Sunday, April 20, 2014

The United States is an Oligarchy. Okay, So What Do We Do Now?

Things have gotten very, very bad for the good guys.  What can we do to save ourselves?

Here's one from the "Tell Us Something We Didn't Already Know" file.

A recent study by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page has concluded that the United States is no longer a functioning democracy, and is in fact an oligarchy, similar to Russia and China.

The new study is called: "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens."  It came out this month. 

As we know, an oligarchy is a system of government in which a small group of people wield power, usually by manipulating events through control of the financial system, or through corruption of government officials.  A democracy is a system of government in which the great mass of people wield power, most often in the form of voting.

The study finds that the majority of the American public has a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” compared to a relative handful of wealthy people.

From the report:

"When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose.  Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it."

All right, so this is nothing new.  Since the earliest days of the country, there has been a battle for power between elites and the common people.  It's just that in recent years, the battle seems to have ended, the elites seem to have taken over completely.

Regulatory Capture

There is a concept related to oligarchy called "regulatory capture."  Regulatory capture is a form of government corruption where a regulatory agency, which is created to protect the public interest, instead advances the interests of the industry it was meant to regulate.

It is a real life example of the fox guarding the hen house.

The list of US regulatory agencies that are thought to have been "captured" by industry is long and grim.  The list includes The Department of the Interior, the Minerals Management Service, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Food and Drug Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, among others.
Basically, to summarize the situation, the United States government now serves as a sort of handmaiden to the large corporations that dominate industry, and to the very wealthy individuals who are the high-level executives and major shareholders of these corporations.

Further, government itself is run by a tiny group of people, most of whom come from the same background.  For example, all nine members of the current Supreme Court attended either Harvard or Yale Law School.  Ronald Reagan was the last President who didn't attend either Harvard or Yale.

Meanwhile, average people, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, are worse off in many ways than they've been at any time during the past 50 years.  

Indeed, another recent survey, this one by the Associated Press, suggests that 80% of American adults struggle with unemployment, poverty or near poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least some part of their lives. 

So what we've got is a tiny elite ruling the roost, a government that is unresponsive to our needs, and tens of millions of people surviving very close to the edge.

How Do We Move Forward?

Let's assume something for a moment.

Let's assume that vastly wealthy people and corporations are not going to volunteer to hand power back to the American people.  In fact, let's assume that their aim all along has been to seize power.

And let's assume that corrupt people in government have no intention of acknowledging this problem, much less actually doing something about it.

In that case, what's our move?  What do we, the vast majority of powerless people do in the face of being owned and controlled by a tiny all-powerful elite?  

Has there ever been a society in history where the powerless were able to cast off the parasitical elites who feed on them?  If so, can we learn from that earlier society?  

Can we do what they did?  How?

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