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?