“We are now in a free fall toward old fashioned oligarchy—that noxious, thieving, tyrannical, oppressive species of government that America’s original settlers fled Europe to escape.”
----Robert F. Kennedy Jr. “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits”
Kennedy isn’t alone in his assessment. A widely reported study conducted at Princeton and Northwestern universities (1) released last April, and dubbed by some the “DUH Report”, concluded:
"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” (2)
Oligarchy, defined here as “a form of government in which power is vested in a dominant class and a small group exercises control over the general population,” (3) has now become documented fact. Reviewing over 18,000 policies enacted between 1981 and 2002, the study found that the “resulting data empirically verifies that U.S. policies are determined by the economic elite.” (4)
This, of course, comes as no surprise either to those of us who have stood witness to the usurpations of economic and political power; nor to those millions who have suffered diminution of circumstance and future prospects through the foreclosure of the American Dream.
It also goes a long way to explain the utter unresponsiveness of this government as it does the bidding of the corporate and economic elites but consistently fails to address the underlying causes of our current economic malaise; as well as the complete ‘tone deafness’ of the corporate heads and political elites to the pain inflicted by inspiringly myopic and self-serving economic policies. From a CEO of a fast-food chain blaming his workers for their poverty—accusing them of bad judgement, it seems, for accepting employment at his wretched business in the first place—to one JEB Bush, in a singular act of contempt and callousness, admonishing the poor not to organize for higher wages but to instead work longer hours. (5)
But the threat goes much further than the devastation of the American middle class. As noted in previous posts, a thriving middle class is a perquisite to a healthy republican order. Without a strong and a commanding middle class, the rich will plunder society and first attempt to buy power they will, failing that, call out the military and usurp it.
The above quote by Robert Kennedy was posted on Facebook in a meme by a friend of mine. I commented on the post as follows:
“And it is also the reason that the Athenians originally created Democracy. The oligarchy that misruled Athens produced a revolution that produced the world's first Democratic government. Declaring the oligarchy, a 'tyranny' the Athenians not only introduced a new term in the political lexicon but went about the business of reigning in on the abuses of the economic elite through direct political participation. Yes, at its origin, Democracy was about controlling wealth.”
Yes, Democracy, at its origin, was about controlling wealth, and about the equitable distribution of it. To be a true democrat one must be about economic justice. This is why those who support the interests of the emergent oligarchy are about the business of limiting the franchise, gerrymandering the political landscape, erecting obstacles and limiting access to voting, and changing the way we finance elections so that they can be outright and legally purchased.
At base the modern conservative movement, and the oligarchs they serve, is fundamentally anti- democratic and anti-republican. The conservative movement betrays the promise of the democratic experiment and is a cancer upon the republic.
(1). The report was picked up by both the BBC and UPI wire service. See http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2014/04/16/The-US-is-not-a-democracy-but-an-oligarchy-study-concludes/2761397680051/ as well as: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746
(2). See the UPI report.