Monday, September 29, 2014

The State of the Union

The point, I think, is clear: we all have a vote on various issues of the day — and our vote is all but guaranteed to have no effect on the outcome. Yet the government arrogates to itself the right to tax us for absurd ends, whether it’s taking our money to pay people who are unwilling to work, or arming Syrian rebels who are likely to use those arms against us one day. In essence, aren’t we being forced to work to pay for things we disagree with? And how is that different from slavery?
Patterico's post suggests that the master is the other voters. But is that really true? In April of this year, there were a spate of articles discussing how little influence voters actually have over government policy and action based on a study conducted by researches at Princeton. The Huffington Post reported:
 U.S. government policies reflect the desires of the wealthy and interest groups more than the average citizen, according to researchers at Princeton University and Northwestern University. 
"[W]e believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened," write Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page in an April 9 article posted on the Princeton website and scheduled for fall publication in the journal Perspectives on Politics. 
Gilens and Page analyzed 1,779 policy issues from 1981 to 2002 and compared changes to the preferences of median-income Americans, the top-earning 10 percent, and organized interest groups and industries. 
"Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all," the researchers write in the article titled, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens." 
Affluent Americans, however, "have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy," Gilens and Page write. Organized interest groups also "have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy."
From another article, at the Daily Northwestern:
The study, scheduled to be published later this year, was co-authored by political science Prof. Benjamin Page and Princeton University politics Prof. Marten Gilens. The pair analyzed roughly 1,800 government policies between 1981 and 2002 and found policy changes were influenced more by economic elites and business interest groups than by average voters. 
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” Gilens and Page wrote in the study. 
 (See also this article at The Hill).

Thus, it should come as no surprise that, unlike prior economic recoveries, only the wealthy have benefited this time around. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the recovery, and noted: "Only families in the top 10%, with annual incomes averaging nearly $400,000, saw gains during these three years." The Daily Mail reports today that the 400 wealthiest Americans are now worth $2.3 trillion, although I would observe that, in fact, they control far vaster amounts of money.

Kyle Smith, writing at the New York Post, argues that this is no accident:
Ever get the sense that the middle class is downwardly mobile, being pressed to the floor and squeezed to the limit? It’s not happening by accident. Someone is doing the squeezing: a new class of entertainment and tech plutocrats, cheered on and abetted by a priesthood of media, government and academic elites. 
Joel Kotkin’s “The New Class Conflict” (Telos Press Publishing) paints a dire picture of the undeclared war on the middle class. What he calls the Oligarchy (Silicon Valley and Hollywood) and the Clerisy (the media, bureaucrats, universities and nonprofits) enrich themselves and gratify their own strange obsessions at the expense of the middle class.
Smith focuses on the war on the suburbs, increasing energy prices as a tactic of the "greens," and the higher cost of education. But there are also basic attacks on our values. The Daily Caller posted this warning yesterday:
Last May, one of the most influential conservative and religious intellectual leader in America gave a somber speech in Washington, declaring it to be “Good Friday in America for Christians.” In this exclusive two part video interview, Princeton’s Robert P. George admitted, “that was a hard speech to give.” 
“Christians, and those rejecting the me-generation liberal dogma of ‘if it feels good do it,’ are no longer tolerable by the intellectual and cultural elite,” says George, 59, director of the James Madison program at Princeton University. Citing the political witch hunt that forced Brendan Eich’s departure as CEO of Mozilla for a small contribution to a conservative political cause, George said politically correct mobs “threaten us with consequences if we refuse to call what is good evil, and what is evil, good. They command us to confirm our thinking to their orthodoxy, or else say nothing at all.”
George suggests borrowing one of the rule of radicals--holding the liberal elite to their own standards, in this case, that of free speech.

I don't know if that is a winning tactic, but it is a start. The basic problem is that the elite neither respect nor fear the body of the citizenry. Until that changes, nothing else matters.

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