from Peter Radford
The 2012 Page, Bartels, and Seawright paper makes interesting reading. I came across it via the Krugman blog and recommend it to you all.
The key is that this is a first small attempt to quantify the difference in perspective between the ‘wealthy’ and the ‘general public’. The paper is thus an important step along the way towards understanding why it is that so much of our political discourse seems totally blind to the reality as experienced by the vast majority of our citizens.
If, like me, you have come to believe that our policy makers have a narrow focus and that their focus overlaps more with that of the wealthy and/or big business than it does with ordinary folk, then this paper is a start to getting empirical support for that feeling.
The paper’s concluding paragraph is worth quoting in full:
“Even without being able to gauge the actual political power of wealthy citizens, we can confidently reject the view that extensive political power by the wealthy would be of little practical importance anyway because their political preferences are much the same as everyone else’s. On many important issues the preferences of the wealthy appear to differ markedly from those of the general public. Thus, if policy makers do weigh citizens’ policy preferences differentially based on their income or wealth, the result will not only significantly violate democratic ideals of political equality, but will also affect the substantive contours of American public policy.”
This is the point: the ability of wealth to affect policy, substantially increased by recent trends and legal decisions, is subverting the very foundation of America’s self-image and self-justification. It is no longer a democracy, or is nearly so, and is rapidly declining into plutocracy.
Whether we have reached the end of this decline or are only partially along the way is of major concern. The outcome is grim. It implies the end of the middle class as a concrete social reality and the emergence or reinforcement of a more highly stratified class system that will block progressive political action and the possibility of the majority sharing in the fruits of society’s advance.
On a related note:
Libertarian economists seem able to ignore the profoundly destabilizing outcomes of the so-called liberalism they espouse. Their willingness and ability to separate theories of economics from theories of society as a whole is breathtakingly narrow-minded. It is left, unfortunately, to people in other social sciences to keep the word ‘social’ alive with any semblance of meaning or relation to reality.
I think any student seriously interested in studying society ought steer clear of most economics until they have a good and firm understanding of its contingent nature. Above all they need to understand the ambivalence of economic theory, its axiomatic limitations, and its inability to cohere into any broad application. They ought never leave an economics class thinking they have acquired an incontrovertible body of knowledge. And they always ought to put what they have just been taught within a the broader based context provided by other social sciences.
That way when they act as workers, managers, and voters they can look on economics with the skepticism it deserves. They can think of it as one methodology amongst many. For economics has become not much more than a method. Moreover it is a method with an ideological twist.
Hence its complicity in the emergence of plutocracy.
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