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Are We An Oligarchy Yet?

9:17 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Matt Stoller believes that the recent pre-publication release of a study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page doesn’t support the idea that the United States is an oligarchy yet. He says:

A lot of people are misreading this Princeton study on the political influence of the wealthy and business groups versus ordinary citizens. The study does not say that the US is an oligarchy, wherein the wealthy control politics with an iron fist. If it were, then things like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, veterans programs, housing finance programs, etc wouldn’t exist.

What the study actually says is that American voters are disorganized and their individualized preferences don’t matter unless voters group themselves into mass membership organizations. Then, if people belong to mass membership organizations, their preferences do matter, but less so than business groups and the wealthy.

Well, it’s true that Gilens and Page never say that United States is an oligarchy, and perhaps it’s also true that they don’t believe it. But they do say this:

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of ‘populistic’ democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.’

And they’re right. Their data refute the idea that the preferences of the majority are, by-and-large, or even frequently, enacted into law in today’s United States. Insofar, as that’s a necessary condition for having a constitutional democracy, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that right now the United States doesn’t have one. That finding has further implications.

First, the US doesn’t have either mob rule or constitutional democracy. Nor does the study show that the political system is paralyzed, in spite of all the complaints about excessive partisanship and stalemate in Washington. So someone is ruling. Who is it?

Second, it shows that, mostly, economic elites and interest groups representing them, many of them virtual puppets of the economic elite and corporations, are getting their way. Also, it doesn’t show that one individual is getting his/her way. That means there’s no King or Queen ruling, and also that there isn’t a single tyrant ruling. So, we can conclude that, mostly, the economic elites and their interest groups are ruling. How are they ruling?

Well, third, even though there are legislative and judicial forms specified in the Constitution being followed; there are many elements of current elite rule that are neither constitutional nor legal. For example, is it legal and/or constitutional for the Executive Branch to use prosecutorial discretion as a tool to refuse to go after the big banks for their blatantly illegal behavior leading to the mortgage crisis, the failure of major financial institutions, and the world economy? Is it constitutional and legal for the President of the United States to use drones to kill US citizens without legal or constitutional due process? Is it legal or constitutional for the President to use drones to violate the sovereign territory of other nations through drone strikes without the consent of the authorities of those nations?

Is it legal or constitutional for the big banks to use fraudulent documents to implement foreclosures? Is it legal or constitutional for the Administration to refuse to prosecute officers and employees of the big banks for committing these frauds? Is it legal or constitutional for local governments and the DHS to violate the rights of free speech and free assembly of Occupy protestors across the country in order to protect elite financial interests? Is it legal or constitutional for Justices of the Supreme Court to interpret the 14th amendment as conferring the liberties of biological individuals on organizations whose legal existence is an artificial legal construct? Are the Justices who are doing this not the products of influence previously exercised by the economic elite?

Is it legal or constitutional for State legislatures to enact and attempt to enforce laws to suppress voting rights of minorities and other groups across the country; as well as laws effectively removing the right to choose to end their pregnanicies of women with limited financial resources to exercise that right? Is it legal or constitutional to apply the law harshly to racial and ethnic minorities, and the poor, while refusing to apply it at all to members of the economic elite and their companies?

The answers to all these questions suggest that the non-democratic, non-monarchical rule validated by the Princeton Study is also rule by the economic elite that is a good deal less than constitutional or just. In my book, that makes it rule by the relatively few that is unjust, and isn’t that the definition of oligarchy, whether Gilens and Page say so explicitly or not?

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Peterson/CBO Beat for Austerity Goes On!

6:53 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Recently, I’ve been writing about oligarchs advocating for entitlement cuts and austerity. I’ve discussed attacks on entitlement benefits for the elderly from Abby Huntsman (of MSNBC’s The Cycle) and Catherine Rampell (a Washington Post columnist), both the children of well-off individuals. These posts have come in the context of the English language release of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and the more recent pre-publication release of a study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page using quantitative methods and empirical data to explore the question of whether the US is an oligarchy or a majoritarian democracy. They conclude:

”What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

With this as a backdrop, today I want to de-construct a recent statement by Michael A. Peterson, President and COO, of one of the centers of American oligarchy, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF), and the son of the multi-billionaire Peter G. Peterson, commenting on the CBO’s Report earlier this month, on its updated budget projections for 2014 – 2024. Read the rest of this entry →

Is the MSM Blackout on Inequality, Plutocracy, and Oligarchy Ending?

11:29 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The first occurrence of this I’m aware of was Chuck Todd, reacting on his Daily Rundown show to the spectacle of Republican candidates traveling to Vegas to seek funding from Sheldon Adelson and his well-heeled friends..

All of a sudden MSNBC cable commentators are talking about plutocracy and oligarchy. Surprisingly, the first occurrence of this I’m aware of was Chuck Todd, reacting on his Daily Rundown show to the spectacle of Republican candidates traveling to Vegas to seek funding from Sheldon Adelson and his group of hugely wealthy Jewish Republican donors. Todd began to explore the implications of that event. He seemed exercised, and more than the slightest bit upset, about its meaning for Democracy and used the words plutocracy and oligarchy. Andrea Mitchell also discussed it later and she, too, registered apparent dismay, while using the “p” and “o” words.

Chris Hayes has been on leave during this period, so we haven’t heard from him about this. But Chris Matthews, the “oh so very slightly left-of-center insider” has been making very unfriendly noises about Adelson, the Kochs, and the Supremes, culminating today (April 3rd) with nasty references to plutocrats, oligarchs, and candidates, kissing oligarchs somewhere or other, on both his program and Al Sharpton’s.

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Is there Macroeconomics?

10:31 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The claim of Austrian school economists that “there is no macroeconomics” because the political-economic system at the macro level is explainable in terms of the aggregated attributes and activities of political-economic agents at the micro-level of that system is false, silly, and ignores the findings of many other sciences! That’s because macro-level behavior includes structural and holistic properties of these systems that are not explainable by individual level phenomena or aggregations of them.

The whole thrust of contemporary complexity and complex adaptive systems theory along with findings dominant in philosophy, in chemistry, in biology, in social sciences other than economics, and even in some parts of physics no longer supports the reductionism some Austrians defend when they say “there is no Macro”, and imply that only the individual level of economic interaction is real. So, I think they need to get over methodological individualism and move on. Maybe reading Harold Morowitz’s The Emergence Of Everything, will help them do that. Or maybe Popper and Eccles The Self and Its Brain, can help them. Or perhaps John Holland’s Emergence, can break the thrall that holds them. Or Alicia Juarrero’s Dynamics in Action, might be the key to freeing them from the mental chains that bind their thinking. There are any number of books that can do this for them. But I’m afraid reading Mises, Rothbard, and most of Hayek will not help much.

However, later in life, Hayek came to believe in emergence, as did his friend Karl Popper, who earlier had strongly supported the philosophical position of methodological individualism. However, there’s a fundamental contradiction between methodological individualism, the basis for the claim that “there is no macro”, and the notion of emergence.

Political systems with their institutions, including sometimes, formal government emerge from social interaction among human beings. Formal Governments may seem to be different because sometimes those who run them may seek to impose institutional arrangements that are inconsistent with the evolved emergent patterns of society. However, this is a separate issue from the issue of whether the macro-level political economy imposes real constraints and causal influences on individuals interacting with the higher level macro system. As soon as one recognizes that this kind of influence is a fact, the possibility of an economics dealing with the macro level, independent of its micro-level theory, becomes very real.

Once we recognize this possibility, we have to start asking questions about macro statics and macro dynamics, the tendencies of the macro system over time, and how these tendencies may be changed for good or ill by human action. We have to recognize that, contrary to the “Austrian” position, there is macroeconomics of both conservative and progressive varieties!

The conservative position is that human intervention at the macro level should be minimized because our knowledge cannot be as good as market signals in telling us how to act upon that system. That is, our knowledge can’t be as good as the market’s. That is the position articulated and defended by Hayek.

But the progressive position is that we can affect the macro system in a beneficial way, if we implement policies that support tendencies toward free self-organization by individuals in shaping the future. In addition, modern social dynamics has shown time again that markets are unstable because participants in them often have an interest in subverting them and undermining the level playing fields required for the market system. Markets are Promethean Complex Adaptive Systems (PCASs), in the sense that real world markets are not classical free markets, but CASs whose human and institutional agents are always trying to subvert them in order to exert their own “god-like” mechanistic control over how they work.

So, the longer term tendencies of unconstrained capitalism are away from truly free markets and democracy, and toward oligarchy, plutocracy, lemon socialism, kleptocracy, and eventually fascism. And further, our knowledge of social and political dynamics may well be good enough to stop this kind of evolution, and to use productive forces to enhance democracy, open society, and real, rather than just formal, individual liberty. But I’ll leave discussion of this larger question for other posts.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com