The Rich Own Our Democracy, and that's Why America No Longer Has Nice Things

If you’ve ever wondered why America doesn’t have nice things - universal healthcare, affordable education, and hi-speed rail – it’s because rich people can afford the best schools, hospitals, and private jets.

What relevance does rich people’s accesses to the best services money can buy have to with the fact America no longer has “nice things?”

A new study shows that the richest 0.01% have unilateral control of this nation’s democracy, and that the remainder of the country have virtually no impact whatsoever on the laws and policy that govern this land.

Titled, ‘Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,’ the new study, which is to be published in full next month, examined data on almost 1,800 national policy issues for which they could “gauge the preferences of average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups.”

It’s authors, Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, then used “statistical methods to determine the influence of each of these four groups on policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.”

American University Professor Allan J. Lichtman, who has previewed the study, says, “The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a "non-significant, near-zero level."

“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, write Gilens and Page."

The study is another deathblow to the fallacy of free-market capitalism and the myth of trickle-down economics, with the authors debunking the entire premise that economic policy that favors business and the rich also favors common citizens and the common good. To the contrary, Gilens and Page demonstrate that such preferential treatment of the rich and corporations almost always results in the win for them, and a loss for ordinary Americans.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, nearly 30 percent of all disclosed political contributions in the 2012 presidential election cycle came from just 31,385 people. In a country of 320 million, these donors represent the top 1% of the 1% - a number equal to one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population.

While also bearing in mind, 2012 was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court’s decision to rule money equals speech, when it ruled in favor of Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission, candidates received more money from a smaller percentage of the population than at any time in U.S. history.

Today, corporations and the rich determine who gets heard and who does not, and those who threaten corporate power are given no place in the national dialogue. Sheldon Wolin, Harvard Professor and author of Democracy Incorporated, said in an interview, “In the 1930s there were all kinds of alternative understandings, from socialism to more extensive governmental involvement.” He adds, “There was range of different approaches. But what I am stuck by now is the narrow range within which palliatives are being modeled. We are supposed to work with the financial system. So the people who helped create the system are put in charge of the solution.”

We saw this with the Wall Street (Paulson, Geithner, Summers) led “too big to fail” response to Wall Street’s detonation of the entire financial universe. Instead of bailouts for struggling homeowners and money spent to fix our dilapidated infrastructure, we received further corporate bailouts.

We also saw this dynamic when single-payer universal healthcare was taken off the table when Congress drafted the Affordable Care Act. Remember, it was Obama who promised universal healthcare, but we ended up with just a modest reform to the insurance industry’s capitalist for-profit “solution” – a solution drafted by insurance and pharmaceutical companies that not only forces Americans to buy their faulty and expensive products, but also leaves at least 25 million people without health insurance- a figure that translates into an estimated twenty-five thousand unnecessary deaths per year. Insurance companies whose goal is to avoid providing care for the elderly and sick drive our for-profit healthcare system.

“It requires people to purchase health insurance. It takes public dollars to subsidize the purchase of that private insurance. It not only forces people to purchase this private product, but uses pubic dollars and gives them directly to corporations. In return, there are no caps on premiums. Insurance companies can continue to raise premiums,” says single-payer activist Margaret Flowers.

That single-payer, nonprofit healthcare has widespread popular support - with 65 percent of Americans – including a majority of doctors – behind it, but we ended up with merely modest improvements to the existing for-profit healthcare system is surely a glaring example of how common citizen has little to no impact over national policy making.

92 percent of Americans support gun background checks, but yet not a single piece of gun control legislation has emerged from Congress, which is exceptionally scandalous given the recent massacres at Sandy Hook, Fort Hood, Aurora, Santa Barbara, et al. But while congress, especially Republicans, are beholden to the interests of Big Gun, Americans should not hold their collective breath waiting for sensible legislation.

The poor and the middle class don’t have the capacity to hire D.C. lobbyists. The poor and the middle class do not own national media companies. But while we will never be able to deal intelligently and the interests of the common good without an elimination of private money from the electoral process, and an end to voter suppression and gerrymandering, the poor and the middle class must accept partial or minor blame. America’s electoral turnout rate places the country dead last among OECD nations. Nearly 100 million eligible voters did not cast a ballot in the 2012 presidential election, while more than 120 million did not participate in the midterms of 2010.

“If only they vote and organize, ordinary Americans can reclaim American democracy and challenge the politicians who still echo the view of old Vanderbilt that the public should be damned,” writes Lichtman.

CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman - See more at:

CJ Werleman is the author of Atheists Can't Be Republicans, and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman


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