Socialism Part 3: Democracy on a Ventilator

Because in case you weren’t looking, we are now an oligarchy, a society run by the ultra-wealthy for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy. We’ve heard all the statistics – that roughly 400 people control half the world’s wealth, that these few people control more wealth than the “bottom” 80 percent, etc. I’m going on memory, but the point is that thanks to the few remaining independent economists and journalists, we are becoming aware that the vast majority of wealth produced by the activities of hundreds of millions of people is going directly into the hands of a few corporate overlords and dynastic “money” families like the Waltons, Kochs, Mars, Cargill, S.C. Johnson, etc.

But the most eye-opening report came recently, and it was enough to provoke Jimmy Carter himself to publicly claim that we are no longer a true democracy, that we have in fact become an oligarchy. The study in question is the book-length treatise Affluence and Influence, by Martin Gilens of Princeton University. The research shows plenty of scary statistics, but in essence, as Carter states it, it outlines how the role of big money donors in American politics has corrupted the system beyond repair. Carter sees recent developments like the Citizens United Supreme Court decision as the final steps toward “a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.”

The study’s conclusions are not ideologically arrived at. It’s not just one more volley in what wealthy conservatives and their apologists like to dismiss as “class warfare” or the “culture of envy” – no rhetoric can hide the data that tells the story. And the story it tells is that the actual policy decisions made by the U.S. government over the last 50 years, and increasingly in the last decade or so, reflect the preferences of the wealthy and not the preferences of the middle and lower classes. From

Martin Gilens set out to test this theory based on over 2,200 government policies from the mid 1960s to 2006. His study shows that the preferences of low and median income Americans have no effect on government policies, while the preferences of those with income in the top 10 percent have far greater [sic] influence. Over time, this influence is increasing, regardless of presidential administration. Gilens’ work has withstood analysis well over the past few years, and provides ample data to show that the affluent have more voice in government than the poor or average income groups.

Along with other research revealing that most income goes to the top earners while productivity among rank-and-file workers soars, what Gilens’ study shows is that there indeed was a class war, and we have already lost the major battles. It’s almost over.

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