Friday, September 26, 2014

Scholar Behind Viral 'Oligarchy' Study Tells You What It Means BySAHIL KAPUR

You published an advance copy of your study on April 9th, and in just the last few days there's been an explosion of coverage and interest. Are you pleased, shocked, overwhelmed, all of the above?
I'm delighted to be able to contribute to a terribly important public discussion. And I'm thrilled that there's so much interest and concern about the issues. It takes on a life of its own. I'm sure you've noticed, this notion of America being an oligarchy seems to be a dominant meme in the discussion of our work. It's not a term that we used in the paper. It's just a dramatic sort of overstatement of our findings. So it's been interesting for me. Typically my work is read by a few dozen political scientists and I don't get this kind of response.
Let's talk about the study. If you had 30 seconds to sum up the main conclusion of your study for the average person, how would you do so?
I'd say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups -- of economic elites and of organized interests.
You say the United States is more like a system of "Economic Elite Domination" and "Biased Pluralism" as opposed to a majoritarian democracy. What do those terms mean? Is that not just a scholarly way of saying it's closer to oligarchy than democracy if not literally an oligarchy?
People mean different things by the term oligarchy. One reason why I shy away from it is it brings to mind this image of a very small number of very wealthy people who are pulling strings behind the scenes to determine what government does. And I think it's more complicated than that. It's not only Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers or Bill Gates or George Soros who are shaping government policy-making. So that's my concern with what at least many people would understand oligarchy to mean. What "Economic Elite Domination" and "Biased Pluralism" mean is that rather than average citizens of moderate means having an important role in determining policy, ability to shape outcomes is restricted to people at the top of the income distribution and to organized groups that represent primarily -- although not exclusively -- business.
Would you say the government is most responsive to income earners at the top 10 percent, the top 1 percent or the top 0.1 percent?
This is a great question and it's not one we can answer with the data that we used in the study. Because we really don't have good info about what the top 1 percent or 10 percent want or what issues they're engaged with. As you can imagine, this is not really a group that's eager to talk with researchers.
Read More at: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/princeton-scholar-demise-of-democracy-america-tpm-interview

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