“Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”
Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page
Perspectives on Politics
Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have made careers out of studying economic inequality and the power of political elites, and a brief review of their academic work suggests that these gentlemen are probably not card-carrying members of the Republican Party.
But the paper they have released today, available from Princeton demands consideration, because their conclusions mirror concerns shared by people of all political persuasions in America. Or it should.
After a statistical review of nearly 1,800 policy issues, the authors have concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
Before we go rushing into the streets, we have to take some time to dive into the guts of the report. While I am inclined to believe the conclusions, in order to understand the appropriate political response, we must understand what was studied, and the specifics of the results that the authors identified.
If the findings are correct, this is a report that does not call into question a stance on any given issue, or argue for any political party. It is a brutal notice American people that our long slumber has ended, and while we were sleeping, a small group of people have taken effective control of the government. Think about that: not of the Republican Party, not of the Democratic Party, but of the American system.
If the report is valid, it demands that any thinking Republican and Democrat understand that it is now time for us to begin participating in government as never before. America can be a capitalist democracy without the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations taking control of the government.
Read this report. Question it. Debate it. But when it is all over, ask whether it is time we start making deeper changes the way our system is working.
UPDATE: The American Conservative offers a balanced, cool-headed review of the study in “America’s Not an Oligarchy – Yet.” They agree that the trend lines are troubling and that the issue must be understood and addressed, but, as I noted above, it is not quite time to take to the streets.