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I am revisiting a recent "scientific study": US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study.  My purpose is to ask a fundamental question.  If we are to accept the findings of this study, what is the role of elections?  The study says:

A study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, "Who governs? Who really rules?" in this country, is:

"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

.  Unless you are willing to just write this off as nonsense, you must wonder what we are doing here at a site dedicated to electing people that are supposed to be representing us.  Read on below and we can delve deeper into this question for it has many facets.

As a scientist I shudder when the words "scientific study" are attached to such reports.  On the other hand I do not need scientific studies to convince me that this Nation is ruled by the rich.  So why the scientific study angle?

The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled "Testing Theories of American Politics." The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the U.S. by the super-rich:

Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.

We can go back to Plato and find that we are really not in new territory: The Trouble with Oligarchy: Plato's Surprising Perspective
Oligarchy, wrote Plato in the Republic, is government by "greedy men" who love money so much that "they are reluctant to pay taxes" for the common good (Republic VIII, 551e). Although the Greek word "oligarchy" literally means government by the few, Plato spins the word to mean the wealthy few. He thus distinguishes oligarchy from timocracy (from the Greek "timos" or honor), which was also a form of government by the few. For Plato, timocracy is government by a few virtuous men who love honor, whereas oligarchy is government by a few rich men who love money.

Oligarchs believe that the wealth of a society should be redistributed to themselves and their rich cronies, while the rest of the society is reduced to poverty. In fact, observes Plato, nearly all the citizens of an oligarchy are impoverished, except for those in the ruling class who subvert the laws to protect their own interests, leaving the majority of the populace burdened by debt and disenfranchised.

If that does not have a familiar ring to it we must not be living on the same planet.  Here's a bit of insight Plato had:  
Plato believed, rather poetically, that there is a similarity between a country's form of government and the moral character of the citizens of that country. Just as an oligarchic state is internally torn apart into two countries, so a member of the oligarchic class is conflicted within himself. In Plato's words, "he is not really one person, but in some way a double man." This type of person may pretend to be quite respectable, but he is not, at least in Plato's eyes, really virtuous.
Do you get the picture we have some kind of time travel in effect here?  The duplicity of the people who rule us is as Plato describes.

My question seems valid given where we are.  Will it be answered?


elections in an oligarchy

2%2 votes
7%7 votes
6%6 votes
60%59 votes
11%11 votes
12%12 votes

| 97 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  I suppose the strongest evidence against (11+ / 0-)

    the 'democracy is dead' thesis is, the continuing Republican campaign of voter suppression.

    If elections really did not matter, the smart oligarch would welcome every voter.

  •  pacification (12+ / 0-)

    as long as they have "a vote" (and imagine that it means something) they will remain loyal to (and victims of) "the system".

    Willing victims . . .

    Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

    by Deward Hastings on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 07:13:01 PM PDT

  •  Stalin held frequent elections (4+ / 0-)

    so did many other undemocratic systems, the function was to perpetuate the illusion of legitimacy.

    We aren't that bad off by any means, but I think there is a valid point in that there are certain things in this country that elections can't change.

    … the NSA takes significant care to prevent any abuses and that there is a substantial oversight system in place,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), said August 23.

    by mosesfreeman on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 07:21:01 PM PDT

  •  Missing additional option(s) in Poll: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    penguins4peace, allie4fairness

    a necessary area of activism for all (while the "only" area for others) of those anti-oligarchical individuals and/or like-minded groups who fall into one or more of the following categories:

    1. Believe that elections can influence opinions (of the public, oligarchs, their servants and their opponents) on the feasibility and desirability of particular degrees of oligarchy and of other allocations of wealth and power;

    2. Believe that rights to participate in elections have a "use it or lose it" quality which makes them necessary to preserve until such time as public opinion becomes willing to express strong and urgent anti-oligarchical demands through elections;

    3. Have been chastened by the tendency of extra-electoral overthrows of governments to produce fewer net benefits than desired by most over-throwers;

    4. Are not willing to sacrifice all other aspects of their lives in order to become over-throwers -- either ever, or until public opinion has prioritized the goals it hopes to obtain from any overthrow.

  •  A question I was thinking of writing about. (9+ / 0-)

    At this moment, the GreedHeadarchy's pretense that we are a Democracy is one of the few chinks in their armor which we can leverage in any way. At least for a while to come.

    It is astonishing how unresponsive our Government, and our entire political class, is to the needs and wishes of ordinary Americans. Some pundit wrote that we have today, including Europe, Democracies without democratic outcomes.

    And like, this is all the time and on almost everything that matters.

    I cannot vaguely comprehend how it is that neither Party, both of which claim to want to win elections, have failed to offer any economic hope whatsoever about either the near or far future. I mean, zip.

    Wait. "Compete in the global marketplace." So when you and I are willing to work for the wages of slaves, children, and $8-a-12-hour-day workers, we'll have our jobs back.

    Oh, and maybe if we give tax breaks to business they'll hire someone at a loss of 100% of what they pay, so they can get a tax break.

    Yeah, there's the plan. Which means nobody is really even vaguely interested in relieving Americans of their biggest trouble and fear.

    WAIT! Look! MONSTERS ABROAD! Russia! Iran! Syria! Kazakstan! (No wait, they give us bases. And is boiling your enemies really that monsterish, when a friend and business partner does it?)


    Yeah, but Detroit? The cities, the infrastructures crumbling?Nothing.

    So actually, both Parties have something 'bigger' on their minds than winning elections. Or maybe they just can't think of much while they kow-tow except maybe "I want jeweled encrusted shoes, too."

    Ain't got time to form a third party. Gotta set one of these right. That's why we have to find and promote the Presidential Candidate who is going to speak about the real world of everyday people.

    Hence, Sen. Warren. If not her, someone like her. Once they get some public exposure from being in the race, I expect a flood tide of popular feeling to at least start washing out the stables in D.C.

    Other than that: God appearing in the sky and saying "No, be good, end of story, stop interpreting."

    A government is a body of people usually notably ungoverned. -- Firefly

    by Jim P on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 09:45:42 PM PDT

    •  There's a reason the Roberts court (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      unfangus, Jim P, don mikulecky

      is coming out so strongly against campaign finance rules.  

      The only hope the common people (us) might have to break the rule of the oligarchs and restore a semblance of democracy is to break the money chain from the oligarchs to their underlings (elected officials).  Mandatory public financing of elections is what has worked elsewhere (strict ban on corporate donations, mandatory participation in public financing with caps on spending; small donations from individuals may be allowed, but only amount to a small fraction of any election budget).  The Roberts court doesn't give a rat's ass about the ACA or gay marriage; these are only distractions for those preoccupied with partisanship.  They care about what will benefit their masters in the long term, which is preserving the oligarchs' ability to buy 99% of elected officials.

      190 milliseconds....

      by Kingsmeg on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 09:15:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  An Inverted Totalitarian Oligarchy, at that! (7+ / 0-)

    A link from the Wiki: Inverted Totalitarianism.

    "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

    by bobswern on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 10:30:30 PM PDT

  •  If we are in fact in an oligarchy, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Don midwest, quill, don mikulecky

    is there a way back toward a functioning representative democracy, or do we need to move toward something different entirely?

    Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

    by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 10:37:08 PM PDT

  •  Socrates: how a democracy becomes an oligarchy (7+ / 0-)

    Socrates: First, shouldn't we explain how a democracy becomes an oligarchy?

    Adeimantus: Yes.

    Socrates: The crutical step is that the rich figure out how to manipulate politics so the laws benefit them instead of the public.

    Adeimantus: So it seems.

    Plato, Republic, 550d

    Translated by the author of the outstanding book, Keith Quincy

    His book is “Worse than You Think: The Real Economy Hidden Beneath Washington’s Rigged Statistics, And Where To Go From Here”

  •  culture of free people carried them into slavery (6+ / 0-)
    In the third chapter of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon gives two reasons why the slavery into which the Romans tumbled under Augustus and his successors left them more wretched than any previous human slavery.

    In the first place, Gibbon said, the Romans had carried with them into slavery the culture of a free people—their language and their conception of themselves as human beings presupposed freedom. And thus, Gibbons says, oppressed as they were by the weight of their corruption and military violence, the Romans yet preserved for a long time the sentiments, or at least the ideas, of a freeborn people. In the second place, the empire of the Romans filled all the world, and when that empire fell into the hands of a single person, the world was a safe and dreary prison for his enemies. As Gibbon says, to resist was fatal, and it was impossible to fly.

    from the outstanding 4 part series by Columbia Univ Law Prof. Video, pdf. etc available at link. This is just 2 paragraphs from the first lecture.

    Title of the series: Snowden and the Future

  •  Democracy Index ratings (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lawrence, allie4fairness

    Look at the Economist Intelligence Unit ratings.

    The United States is rated a full democracy, but a lighter green than Canada, Australia, or the Scandinavian countries.
    France for some reason is rated a flawed democracy. Mexico certainly is rated that way.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 05:59:17 AM PDT

  •  The subterfuge is couched in patriotism, (4+ / 0-)

    which Washington warned about in his farewell address. The Declaration of Independence was anti-monarchic and anti-aristocratic (the Constitution later banned aristocratic titles). In short, the American Revolution was anti-corruption. Now in McCutcheon money is made the sovereign on grounds of free speech, the overthrow of the Constitution by corruption of its terminology, much as Orwell or Kafka would predict. Madison read Plato, and designed a working democracy as a republic, but understood it wasn't foolproof. Roberts, capo di tutti capi, relies on his "originalist" consigliere, says things like Congressional power to regulate elections is a conflict of interest. He gets away with it because no one reads the Constitution. But why would they bother, it only says what Roberts says its says. Scalia's originalism precedes the Constitution to restore George III-style colonialism. The ancient model for our system is Marcus Crassus.

  •  The role of elections... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sunspots, quill, don mikulecky

    "It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."
    Joseph Stalin

    “Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful -- just stupid.)” ― Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

    by midgebaker on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 07:30:33 AM PDT

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