomplish this but certainly a system where the wealthy can alter the laws to suit themselves is not a valid method.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ash Vince (602485) * on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:17AM (#46765911) Journal

    I'm from Europe. I know what it is like if you actually DO have parties with diverging world views. There are countries where you actually have everything from far left to far right to choose from.

    And if you look at certain parts of Europe (ie, anywhere not the UK) you have proportional representation where people with politically diverse views actually have to work together to get stuff done. The problem is that makes for a "weak" government because it tends to be more responsive to the public who elected them. Can't have that :)

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:35AM (#46766051)
    While this is true, there are generally two large parties that garner 60-80% of the seats, and these tend to be centrist parties with the same sort of minor differences that we see in the USA between Republican and Democrat. One drawback to the parliamentary system that I've seen is that fringe parties can have a disproportionate influence since neither centrist party has enough votes to form a majority on its own and needs to bribe them to join a coalition. At least, this is what I saw in Israel, and bribe is precisely the correct word. At one point it got so sickening that the two major parties formed a coalition instead.
  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vermonter (2683811) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:38AM (#46766075)

    This is *before* those limits were lifted. As a citizen, I'm looking forward to seeing the power of the wealthy further cemented in this country, and so exquisitely draped in the pretense of democracy that my fellow citizens believe themselves empowered. It's gonna get better! (For the wealthy). How exciting for those of us who imagine ourselves upwardly mobile within the American caste system.

    George Lakoff explained how it works in his book Don't think of an elephant [amazon.com]. People don't vote for what's best for them (using logic). They vote their identity, and the conservitives have made excellent use of language to frame the debate in such a way that poor people actually feel good about removing social services, by voting Republican. Tax cuts are framed as "tax relieve", only relieving the state of so much money it can't afford social programs anymore.

    In their view social programs are bad for poor people, as poor people deserve to be poor, and this punishes them for not working hard enough. Rich people deserve to be rich. They are clever, otherwise they wouldn't be rich. If poor people want to be rich, let them work for it. Poor people are needed to serve the rich. (This is not my view to be clear).

    Another important frame: Pro Life! Abortion is bad, because it undermines the power of the father in the family. When a teenager becomes pregnant, it's her own fault, and she should live with the consequences. She didn't listen to her father, who is the moral authority and who decides what's good and what't wrong. When an adult woman decides to have an abortion because she wants to work on her career, she undermines this strict-father-morale as well. A career is not for women - they should stay at home and raise the children. Pro Life is not about life, it's about male dominance. Pro Life is not about the life of that baby - they don't care about that baby that probably would have little value to them. Pro Life is not about life, because it's OK to physically attack and occasionally kill people who work at abortion clinics. Casualties of war!

    How can you be against life? Are you for real that you want more taxes? Vote Conservative!

    Ouch, that poor straw man didn't stand a chance against you...

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Billly Gates (198444) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:47AM (#46766185) Journal

    Since when is handing someone money free speech?

    What if I practiced my amendment rights by giving a judge $100 of free speech during a trial? I would have my ass behind a prison door faster than you can say bribery! But if a corporation wants to donate HEY ITS FREE SPEECH YOU HAVE IT TOO

    I just do nto understand the logic of the supreme court on this.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrNaz (730548) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:55AM (#46766273) Homepage

    In many European countries, citizens' rights are upheld, they are not treated like cattle for the crime of wanting to travel through an airport, they are not taxed to breaking point to fun pointless wars that enrich a tiny, politically connected clique, they have access to free education and healthcare and they have faster access to the internet.

    You can argue about definitions of "aristocracy" and who is or is not in de facto control until you're blue in the face. However, the outcomes speak for themselves.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @09:05AM (#46766381)

    You are being naive in your definition of wealth and are in fact completely very wrong in this. But don't feel ashamed, many other middle/upper class around the world have this wrong also and that is why they vote republican (in the US) or for other neo-con parties that do not actually represent their interests in practice - despite their rhetoric. (studies showing that many in the middle classes believing they will be wealthy soon and thus voting as if they were)

    This has been going on for a long time. Percentage wise very few Americans actually owned slaves yet it's estimated that somewhere between half a million and 1.5 million men served in the Confederate Army. That's a large number of people willing to die to protect the rights of the rich to own another human being. I have little doubt that if there were some kind of mythical Civil War today in the US that millions would willingly lay down their lives to protect the money of the rich and receive absolutely nothing in return for their willingness to fight and possibly die for somebody else's money.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey (321000) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @09:06AM (#46766401) Journal

    I'm a liberal (leftist, socialist, whatever. Farther left than the democrats for sure) and I'm pro-life. I have no interests in controlling women's reproductive lives, but as a Catholic I believe life begins at conception, and abortion is murder. Put any other false motives in my mouth, but the truth is, I'm pro-life because I'm anti-murder.

  • by meta-monkey (321000) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @09:29AM (#46766641) Journal

    I mostly agree, except this didn't start after World War I. The first things the founders did was restrict who could and couldn't vote. White male landowners. And in many places there was a wealth tax requirement to hold office. If you didn't have 1,000 pounds of wealth, you couldn't hold office in some states. Voting was effectively restricted to the top 10% of society, and holding office was for the 1%.

    And there really was never a time when the working class wasn't being exploited. There were strikes and riots all through the 1800s, complete with harsh crackdowns by the national guard and private police forces. The robber barons of the gilded age were made fantastically wealthy on the backs of the poor. Things got briefly better thanks to the rise of unions in the first half of the 20th century, but we've been backsliding ever since Reagan.

    Class warfare started the day one man said to another, "here's a boot, go stomp on that guy's face and I'll make things a little better for you," and it hasn't stopped yet. It will never stop until the last king and the last capitalist swing from a rope.

  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Roger Wilcox (776904) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @11:53AM (#46768783)
    The American civil war was about much more than slavery--in fact, the slavery thing was pretty much just a PR tool Lincoln used to solidify public opinion in the north. The real issues were about state's rights, self governance, secession, and consolidation of federal power. It's good to know that mass "education" is successfully keeping people confused about this.
  • Re:Are you kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alexhs (877055) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @02:38PM (#46771371) Homepage Journal

    The problem is people vote for tax cuts for the rich because they think they will be rich one day.

    “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
    -- John Steinbeck

    Not only the USA, apparently...

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