Princeton, NU Study Concludes U.S. Policymaking for Elite & Corporations, Not the People

A study of 1,779 policy issues from 1981 to 2002 concluded that policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans and largely favor the wealthy and powerful interest groups. U.S. government policies reflect the desires of the wealthy and interest groups more than the average citizen, according to researchers at Princeton University and Northwestern University.

“[W]e believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened,” write Martin Gilens and Benjamin I.

In an April 9 article posted on the Princeton website and scheduled for fall publication in the journal Perspectives on Politics. Gilens and Page analyzed 1,779 policy issues from 1981 to 2002 and compared changes to the preferences of median-income Americans, the top-earning 10 percent, and organized interest groups and industries.

“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 researchers write in the article titled, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.”

Affluent Americans, however, “have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy,” Gilens and Page write. Organized interest groups also “have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy.”

The research supports the theories of Economic Elite Domination, which says policy outcomes are influenced by those with wealth who often own businesses, and Biased Pluralism, which says policy outcomes “tend to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.”

“The estimated impact of average citizens’ preferences drops precipitously, to a non-significant, near-zero level,” the researchers write. “Clearly the median citizen or ‘median voter’ at the heart of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy does not do well when put up against economic elites and organized interest groups.”

The study found that average citizens and the wealthy often seek the same policy changes. As Gawker notes, the researchers say this is a mere coincidence, noting the average American’s interests will be represented if they are in line with the interests of the wealthy.

Interest groups would seemingly represent the interests of the average citizen — and some do, the study says. But, “all mass-based groups taken together simply do not add up, in aggregate, to good representatives of the citizenry as a whole,” researchers write. (Source)

Read the Study Here


Recommended:

Charles Ferguson, who electrified the world with his Academy Award-winning documentary, Inside Job, now reveals how rogues with influence have taken over the country and are driving it to financial and social ruin.

In Predator Nation, Ferguson exposes the networks of academic, government, and congressional influence–in all recent administrations, including Obama’s–that prepared the path to conquest. He reveals how once-revered figures like Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers have become mere courtiers to the elite. And based on many newly released court filings, he details the extent of the crimes–there is no other word–committed in the frenzied chase for storied wealth that marked the 2000s. And, finally, he lays out a brief plan of action for how we might take it back.


After the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin’s response: “A Republic—if you can keep it.”

This book argues: we couldn’t keep it.

A true republic privileges the common interest above the special interests. To do this, our Constitution established an elaborate system of checks and balances that disperses power among the branches of government, which it places in conflict with one another. The Framers believed that this would keep grasping, covetous factions from acquiring enough power to dominate government. Instead, only the people would rule.

Proper institutional design is essential to this system. Each branch must manage responsibly the powers it is granted, as well as rebuke the other branches when they go astray. This is where subsequent generations have run into trouble: we have overloaded our government with more power than it can handle. The Constitution’s checks and balances have broken down because the institutions created in 1787 cannot exercise responsibly the powers of our sprawling, immense twenty-first-century government.


When Louis XVI presented Benjamin Franklin with a snuff box encrusted with diamonds and inset with the King’s portrait, the gift troubled Americans: it threatened to “corrupt” Franklin by clouding his judgment or altering his attitude toward the French in subtle psychological ways. This broad understanding of political corruption―rooted in ideals of civic virtue―was a driving force at the Constitutional Convention.

For two centuries the framers’ ideas about corruption flourished in the courts, even in the absence of clear rules governing voters, civil officers, and elected officials. Should a law that was passed by a state legislature be overturned because half of its members were bribed? What kinds of lobbying activity were corrupt, and what kinds were legal? When does an implicit promise count as bribery? In the 1970s the U.S. Supreme Court began to narrow the definition of corruption, and the meaning has since changed dramatically. No case makes that clearer than Citizens United.

In 2010, one of the most consequential Court decisions in American political history gave wealthy corporations the right to spend unlimited money to influence elections. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion treated corruption as nothing more than explicit bribery, a narrow conception later echoed by Chief Justice Roberts in deciding McCutcheon v. FEC in 2014. With unlimited spending transforming American politics for the worse, warns Zephyr Teachout, Citizens United and McCutcheon were not just bad law but bad history. If the American experiment in self-government is to have a future, then we must revive the traditional meaning of corruption and embrace an old ideal.


When Speaker Newt Gingrich greeted Dr. David Lewis in his office overlooking the National Mall, he looked at Dr. Lewis and said: “You know you’re going to be fired for this, don’t you?” “I know,” Dr. Lewis replied, “I just hope to stay out of prison.” Gingrich had just read Dr. Lewis’s commentary in Nature, titled “EPA Science: Casualty of Election Politics.” Three years later, and thirty years after Dr. Lewis began working at EPA, he was back in Washington to receive a Science Achievement Award from Administrator Carol Browner for his second article in Nature. By then, EPA had transferred Dr. Lewis to the University of Georgia to await termination—the Agency’s only scientist to ever be lead author on papers published in Nature and Lancet.

The government hires scientists to support its policies; industry hires them to support its business; and universities hire them to bring in grants that are handed out to support government policies and industry practices. Organizations dealing with scientific integrity are designed only to weed out those who commit fraud behind the backs of the institutions where they work. The greatest threat of all is the purposeful corruption of the scientific enterprise by the institutions themselves. The science they create is often only an illusion, designed to deceive; and the scientists they destroy to protect that illusion are often our best. This book is about both, beginning with Dr. Lewis’s experience, and ending with the story of Dr. Andrew Wakefield.

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