Home > inequality, Plutonomy > Affluent Rules

Affluent Rules

from Peter Radford

A couple of weeks ago I led off an article with a quote from a new Gilens and Page paper – linked to in the article. Subsequently I have acquired and waded through the Gilens book “Affluence & Influence”.

Time for a few more quotes, all from page 81 of the aforementioned book:

“The complete lack of government responsiveness to the preferences of the poor is disturbing and seems consistent with the most cynical views of American politics. These results indicate that when preferences between the well-off and the poor diverge, government policy bears absolutely no relationship to the degree of support or opposition among the poor.” 

“For those proposed policy changes on which middle- and high-income respondents’ preferences diverge by at least 10 percentage points, policy responsiveness for the 90th percentile remains strong … but is indistinguishable from zero for the 50th percentile”

“But when their views differ from those of more affluent Americans, government policy appears to be fairly responsive to the well-off and virtually unrelated to the desires of low- and middle-income citizens.”

In the context of our ongoing debate over inequality I think these quotes stand for themselves.

If by democracy we mean that government policy is at least somewhat responsive to the preferences of the citizenry, all the citizenry, then the US is not a democracy. Not in any truthful practical sense.

America is run by the wealthy, for the wealthy.

Or so it appears.

The truly sad part is that for all the blowhard references to the plight of the middle class, there is no evidence that policy responds at all. The only time those lower down the chain get a few crumbs thrown their way is when a policy suits, or reflects a preference of, those at the top too. Otherwise they are ignored. Totally.

Conversely when a policy helps the poor the resistance can be acute. An ironic example is health care reform. Support for reform is actually strongest higher in the income chain. Resistance is greater lower down amongst precisely those who would benefit the most. Yet the most ideologically driven resistance still comes from those who protect the wealthy above all else. And that resistance can do untold damage to the poor. Witness: recent research now shows that the rejection by certain states of the health care reform’s extension of Medicaid – which is entirely funded Federally and thus costs the states practically nothing – will cause the loss of life. It is a denial of life saving help to a large section of our society.

And they criticize people like me for daring to use the word “class”?

And they complain that the word “inequality” conjures up dark and dangerous thoughts of envy?

As American inequality has soared to surpass even that of the worst seen in any modern era economy, it has devoted less and less attention and resources to redistribution. Yes, what redistribution we have ameliorates the inequality that exists in the raw wealth and income distributions, but it has lagged far, far, behind. It has failed to keep up with the ability of our top strata to skim off ever greater shares for itself.

I wonder why policy is the way it is?

And: if it isn’t class warfare, what is it?

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Categories: inequality, Plutonomy
  1. Bruce E. Woych
    May 9, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age
    by Larry M. Bartels (March 14, 2010)
    (briefly from the extensive reviews):
    Using a vast swath of data spanning the past six decades,…
    …Bartels demonstrates that elected officials respond to the views of affluent constituents but ignore the views of poor people.”

  2. May 10, 2014 at 2:56 am

    Thank you, I suggest the intellectual power of this site self focus on a seven branch replacement for now antiquated representative democracy.

  3. Lyn Eynon
    May 10, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Yes, it is a class war. The Gilens & Page quote that starts your earlier article states that their study has controlled for the stands of organised interest groups. This is critical as the decline in the influence of organised groups defending working class and associated interests has given elites a freer hand in determining government policies, most obviously in the US but also in Europe. There is now much less of what Galbraith called ‘countervailing power’.

    The hard-won unionisation of the then core sectors of US industry – cars, steel, coal – in the 1930s enabled the ‘middle class’ prosperity of the post-war years. Similarly, the civil rights gains of the 1960s rested on organised struggle in the face of bitter opposition. Effective organisation can still influence government – just look at how successful the NRA is – but is now weak in progressive causes. Europe offers a similar picture: more evidence of popular organisation but policy influence policy weakened not just by union decline but also by the capture or collapse of mass working class parties.

    Organising is hard but the only way to counter elite dominance of nominally democratic political institutions.

  4. Bruce E. Woych
    May 11, 2014 at 4:47 am

    http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

    Wealth, Income, and Power
    by G. William Domhoff
    (First posted September 2005; most recently updated February 2013)
    Extensive references included.

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