In the nine-plus years I've been doing this blog, one theme stands out and continues to grow more important every year. The power of the oligarchs -- you know, the kleptocrats, the 1 Percent -- is ever growing, and the power of the people is ever shrinking. In a political system increasingly based on money-created messages, and megabucks lobbying in D.C. and in 50 statehouses, the voice of the everyday citizen grows fainter. Now, a major new study is here to add something important to the conversation.
What they've added: It's too late.
A new study by researchers from Princeton and Northwestern Universities finds that America's government policies reflect the wishes of the rich and of powerful interest groups, rather than the wishes of the majority of citizens.
The researchers examined close to 1,800 U.S. policy changes in the years between 1981 and 2002; then, they compared those policy changes with the expressed preferences of the median American, at the 50th percentile of income; with affluent Americans, at the 90th percentile of income; and with the position of powerful interest and lobbying groups.
The study notes that the position of the median American and the position of the affluent American are often the same; therefore, regular people tend to think that their political interests are being represented when they see the triumph of some political position that they agree with. In fact, the researchers say, this is a mere coincidence. Yes, the average American will see their interests represented—as long as their interests align with the interests of the wealthy.
What's frustrating about this is that there are solutions that don't involve charging Bunker Hill with our muskets, or whatever the present day version of that would be. We could start by banning "corporate personhood" and rolling back the Citizens United verdict, and come up with creative ways to reduce the influence of money in politics (such as, more TV access for qualified candidates that wouldn't be dependent on their ability to raise funds).
Until we fix it, money in politics isn't just an issue. It's the issue.