America: Land of the Rich (and Their Businesses)

America: Land of the Rich (and Their Businesses)

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Since its establishment over two hundred years ago, the United States has been widely regarded as a nation exceptional in its provision of liberty and opportunity—the supreme manifestation of democratic and Enlightenment ideals in the modern world. Central to these ideals is a sense of equal representation for all, a notion that every citizen holds, to a certain degree, influence in the political arena. In the last several decades, however, the degradation and long-standing absence of this ideal in American politics has become increasingly apparent. It has become clear that the American political system holds the interests of the wealthy and privileged in the highest esteem, while largely ignoring the preferences and welfare of the masses.

The men called to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 to craft the nation’s new Constitution were certainly not products of the poorer masses or even a working middle-class, but rather were the products of the “commercial and financial interests of the country.” They were all wealthy and established intellectuals, statesmen, lawyers, or businessmen, whose willingness to participate in such a convention did not stem from a democratic urge to represent the common American, but from an urgent need to protect their wealth and property previously vulnerable under the Articles of Confederation. And so, as the Framers worked diligently to ensure the domination of moneyed interests over the preferences of the masses, it is easy to see how our nation, from its very beginnings, has been predicated on a system that works to serve economic elites and corporations.

However odd it may seem to reference ancient American history, it is imperative that we understand the context through which America’s oligarchical tendencies have manifested. Today, the same moneyed interests pursued by the Framers have interestingly strayed from direct political involvement into the more elusive, “outside” spheres of influence now referred to as interest groups. In modern American politics, these groups have become virtually ubiquitous, the scope of their power rivalling or even exceeding that of legislators and government officials themselves. Interest groups are everywhere; their sway is felt by everyone.

Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, professors of political science at Princeton University and Northwestern University, set out in an empirical study to investigate how much influence common citizens today actually wield over American policy in the face of moneyed interests. After collecting and analyzing thousands of data sets, their conclusion: virtually none. Gilens and Page determined that “not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.” The preferences of the masses are nonfactors, dispelling for good practically any notion of majoritarian electoral democracy in the American political system. It seems the American Experiment in liberty and democracy doesn’t quite impress when held under close scrutiny.

So, if the majority does not rule, logic would ask—who does? The findings of Gilens and Page definitively conclude that economic elites and organized interest groups wield the real power in the American political system. The proof is in the numbers. Proposed policy reform that is opposed by economic elites (90th income percentile or above) is adopted about 18 percent of the time, while reform supported by elites is adopted about 45 percent of the time. Similarly, proposed policy changes with low support amongst interest groups have a dismal 16 percent chance of coming to fruition, while interest group support causes that figure to rise to a healthy 47 percent. Desperate to salvage something from American democracy, some would begin to argue here that perhaps successful interest groups are promoting many of the same policies as ordinary citizens, that their irrefutable power is not necessarily in conflict with the preferences of the masses. Again, we find evidence on the contrary.

Even amongst interest groups, there is a bias toward business-oriented groups that represent moneyed interests, groups whose preferences consistently and quantifiably diverge from those of average citizens. In the United States, the more representative and publically-productive mass-based groups, such as the Sierra Club or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are outnumbered, outspent, and overpowered by business groups bent on boosting profits, organizations that couldn’t care less about the needs or desires of the common people. Our government institutions and officials no longer put the health and wellbeing of Americans first; from the interest groups of the food industry to the major gun lobby, business groups work solely to boost profits, acting without a hint of concern for their impact on ordinary Americans.  It is no stretch to conclude that Gilens and Page’s findings strike a devastating blow to the very core of American democracy and a demoralizing, yet indisputable victory for the theory of elitist domination.

In “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison discussed at length the role of “factions” in American politics, conglomerates of citizens “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion,” strikingly similar to the modern concept of interest groups. While Madison was somewhat concerned about how these groups would affect his nation’s nascent political system, he had confidence in the majoritarian principle of democracy. He asserted confidently, “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle. . . . It may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.” Madison would be devastated if alive today to witness the very real domination of the American majority by a minority of economic elites. Even in 1975, famed political scientist E. E. Schattschneider was able to see the bias that now clouds Madison’s vision of majoritarian pluralism in the U.S., eloquently commenting in The Semisovereign People, “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.”

America, in the minds of many, has become the land of the rich and their business. Virtually all political structures and institutions seem to be “skewed, loaded, and unbalanced in favor of a fraction of a minority,” clear and disturbing proof of oligarchy in the American political system. While moneyed interests have been central to the American political system since its founding, in recent years, the United States has experienced a definite strengthening in the influence of economic elites and business-oriented interest groups. Most startling perhaps is the fact that all of this can, and often does, occur at the expense of largely powerless ordinary citizens.

At this stage in my career, I don’t imagine that I am fully equipped to take on the entire American establishment, but I can begin to raise awareness about this scourge of moneyed domination, a sickness slowly suffocating the exceptionalism of American democracy. I intend to do just that.

Image courtesy of http://feelthebern.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Toon13.jpg

About author

Jared Hirschfield

Jared Hirschfield is a sophomore in the University Scholars Program at Northeastern University in Boston. Majoring in biology and political science, Jared plans to pursue medical and law degrees after Northeastern, building a career at the intersection of medicine, law, and public policy.

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    Charlie Reese’s final column:
    Charley Reese’s final column for the Orlando Sentinel… He has been a journalist for 49 years. He is retiring and this is HIS LAST COLUMN.

    This is about as clear and easy to understand as it can be. The article below is completely neutral, neither anti-republican or democrat. Charlie Reese, a retired reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, has hit the nail directly on the head, defining clearly who it is that in the final analysis must assume responsibility for the judgments made that impact each one of us every day. It’s a short but good read. Worth the time. Worth remembering!

    545 vs. 300,000,000 People
    -By Charlie Reese

    Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.

    Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits?

    Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes?

    You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The President does.

    You and I don’t have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does.

    You and I don’t write the tax code, Congress does.

    You and I don’t set fiscal policy, Congress does.

    You and I don’t control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does.

    One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one President, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.

    I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but private, central bank.

    I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a President to do one cotton-picking thing. I don’t care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator’s responsibility to determine how he votes.

    Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.

    What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating deficits.. ( The President can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it.)

    The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. Who is the speaker of the House?( John Boehner. He is the leader of the majority party. He and fellow House members, not the President, can approve any budget they want. ) If the President vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to. [The House has passed a budget but the Senate has not approved a budget in over three years. The President’s proposed budgets have gotten almost unanimous rejections in the Senate in that time. ]

    It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted — by present facts — of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can’t think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist.

    If the tax code is unfair, it’s because they want it unfair.

    If the budget is in the red, it’s because they want it in the red.

    If the Army & Marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan it’s because they want them in Iraq and Afghanistan ..

    If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it’s because they want it that way.

    There are no insoluble government problems.

    Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power.
    Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like “the economy,” “inflation,” or “politics” that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.

    Those 545 people, and they alone, are responsible. They, and they alone, have the power.

    They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses. Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees… We should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess!

    Charlie Reese is a former columnist of the Orlando Sentinel Newspaper.

    What you do with this article now that you have read it… is up to you.
    This might be funny if it weren’t so true.
    Be sure to read all the way to the end:

    Tax his land,
    Tax his bed,
    Tax the table,
    At which he’s fed.

    Tax his tractor,
    Tax his mule,
    Teach him taxes
    Are the rule.

    Tax his work,
    Tax his pay,
    He works for
    peanuts anyway!

    Tax his cow,
    Tax his goat,
    Tax his pants,
    Tax his coat.

    Tax his ties,
    Tax his shirt,
    Tax his work,
    Tax his dirt.

    Tax his tobacco,
    Tax his drink,
    Tax him if he
    Tries to think.

    Tax his cigars,
    Tax his beers,
    If he cries
    Tax his tears.

    Tax his car,
    Tax his gas,
    Find other ways
    To tax his ass.

    Tax all he has
    Then let him know
    That you won’t be done
    Till he has no dough.

    When he screams and hollers;
    Then tax him some more,
    Tax him till
    He’s good and sore.

    Then tax his coffin,
    Tax his grave,
    Tax the sod in
    Which he’s laid…

    Put these words
    Upon his tomb,
    ‘Taxes drove me
    to my doom…’

    When he’s gone,
    Do not relax,
    Its time to apply
    The inheritance tax.
    Accounts Receivable Tax
    Building Permit Tax
    CDL license Tax
    Cigarette Tax
    Corporate Income Tax
    Dog License Tax
    Excise Taxes
    Federal Income Tax
    Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
    Fishing License Tax
    Food License Tax
    Fuel Permit Tax
    Gasoline Tax (currently 44.75 cents per gallon)
    Gross Receipts Tax
    Hunting License Tax
    Inheritance Tax
    Inventory Tax
    IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax)
    Liquor Tax
    Luxury Taxes
    Marriage License Tax
    Medicare Tax
    Personal Property Tax
    Property Tax
    Real Estate Tax
    Service Charge Tax
    Social Security Tax
    Road Usage Tax
    Recreational Vehicle Tax
    Sales Tax
    School Tax
    State Income Tax
    State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
    Telephone Federal Excise Tax
    Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax
    Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes
    Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax
    Telephone Recurring and Nonrecurring Charges Tax
    Telephone State and Local Tax
    Telephone Usage Charge Tax
    Utility Taxes
    Vehicle License Registration Tax
    Vehicle Sales Tax
    Watercraft Registration Tax
    Well Permit Tax
    Workers Compensation Tax

    STILL THINK THIS IS FUNNY?
    Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, & our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

    What in the heck happened? Can you spell ‘politicians?’

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