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Princeton and Northwestern Study: The US is An Oligarchy

Princeton and Northwestern Study: The US is An Oligarchy

By Dennis Loo (4/16/14)

As reported today by the UK's Telegraph, a newly released study by Princeton and Northwestern Universities, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, concludes:

After sifting through nearly 1,800 US policies enacted in that period [1981-2002] 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 [sic] preferences of the majority of Americans, but do favour special interests and lobbying oragnisations [sic]: "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."

"Independent" influence or impact refers to a variable having a causal impact on the dependent variable. In this instance, the study examined whether or not the premises of different views were validated by the data. The premise of democratic theory, that the average citizens' opinions are the independent variable impacting the dependent variable of government's policy decisions, was not supported by the evidence: "mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

As the Telegraph article points out, this study comes in the wake of the US Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that lifted the existing ceiling on individual contributions to political campaigns on the grounds that those limits allegedly interfere with political free speech. That's right, Virginia, you can now spend unlimited amounts of money to make sure that your views are paid attention to by public officials. Isn't that marvelous? Aren't you glad that you have huge sums of money so that your interests are protected? Aren't you glad you're not one of the beknighted 90% of the population who don't have your assets?

This is why I have argued that systems cannot be changed from within and that the only way change can occur is through actions designed to mobilize people in collective action to get rid of the system and replace it with a radically different system. Any other actions that are based on the flawed notion that public officials can be persuaded to abide by the wishes of the people or that by putting different people into the same offices and within the same system are futile. When the Bolsheviks as part of their larger political strategy ran some individuals for political office prior to the 1917 October Revolution, they did not run on a platform of "vote for me and I will make the system work." They ran on a platform that the system itself is unredemable and that if elected they would use their posts as a platform to expose the system and its workings. Anyone who runs for office in the US and claims that they will make the system work is telling you a lie. The system is working the way it's actually designed to work and it's working in a manner that actually fulfills the assumptions and logic of democratic theory. Democracy isn't a great idea that just needs to be implemented properly. Democracy is an impoverished theory, robbed from its inception of what it allegedly promises to fulfill, authentic popular rule. The problem isn't the practice, the problem is the theory and the conditions that gave rise to it and sustain its pre-eminence theoretically.

Democratic theory, contrary to its proponents and even most of its critics, rules out of hand from the very start the outlandish notion that the people should ever actually come to over time progressively govern every arena of society. Instead, democracy and voting specifically is viewed as the only way that the "ruled" can throw out those who "rule" when the rulers become overly tyrannical. Democratic theory, in other words, provides no means by which the "ruled" can ever become the "rulers" themselves. See, for a much more developed discussion of these points, this link.

 

 

Comments   

 
+1 # Elizabeth arroyo 2014-04-16 21:13
The elites will always be in control when it comes to politics because money can buy you anything. If you donate a large sum of money to a person in politics, of course they are going to establish laws and policies that are going to benefit those who gave a contribution. The middle and working class will never be able to have a great impact and politics because in politicians eyes they really don't mean anything to them.
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+1 # marcam 2014-04-18 21:40
This is true. The elites with big pockets will always be in control, as long as we are in a capitalist society. Money is the biggest factor in our society and those with more money are thought to be more important to politicians. Politicians favour these elites because with their money they can stay in office and all they ask in return is to pass some laws that give them power. The average person will never be able to have those sums of money so their voice will not be heard and things will continue to stay the same with elites helping politicians and politicians helping elites.
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+1 # Jessica Ulloa 2014-04-20 21:04
As i agree that if those are persuaded by large sums of money that they will be able to be controlled. Although regardless of your economic status i feel that we should not succumb to this 'reality.' Politicians should not be allowed to be paid off, as this is not fair and true of what may be really needed. What we need to do is change this reality that money will dictate our choices, instead our ideas and beliefs are to dictate the choices being made for our country.
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+1 # soad 2014-04-21 05:54
I absolutely agree with your comments. Power lies to the person with the most money. One needs money to be a Congressman or a Senator, and these people who rise in the political game only keep the interests of those who have money in mind. The middle class and the working class are the foundation of the United States, and if their interests constantly aren't being met, people would get angered and it could possibly start a revolution.
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+1 # Karen Cornejo 2014-04-16 21:58
Money makes the world go around, easy as that people with money will always come out on top because they can buy anything. votes, opinions and even people. If they need something they simply pay. that is why like thaw article said, When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose…"
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+1 # giovanna sesrrano 2014-04-21 18:22
This is true. Money does make the world go round, and therefore, people with money will prevail, and their opinions will always impact the rest of society. When society disagree with the elites they will always loose, because the elites carry the power to invest, promote, and buy off anything including politics.
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+1 # tiamari 2014-04-25 00:28
Money at the end speaks louder. Those who have the economic means will have their concerns heard. On the other hand, those without economic means have to have their concerns ignored. Money determines who gets attention.
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0 # katgrl15 2014-04-16 23:51
It almost seems as if this study is bringing light to the fact that elites are in power, yet this is practically a given nowadays. Even though there are some people that are not in the loop of understanding that we are controlled by elites, most people know we are not only economically but socially and politically controlled by those in power. You can relate this article to Durkheim because, "More than any other sociologist, Durkheim came to grips with the problematic relationship between individual and community”. We as individuals have tension and distance because our community is revolved around elites being in power. Elites have the last say in everything that pertains to having a functioning community and society which creates a detachment from people and society. The article stated the study was not supported well, but it does show a truth that has existed for a long time; elites are those in power and democracy is an illusion.
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0 # katgrl15 2014-04-17 18:58
It almost seems as if this study is bringing light to the fact that elites are in power, yet this is practically a given nowadays. Even though there are some people that are not in the loop of understanding that we are controlled by elites, most people know we are not only economically but socially and politically controlled by those in power. You can relate this article to Durkheim because, "More than any other sociologist, Durkheim came to grips with the problematic relationship between individual and community”. We as individuals have tension and distance because our community is revolved around elites being in power. Elites have the last say in everything that pertains to having a functioning community and society which creates a detachment from people and society. The article shows a truth that has existed for a long time; elites are those in power and democracy is an illusion.
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0 # Sadiez Moreno 2014-04-19 16:27
I agree with you. Individuals that possess the monetary means have the ability to obtain and maintain the exertion of authority over the rest of us. Their voices are listened to because their organizations are contributing to the wealth of the wealthy; the elite. The majority of voices, however, are considered mere whispers, simply annoyances that just won't go away. While I agree with you on that, as far as how most people should know this already, you'd think that is the case. But I'd like to point out what the professor said in class. He explained that many people possess the notion of "Well, if it's in the media or public policy, it's because the people want it;" which clearly isn't the case at all. To this day, a lot of people are under the impression that we ARE listened to because the media has contorted their thinking so much, and the way the media tailor what they show on the air to make it seem like it is in the entire population's best interest.
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0 # Sme 2014-04-19 22:47
The way the nation moves and makes policy is based on the interest of those with the power to change laws; those who have the power of money. The elites are able to change policies to better suit their interest because they have the means to do so. This happens while the rest of Americans are being distracted by the media. Most of Americans are unaware that their voices are not being heard and that the representatives that are supposed to represent the people are representing the elite.
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0 # jatoxqui 2014-04-20 03:40
It's true that all of this is happening while the American public's attention is being diverted by the media. However, a big reason for the media to do so is because they themselves are being controlled by the few elite. The public is socially, politically, and economically controlled by the elite precisely through the media. It is through mass media that the elite transmit whatever they want the public to believe. The media show what is in the interest of the elite, not the American public's. It just so happens that we are blinded by the same words from the First Amendment, "freedom of the press" that people truly believe such a thing exists when the reality is that the media have become an extension of the government, not the people.
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0 # Christine Lopez 2014-04-20 00:19
The elites have more power and control to make decision on politics and policies such as laws and regulations that can effect everybody. because they are able to contribute money, and economic financing for a campaigns they are able to create policies that might be at a disadvantage for some people because they can voice there opinion because they do not have the same amount of money. the more money one may have the easier it is to make laws. Dr.Loo mentioned in class that some of the Las Vegas Casino were the biggest contribute to Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign.
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0 # Marisol Parra 2014-04-20 06:00
Soc 305-
Agree with Christine Lopez elites will have more power to control the laws and regulations. Dr.Loo did indeed mention that the majority of the Casinos in Vegas gave money to Mitt Romney Campaign. Raymond Lotta made a great point when he used the analogy of going to sleep for 4 years for every Presidential election, which makes a great standpoint to understand what we are voting for and how they will make a difference in America. Lotta explained to take revolution to make change in America instead of going to sleep and waking up every 4 years to no change.
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0 # tiffany 2014-04-20 04:33
I have lost all hope in our government. America, a representative democracy, we have highs we have lows, but yes, the elites rule our country. Now come on, it has been this way since the start of our government, this is nothing new and this is nothing to be shocked about. The elites created our government and they will continue to rule our country, the rest of us shall just pretend our vote actually counts, that our voice is actually being heard, because you never know, one day, it just might. With our federalist government we reduce the threat of tyranny and we do have a more responsive government but we also have inefficient redundancies and diverse resources among states which cause economic equalities which will always be there. Thats America.
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0 # Princess Peach 2014-04-20 06:09
As discussed in the SOC 302 lecture, public policies supposedly “mirror” what the public wants. However as discussed in this article, the majority of Americans do not agree with the current policies in place. It is hard for the average citizen’s voice to be heard since the average citizen does not have a large sum of money to donate to the political elites. The political elites are extremely controlling and they want to enact policies that the wealthy citizens of the United States favor. When this is accomplished, these wealthy citizens will continue to donate, thus making the political elites that much more powerful.
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0 # Michelle Ngo 2014-04-20 23:54
Money is everything. What's the point in voicing our opinions when in truth there are bigger influences around? From what we learn in history classes, the government are the voice of the people and goes by their interest. By voting for the person to get into office means that they will fight for what we believe in. . . or so we thought. What we do not know is the people behind the elected official. We also do not know how influenced they are by their sponsors.
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0 # flr9d 2014-04-21 00:04
This study points out something very important that is happening within our system. The majority of Americans are not agreeing with our current policies because their vote is not being used. Elites with large amounts of money are the ones making the policies that favor and help them stay in power by making them more money. I agree that in order to make a change the system can not be changed we must come up with a different system that favors the majority of citizens.
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0 # cutemeow 2014-04-21 02:21
The fact that the elites have power is an obvious statement, and its also true that there isn't much hope to change the system from the inside. Like you said, it takes only one person to speak out in order to start a movement. Although this is true, grassroots organizations need to continue to gain massive amounts of momentum in order to even have a chance of replacing the current system. I think that in order for these grassroots to evolve into nation wide social movements, the public needs to be politically conscious. Not only does the public need to be politically conscious, but also emotionally driven. Its one thing to be aware of the inequalities and uneven distribution of wealth, but unless a majority of people are personally and emotionally moved and affected by these facts, then the grassroots movements will not have enough numbers to incite change. I think things have to get a lot worse in order to get better...unfort unately. People need that sort of blunt awakening.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-21 02:30
Quoting cutemeow:
I think things have to get a lot worse in order to get better...unfortunately. People need that sort of blunt awakening.
On the one hand, things WILL get worse because this system can't avoid that trajectory since it's based upon exploitation and the relentless pursuit of profit. On the other hand, the idea that we have to wait until it gets worse before people wake up is a mistake. It's a common mistake, but a big mistake nonetheless. The problem isn't mainly that things aren't bad enough and that's why many are still politically asleep. The main problem is that an alternative perspective on what's going on is not out there in anywhere nearly a big enough way to contend with the dominant and conventional ways of seeing things. Most peo are summing up things erroneously in the absence of that competing vision. It makes a huge difference when indivs are exposed to a radically different way of seeing things. That's what needs to happen now and going forward.
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0 # draen 2014-04-21 04:58
While upsetting, the findings of this study are not surprising. We live in a society where money can buy just about anything and unfortunately, the supply concentrated in the hands of the elites. The elites are able to influence policies that benefit them and the other party in their deal. We are not the democratic nation we claim to be as long as only a select few are influencing policy.
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0 # LA305302 2014-04-21 05:03
everyone keeps mentioning money and profit, but I believe that beside profit, it also has much do to with power. simply having money can give great power, but that is not the only running force. people are not asleep to the notion of what is going on, but merely distracted. we can not possibly wait for things to get worse, but be advocates to get the word out there to change policies. in order for change to happen many people have to be in favor and knowledgable. Like durkheim states, if you teach those who do not know, they will be unsatisfied with the conditions they are currently in. if enough people get involved in changing policies, MAYBE something can happen. we do not live in a democratic nation, but revolution is the only way to escape current sanctions.
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0 # Slovebee 2014-04-21 05:53
When I found out sometime in middle school/high school that when people "vote" for different policies and the president they're actually voting for representatives and electoral staff that end up making the big decision, I always had a funny feeling about the "power" we're told to believe we have. We talked about this is SOC 302. There are so many social issues in this world, how do they choose which issues are more important? Well the elite decide which issue to pay attention to and which issue to ignore. That debilitates the people of so much say, because I'm confident if we were given a tiny percent more of a voice the issues that should be solved would be actively worked on. If the agenda for social issues continues to lie in the hands of the elite, I don't think anything of any importance will ever get done.
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0 # Sherlock 2014-04-21 06:40
I feel that our government is always going to be hated on, no matter what form of government it is. There is no way that everyone is ever going to be happy with the way things are. Living in a Utopia is impossible because everyone is so opinionated and have their own ideas. Instead of worrying about how things should be, we should try to make the best out of how things are.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-21 12:47
Quoting Sherlock:
Living in a Utopia is impossible because everyone is so opinionated and have their own ideas.
I don't believe in utopias. On the other hand, there's a big difference between utopias and systems. Systems are real and operate according to a certain system logic and lay out the paths of least resistance for those who occupy those systems. Hence, it's not a question of doing the best out of what exists but of recognizing that depending upon what system you live in, that certain outcomes are inevitable. Capitalism's based on exploitation and the drive for profits. It's not based on social needs. That is a decisive and deeply consequential difference. If capitalism is allowed to continue the planet is going to be ruined, as it is now. You cannot save the planet from climate change and the acidification of the oceans unless capitalism is overthrown.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-21 22:04
There is a caveat I'd like to point out about this study and its implications. There's a certain too easy a response that some of the comments have been along the lines of "elites and money will always have the say." There's something deeper and more complicated involved here than a kind of "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." It has to do with a system, capitalism, that is based upon the relentless pursuit of profit. One cannot understand the real problem if you separate out the commodity of money from the system for which money is the blood for: capitalism. Money doesn't make the world go round. People's labor makes the world go round. If we overlook this distinction then we run the risk of throwing up our hands in despair that anything can ever be done to change the situation.
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0 # jnc 2014-04-22 04:52
Money buys people nearly everything including power. The political leaders that we elect into office get our attention by putting their name out there in the media, which is spending a tremendous amount of money to do so. The more money spent the higher their chances are of being elected into office. In doing this, we lose sight of other issues that are a hand such as poverty in the state, and focus on electing the man with the most money, who will not spare a dime to us, into office.
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0 # minnie 2014-04-22 07:39
I do not agree with the comments that state that it is a “given” or that it is common knowledge that the elites are in power. Many people do not care for politics and do not care to be or are not privileged enough to be educated about the true side of how the U.S. government works. Throughout grade school, students are educated about the “glories of democracy” and that democracy is a type of government that is representative of the people. Just as the media distorts the view of crime in peoples’ minds, the media, for the most part, also does a good job of over glorifying democracy. I believe that it is excellent that Princeton and Northwestern Universities published this study so that people may begin to realize that there are major flaws in the U.S. government. The fact that these studies will be taught at these universities is, I think, a step forward in revealing the truth about the U.S. government.
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0 # minnie 2014-04-22 07:40
"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."
This quote reminds me of the Raymond Lotta event that I attended. Lotta talked about how us, as U.S. citizens, in fact are fooled into believing that with our vote that we are participating in our government. The reality is, the elites are those who choose what issues we vote on, and according to the above quote, their interests will always surpass ours in matter of importance and influence. This is not a democracy representing the common people at all.
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0 # Lomonaco 2014-05-25 16:25
Like we have learned. We are only given choices to think we have a say in who runs the country. The ones who run the country are the ones who have money or know people who will back them with money and the person who can lie the best at time of election. We as the American public do not really have a say in what is being done. The elites stick together to protect what they have.
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Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12