The U.S. oligarchy study completed by researchers from Princeton and Northwestern Universities is showing that the United States is an oligarchy rather than a democracy. In an oligarchy, the wealthiest citizens dominate policies concerning crucial issues, not voters. According to an April 16 The Telegraph report, “the US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country's citizens, but is instead ruled by those of the rich and powerful.”
The 42-page U.S. oligarchy study is titled Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens and was published by the universities on April 9, 2014. The study was reviewed by several researchers and is scheduled to be taught at the universities in the fall semester.
After examining 1,800 U.S. policies which were enacted between the years 1981 to 2002, the researchers found that wealthy Americans and large special lobbying interest groups controlled U.S. government policies. The policies and interests of the dominating economic elite in the United States was found to be against the preferences of the average American.
While the report places the wealthy at the 90th percentile of income and the average American in the 50th percentile of income, it is almost safe to say that after 2008, those numbers have changed quite a bit. The gap between the rich and the former “average” has increased -- with the rich getting richer and the once average-income citizens getting poorer.
Even though the report analyzed the years 1981 to 2002, it explains why the rich were and are continuing to get richer. The study distinguishes between Economic Elite Domination (wealthy individuals) and Biased Pluralism (interest groups that represent the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations).
The reality is (the study notes) that public policy in the United States is controlled by individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites). Being wealthy alone is not as effective as being wealthy and influential. Being rich and living a luxurious lifestyle is one thing. But being rich and using one's money to affect policies, guarantees that one can continue to get richer.
“An important feature of interest group influence is that it is often deployed against proposed policy changes. On the 1,357 proposed policy changes for which at least one interest group was coded as favoring or opposing change, in only 36% of the cases did most groups favor change, while in 55% of the cases most groups opposed change,” states the report on page 19. “Interest groups as a whole do not seek the same policies as average citizens do.”
In regard to the idea of democracy in America, the report states that “when a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.” Why would anyone want to change anything if it works perfectly -- for the rich?
The U.S. oligarchy study points out that the interest of the average American does appear to be represented if it correlates with the interest of the wealthy. “To be sure, this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically elite citizens who wield the actual influence.”