In speaking with friends about the mid-term elections just held, I could not help but be amazed at how many of my friends, (who ought to know better), thought that this election would have a significant effect in altering the course of the nation. In fact, about the only thing I would be willing to predict about anyone who felt that they were on the winning side, in this, or in any other recent election, is that they would eventually become disappointed and disenchanted with the people they voted in. About the only other thing I would be willing to predict about this election is that it did nothing to slow and probably even hastened America's drift towards oligarchy.
Oligarchy is defined as the rule by an elite few. The elite few having achieved their position as the result of (usually) wealth, family connection, or (in some cases) religion and/or race. German sociologist Robert Michels believed that all systems eventually evolve (or devolve) into oligarchy, including democracies. Thus his "Iron Law of Oligarchy." While Michels has suffered from his eventual support of Italian Fascism and Mussolini (he died in 1936, four years prior to World War II and the wartime military alliance with Nazi Germany), the apparent direction of the American political scene seems to suggest that in our case, at least, he might be right.
The most obvious oligarchies occur when a single political party holds all power. Obviously members of the Nazi party in Germany and the Communist Party in the old Soviet Union held most, if not all of the power in those societies. Certainly individuals wishing to advance in those societies needed to join or at least cooperate with those parties.
Other societies, exemplified by many Latin American nations over the years, instituted oligarchies in which a handful of families controlled society regardless of the political structure, which could range from military junta to nominal democracy. Those families also held an inordinate percentage of their nation's wealth and lands. There was (and is) usually a very small to practically non-existent middle class. Of course, the masses were usually defined by their poverty, ranging from moderate to extreme.
The difference between those societies and our own was the existence of a large middle class, and so, it became a matter of faith that to the extent that the nation's democracy was healthy was directly related to the health of the middle class. If indeed there is a direct corollary between the two then the true democratic nature of American society may well be in grave peril.
On July 15, 2010 Michael Snyder, editor of theeconomiccollapseblog.com, gathered a startling array of statistics demonstrating to all who would see that the American Middle Class is not only endangered but becoming extinct before our eyes or as Snyder puts it even more bluntly "systematically wiped out of existence."
83% of stocks are in the hands of 1% of the people. That leaves 17% for the other 99% of us.
Almost two-thirds (66%) of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to 1% of Americans.
1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, an almost one-third increase over the previous year (32%).
Approaching half (43%) of Americans state that they have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.
The bottom 50% of Americans own less than 1% of the nation's liquid assets.
According to former Reagan Aide David Stockman the top 2% of Americans have an astounding estimated $40 Trillion in assets. That is nearly 4 times the nation debt, which interestingly, a great deal of which is owed to this 2%.
It is hard to say which set of statistics, the ones which show a mere 1% of the members of American society control such a startling share of the nation's wealth or the ones that demonstrate the speed at which middle class Americans are slipping into poverty is more unsettling.
America was and is a constitutional republic and not a democracy in the purest sense of the word. Only a few very small towns in New England can make the claim of being pure democracies. Still we Americans have comforted ourselves in both the openness of our society and democratic or quasi-democratic institutions. All of which begs the urgent question of whether or not America's democratic institutions can survive this increasing stratification of society, which is beginning to mimic Latin American models. Can or will the coming elections change this situation for the better or worse.
The safest prediction I can make about any election that will be held in the United States is that those who win will be disappointed in the performance of those they helped elect. The problem is, of course, that while your candidate can and will promise you what you want to hear before he/she is elected/reelected, but once they get to Washington they are confronted by an awesome (and growing) army of unelected but highly influential lobbyists who almost always seem to get their way one way or the other. A journalist recently attempted to see how much more access lobbyists had to lawmakers than individuals who traveled to Washington to see their Senators. Posing as a lobbyist he was always made very welcome in Senate offices. Posing as an unaffiliated constituent, however, he found that many Senate offices not only granted him much less access, including meeting with a staffer who had no little or no sway, but that many felt that a constituent had a lot of nerve expecting to be able to talk to his Senator one on one.
Even when lobbyists are unable to kill or advance a particular bill cleanly, as in the case of last sessions Health Care bill, their relentless pressure was enough to continually weaken the bill or cause it to embrace self-sabotaging ideas. In addition to the army of lobbyists already arrayed mostly in opposition to the the initiative, approximately $75 million was spent on television ads pro and con during the healthcare debate.
Cases such as this are relatively rare, however, and usually only occur when a party is willing to take the lobbyists on directly, something that can only be achieved when the attention of media and thereby the American people are focused on the issue.
A more typical case occurred when the anti-outsourcing bill, a bill that would have changed the tax code from encouraging American based companies to export US jobs overseas to the other way around, was killed quietly and unceremoniously. In that case the media almost completely ignored the issue which exposed the bill to the relentless lobbying of the National Association of Manufacturer's and the United States Chamber of Commerce. It is hard to imagine that a majority of middle to lower class Americans would agree with arguments that ran the gamut from surreal to patently ridiculous that opponents of the bill advanced.
Number of lobbyists.
America has had oligarchy before, of course, during what history now calls the period of the "Robber Barons." J. P. Morgan said during that period that he could have hired half of the working class to kill the other half.
That is not to say, however, that I am despairing of any ability of the American people to reverse this trend. Informed, the American people are capable of feats that no government or political party or special interest can accomplish. After all, it is safe to say that the heroic passengers on United Flight 93 on 9/11 did more to ensure that there would never be another 9/11 style attack than the billions spent by the governments of the world following 9/11.