May 4, 2014. It’s official. Two prestigious university professors and their teams looked at 1,779 policy actions taken by the US government over 21 years. What they discovered is that practically everything the federal government has done in that time has benefited wealthy special interest groups over the American people. Why? They say much of it is because lobbyists and corporations are the ones writing the nation’s laws and paying the politicians.
Image courtesy of and copyright Emily Mills.
The research covers government laws and policies from 1981 to 2002. More recent policies weren’t included assumedly because time is needed to gage who benefits from each program. The researchers leave little doubt however that America’s wealthiest individuals and corporations have benefited the most, almost exclusively, over the past three decades.
Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens
The title of the research report by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin I. Page is, ‘Testing Theories of American Politics - Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens’. The 42-page report is a scathing indictment of both Wall Street corporations and Washington career politicians. The authors all but come right out and say the United States of America has been overthrown by multi-national corporations.
‘Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence,’ the report states, ‘The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination.’
The researchers concede that the one somewhat legitimate criticism they may receive is that they were forced to use their common sense in judging what laws, policies and programs were desirable to the various classes of Americans studied. For instance, there is no evidence that corporate America is in favor of multi-billion-dollar corporate welfare programs or that the working class supports a higher minimum wage. Researchers were forced to use a variety of methods, which included making some common sense assumptions.
Economic Elite Domination
That’s a term that reappears throughout the recent study from Princeton and Northwestern. The authors suggest it isn’t as easily defined as one might imagine. Everyone would agree the description fits Americans who are among the country’s wealthiest in terms of net worth. But the research also looked at others who may find themselves classified in that category because they control vast sums of money, even though they don’t own it themselves. They include corporate executives and CEO’s, Congressmen on powerful budget and appropriations committees, and even US Military commanders and defense contract representatives, each of which handles multi-billion-dollar deals on a regular basis.
Explaining the unique oligarchy that makes up America’s ruling class, the report says, ‘Some emphasize social status or institutional position - such as the occupancy of key managerial roles in corporations, or top-level positions in political parties, in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of government, or in the highest ranks of the military.’
The researchers then go on to detail their evidence of the existence of what most Americans simply term, “the good ole boy network.” The report explains, ‘Some elite theories postulate an amalgam of elites, defined by combinations of social status, economic resources, and institutional position, who achieve a degree of unity through common backgrounds, coinciding interests, and social interactions.’
American Democracy Dead
The report ends with a very saddening conclusion - that the American people have absolutely no power in their own country and their chances of reforming it at this point are slim to none. ‘A final point: even in a bivariate, descriptive sense, our evidence indicates that the responsiveness of the US political system when the general public wants government action is severely limited,’ the authors conclude, ‘Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the US 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.’
The researchers them come right out and say that the only time the American people get their way on any issue is when their opinion matches that of the nation’s elites. ‘Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo, opposing 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.’
View the full report at Princeton.edu.
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