Home > Political Economy > Deception and democracy: convincing the masses to help the rich

Deception and democracy: convincing the masses to help the rich

from Asad Zaman and the WEA Pedagogy Blog

There is widespread agreement on the proposition that people act according to their self-interest. Marx went further to suggest that people subscribe to ideologies conforming to their class interests. For example, agricultural laborers would believe in land reforms, while big landlords would believe that small farms are inefficient. Gradually the weight of strong empirical evidence has led me to understanding that this proposition is false. Large segments of the population can be brought to believe in, and act according to, ideologies extremely harmful to their self interest. As Dani Rodrik has written in “How the Rich Rule”, political scientists Gilens & Page found that on issues where there was a conflict between the interest of the elite and that of the public, Congress voted in favor of the elite and against the public interest. In the past, the elites have enforced their interests by the use of power. In a democratic age, the same effect is achieved by the use of propaganda. This is striking because the propaganda must convince the public to act against their own self-interest, in favor of the ruling elites. It would seem that you can fool most of the people most of the time. Here is some empirical evidence for my thesis:  read more

  1. Ken Zimmerman
    December 9, 2014 at 2:57 am

    One issue jumps out at me in this article. That is its single minded focus on economic interests. I know sometimes it’s difficult for economists to accept that people actually hold concerns that are not economic and often place these ahead of economic concerns. For example, people may actually be willing to give up a large share of any economic benefits coming to them in order to experience their religious life more fully.

    • December 9, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      I agree with the article and the comment. Yeah, Marx went through that—class determines consciousness (or people’s thoughts or ideology is just a translation of their paycheck from dollar units into meme units “My mind is on my money and my money is on my mind’ (song by Snoop Dawg, old rap music).
      . “Manufacturing consent’ by chomsky and herman (of Wharton school of U Pa, and some sort of stalinist type—birds of a feather flock together i guess) went through this also though its nothing new (see Vance Packard from the 50’s on advertizing for example, or Thorstein Veblen (one of my first students)) . (I once wrote a book review of MC in which i slammed the ‘propoganda model’ in there (which is even worse than chosmky’s ‘universal grammar’ model of language (which is actually just tautological common sense dressed up in ever more and more baroque pseudo-mathematical symbols a la copernicus’ epicycles (government and binding, minimalist program’, etc. , though parts of it are salvageable if you get rid of all the discussions—just because you can fix a tire doesn’t mean i have to accept your interpretation of the bible). You can be sure the politbureau or whatever we have here made sure that review never saw the light of day, though i wrote at least 20 years after the book came out, since thats when i saw it. ).

      Zimmerman’s view is what people said about T Frank;’s ‘what’s the matter with kansas’ (a book about why people in the midwest, and kansas, where frank is from, seem to vote against their interests (eg for tea party like candidates even if it doesnt benefit their income). One reason is they don’t particularily agree with people like T Frank, who left Kansas, went to UC for some sort of philosophy or political science degree (its funny how you can get a PhD from a place like UC and it doesn’t matter if its on say ‘renormalization group theory’ under Kadanoff (Noble prize in physcis) or on ‘postmodern interpretations of wittgenstein-hegelian dialectics of the spectacle’ , you still get either tenure (in physics), or get to be a member of the Washington DC elite ‘chattering class’ like Frank (who also grew up in the most elite commmunity in KC. (Frank may be an example of what is the matter with Kansas, he just left himself out of his book, only focusing on the more ‘average ‘ people (who for example are still farmers to an extent). He is the ‘new class’ (Djilas of yugoslavia, or James Burnham ex-trotskyist turned reactionary…) —people who live large while claiming to speak for the poor. Of course he doesn’t collect a paycheck as some CEO, his money is clean, laundered through the NYT’s or Nation mag.

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