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Government Of The Rich, By The Rich, For The Rich

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http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/02/political_economy

KEVIN DRUM draws our attention to an intriguing paper Martin Gilens, on the responsiveness of policy to preferences across income groups

At left, we see that as people at the bottom of the income spectrum care more about an issue, the probability of action on that issue scarcely budges. At right we see that policy responds a little more to median preferences. But what's clear in both is that the rich are much more successful at getting their issues on the docket. That's not really that surprising, but why should it be the case? Mr Drum writes:

Gilens' guess is that "the most obvious source of influence over policy that distinguishes high-income Americans is money." This sounds like a pretty good guess to me.

Specifically, Mr Gilens looks at a range of potential causal and non-causal explanations of the connection, eliminates some that don't seem to correspond with available data, and concludes that the striking responsiveness of policy to the preferences of the rich is probably due to the one characteristic in which the rich are strikingly unique, namely, their richness.

Matt Yglesias offers a different view:

I would say the most obvious mechanism here is socialization. The president, the senior White House staff, the cabinet secretaries, the senators, the House members, the senior congressional staff, and the lobbyists, association heads, business executives, governors, mayors, foreign officials, and media celebrities who they interact with are all personally pretty high income...

What’s more, political elites tend to have college roommates, siblings, in-laws, etc. who are also prosperous. Obviously the fact that rich people have money to spend on politics doesn’t hurt either. But I would never underestimate the human desire to believe that one is doing the right thing, and thus the importance of socialization to determining bias.

The idea here is that elected officials care about the rich because they and their friends are all rich. There's nothing particularly pernicious here; the people who matter simply look at what the people they know care about and conclude that that's what people, generally, care about.

Mr Gilens actually proposes and dismisses this explanation:

[W]ithin any economic stratum there exist individuals with a wide range of policy preferences and this would appear to be true among federal policymakers as well as the public at large. That is, although every Senator and Representative is well-off, the range of policy preferences represented appears to be quite wide. Affluent liberal Democrats as well as affluent conservative Republicans battle over federal policy. In terms of understanding responsiveness of government policy to public opinion, the key question is not what the preferences of elected representatives are, but why a particular set of affluent lawmakers, with a particular set of policy preferences, was elected. Given the range of policy views represented in congress, it seems unlikely that any coincidence of preferences that exists between lawmakers and well-off Americans is the result of the economic status of lawmakers themselves rather than the electoral system that produced a given set of lawmakers.

In other words, rich Democrats and rich Republicans elect politicians with a diverse range of views, but all of which ultimately respond to the policy preferences of the rich. To put this slightly differently, we all know rich people on the left side of the political spectrum who care passionately about the poor and have no problem supporting policies that aren't necessarily in their own direct interest. These people exist. But the Democrats who end up in Congress tend not to be these people; they're the kind of people who respond to the preferences of the rich. Who knows what their motivations for doing so are; perhaps they view concessions to rich priorities as necessary in order to survive in Washington to fight for other priorities some other day. And it should be noted that the priorities of middle and low income voters are occasionally heard and addressed.

But the asymmetry here shapes the policy that emerges from Washington. Legislators worried about the poor often have to cut deals to satisfy the rich people who support their campaigns and other critical institutions. Legislators worried about the rich basically never have to make these kinds of concessions. Money, by creating this asymmetry, gets what it wants much more often. As Mr Gilens notes, this is a feature of very nearly every political system in very nearly every historical era. What I would suggest is that it is therefore not a tremendous threat to democracy, except in cases when mobility levels across incomes fall dramatically. In that case, you create a permanent class of politically disenfranchised people. And that can be a very destabilising thing.

blog_gilens_rich_poor.jpg

I think it's pretty simple. If vote a passes 1 million people might lose 1 pound each and 1 person might get that £1,000,000 transfered to their bank account. Therefore it's massively in the would be rich guys favour to lobby like a *******, but all the people who lose a pound? Looks like a waste of their time to lobby.

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Got to love the conclusion: "Money, by creating this asymmetry, gets what it wants much more often. As Mr Gilens notes, this is a feature of very nearly every political system in very nearly every historical era. What I would suggest is that it is therefore not a tremendous threat to democracy, except in cases when mobility levels across incomes fall dramatically"

Basically, because societies through the ages have always been unfairly skewed in favour of the rich, and nearly every society around today remains unfairly skewed towards the rich, as long as some poor people retain the remote possibility of becoming rich, I don't see a problem.

Incredible.

Edited by WageslaveX14

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Got to love the conclusion: "Money, by creating this asymmetry, gets what it wants much more often. As Mr Gilens notes, this is a feature of very nearly every political system in very nearly every historical era. What I would suggest is that it is therefore not a tremendous threat to democracy, except in cases when mobility levels across incomes fall dramatically"

Basically, because societies through the ages have always been unfairly skewed in favour of the rich, and nearly every society around today remains unfairly skewed towards the rich, as long as some poor people retain the remote possibility of becoming rich, I don't see a problem.

Incredible.

You've missed the point the OP makes.

It's not that the decision follows the money, it's that the motivation to influence thinking is greatest where the money resides (and coincidentally the capability to influence events will tend to lie where the money has found itself).

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Perhaps the rich are rich because they have access to influence.

Perhaps many of the people who have influence are rich because that's just what they do?

Edited by bogbrush

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Perhaps the people who have influence are rich because that's just what they do?

Well, as you know governments only steal wealth.

Nick a pound each from millions, hey presto 1 rich guy is created. So influence in government can make you rich very easily. It's in the interests of the other rich folks to get chummy with the biggest thief on the block, for obvious reasons i.e. they'd much rather the thief was nickel and diming everyone else rather than taking great big swipes out of the riches cash.

It's more or less the reason the tory party still exists.

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Got to love the conclusion: "Money, by creating this asymmetry, gets what it wants much more often. As Mr Gilens notes, this is a feature of very nearly every political system in very nearly every historical era. What I would suggest is that it is therefore not a tremendous threat to democracy, except in cases when mobility levels across incomes fall dramatically"

Basically, because societies through the ages have always been unfairly skewed in favour of the rich, and nearly every society around today remains unfairly skewed towards the rich, as long as some poor people retain the remote possibility of becoming rich, I don't see a problem.

Incredible.

Indeed. I would go as far as saying social inequality is part of human nature and will always be a feature of any society

I don't believe that the democratic process being skewed in favour of the rich is a threat to democracy either. Democracy was only introduced by the elite once they could be sure that it wouldn't threaten their privileges

However, what I do see as a threat to social stability (and the elite) is the proles twigging that democracy is essentially a sham. So far the proles have bought the idea that they have political power via the vote and this has made them accept the existing levels of inequality without question. As such democracy has fulfilled the role that religion did in the past (making inequality palatable to the masses)

The elite can probably push political inequality a little bit further yet as most people still haven't twigged that the democratic process offers them very little power. However they are approaching the margins and need to take more care with going too far

Edited by Tortoise

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Well, as you know governments only steal wealth.

Nick a pound each from millions, hey presto 1 rich guy is created. So influence in government can make you rich very easily. It's in the interests of the other rich folks to get chummy with the biggest thief on the block, for obvious reasons i.e. they'd much rather the thief was nickel and diming everyone else rather than taking great big swipes out of the riches cash.

It's more or less the reason the tory party still exists.

True enough; I was observing that there'll be a correlation between people who get rich and people who know how to influence; it won't be absolute but it'll be strong, I'd have thought. I think that principle would attract policy to money "honestly" even without the aspect you're identifying.

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True enough; I was observing that there'll be a correlation between people who get rich and people who know how to influence; it won't be absolute but it'll be strong, I'd have thought. I think that principle would attract policy to money "honestly" even without the aspect you're identifying.

Opposite concepts.

If you are influencing the government, you are automatically engaged in evil.

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Indeed. I would go as far as saying social inequality is part of human nature and will always be a feature of any society

I don't believe that the democratic process being skewed in favour of the rich is a threat to democracy either. Democracy was only introduced by the elite once they could be sure that it wouldn't threaten their privileges

However, what I do see as a threat to social stability (and the elite) is the proles twigging that democracy is essentially a sham. So far the proles have bought the idea that they have political power via the vote and this has made them accept the existing levels of inequality without question. As such democracy has fulfilled the role that religion did in the past (making inequality palatable to the masses)

The elite can probably push political inequality a little bit further yet as most people still haven't twigged that the democratic process offers them very little power. However they are approaching the margins and need to take more care with going too far

I honestly don't think people generally begrudge inequality. It's rigging and theft that drives folk off the deep end.

Edited by bogbrush

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Opposite concepts.

If you are influencing the government, you are automatically engaged in evil.

The "honest" policy I referred to was influencing opinion to get folk to see things your way, not buying the rules of the game.

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The "honest" policy I referred to was influencing opinion to get folk to see things your way, not buying the rules of the game.

If seeing things your way involves the government, you need glasses. :)

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I honestly don't think people generally begrudge inequality. It's rigging and theft that drives folk off the deep end.

Yes I agree. Injustice is what people hate. However all societies tend to have injustice as well as inequality because a certain amount of wealth is accrued to the wealthy by corrupt methods with some societies being worse than others

The longer particular elites have had hold of power the more corrupt a society tends to be as they have had many years learning how to best game the system

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If seeing things your way involves the government, you need glasses. :)

I mean persuading people, like setting out arguments as you see them and making your case really well.

Sitting down with the government guys isthe other thing.

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Yes I agree. Injustice is what people hate. However all societies tend to have injustice as well as inequality because a certain amount of wealth is accrued to the wealthy by corrupt methods with some societies being worse than others

The longer particular elites have had hold of power the more corrupt a society tends to be as they have had many years learning how to best game the system

Inheritance tends to drive it down the wrong road.

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Got to love the conclusion: "Money, by creating this asymmetry, gets what it wants much more often. As Mr Gilens notes, this is a feature of very nearly every political system in very nearly every historical era. What I would suggest is that it is therefore not a tremendous threat to democracy, except in cases when mobility levels across incomes fall dramatically"

Basically, because societies through the ages have always been unfairly skewed in favour of the rich, and nearly every society around today remains unfairly skewed towards the rich, as long as some poor people retain the remote possibility of becoming rich, I don't see a problem.

Incredible.

It's like the FA cup - most teams in the land can enter it (I remember our beer 'n'fag Sunday team playing the first round in July!) and thus every footballer has this remote hope that their team will make it Wembley. But you know and I know that it's only the rich teams that get there and whom reap the financial benefits...

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I honestly don't think people generally begrudge inequality. It's rigging and theft that drives folk off the deep end.

This is the distinction the bankers fail to make- they conflate people attacking their pay with 'the politics of envy' but that's not correct- what people object to is the fact that they suspect this income has been achieved through dishonest means, via a rigged and corrupt system.

The perceived failure of the political class to control the bankers is damaging on two levels- firstly it destroys the link between effort and reward that forms the moral basis of the work ethic, second it makes explicit that which is normally only implicit- the fact that wealth controls the process.

Although it's simplistic to extrapolate ones own experience too widely, I can detect in myself a real deterioration in attitude toward the idea of playing by the rules. If I am symptomatic of a wider shift in the population at large, this cannot be a good thing.

The reason the bankers need to be controlled is not primarily a practical one, it's about the idea that the game is a fair one and it's rules apply to all.

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Or, in other words, wealth comes from rent-seeking.

Power can come from other sources than financial wealth, and in earlier times it often did.

Religion, for example, ideology or violence. Was Stalin rich? Hitler?

On the other hand wealth usually comes with power,

and it seems that it rarely comes from anywhere else.

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  • 311 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?


      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%



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