New research confirms ordinary folk have little to no influence over policymaking, while elites have lots of power

Implications of findings clear – “Reduce the power of money in politics”

No 1040 Posted by fw, April 27, 2014

“Is the U.S. the democracy it claims to be? A study finds that moneyed interests and big business call most of the shots in U.S. public policy and the average citizen has very little say.” Carey L. Biron

Although the study is US-based, the findings likely apply to Canada and other so-called western “democracies”, now variously labelled by critics as trending towards “oligarchies”, “plutocracies”, and “corporatocracies”.

To read the complete original article, click on the following linked title. Alternatively, below is a significantly abridged, and modified version with bulleted points, added subheadings of main ideas and text highlighting to facilitate browsing and reading for selective purposes.

Average U.S. Citizens Have “Little Or No” Influence On Government Policy by Carey L. Biron, Mint Press, April 27, 2014

Findings of study are “stark”

WASHINGTON — U.S. public policy is almost exclusively dominated by monied interests and big business, according to new research, while most of the rest of the country, including advocacy groups working on behalf of a broad spectrum of populist issues, have remarkably little sway over the policymaking process.

Professors at Princeton and Northwestern have sifted through two decades’ worth of data to offer perhaps the most detailed analysis to date of the United States’ modern claim to being a democracy. The results, they say, are stark.

“Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise,” according to the research paper by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin I. Page.

“But we 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.”

The paper is slated for publication in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Politics, a peer-reviewed journal.

Research method

Gilens and Page reviewed nearly 2,000 national surveys conducted between 1981 and 2002 that touched on hundreds of public policy changes concerning “matters of relatively high salience, about which it is plausible that average citizens may have real opinions and may exert some political influence.” The researchers correlated the responses in terms of respondents’ income, then figured out how often different groups’ preferred policies were implemented.

Main findings

    • They found, first, that the rich and poor see many policy proposals from roughly the same perspective.
    • However, the data is more interesting when their views diverge. Gilens and Page report that policies lacking broad support among the rich are only implemented around 18 percent of the time. On the other hand, proposals supported by the elite are adopted more than twice as often, some 45 percent of the time.
    • 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 paper states.
    • By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy … In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule – at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

Recommendations

    • Although the paper does not offer specific recommendations for policymakers, Benjamin Page told MintPress News that the data indicate a clear need to weaken the impact of money in politics and to strengthen the mechanisms of direct citizen control over the gears of government.
    • “Reduce the power of money in politics!” he wrote in an e-mail, noting that new rules are needed to mandate “full disclosure of donations and limits on lobbying.” He also urged a reversal of recent Supreme Court decisions that have lifted longstanding limits on political contributions by both individuals and corporations.
    • “Also, make politicians compete for votes,” Page continued.
    • “End the partisan gerrymandering of one-party districts, and
    • mix all districts so that party balance is close.
    • End one-party primaries and hold all elections, including primaries, on visible dates, with easy voting – for instance, through election holidays.”

Income inequality contributes to power differential between haves and have-nots

When looking at policy issues involving starkly divergent views between average U.S. citizens and economic or business elites, it is hard to find more poignant current debates than those involving CEO compensation and the minimum wage.

Last week, the AFL-CIO, a major union umbrella, released new findings showing that CEOs at the largest U.S. corporations were paid 331 times more than average workers last year. Those corporate heads were also paid some 774 times what minimum-wage workers received. These comparisons represent historically high levels of economic inequality.

While President Barack Obama has recently started trying to make the question of raising the federal minimum wage into a defining issue of his second term, the fact is that such action is long overdue by any standard. During the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, for instance, protesters demanded a minimum wage that would translate to more than $13 an hour today.

Indeed, even if the federal government had continued to update the minimum wage over the past half-century merely to keep up with inflation, this rate would today be $10 an hour. Instead, the current federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour, one of the lowest in any developed country. And while President Obama has formally supported a modest rise to $9 an hour, all such proposals currently remain non-starters in Congress, evidently due to strong pushback from business groups.

Still, public support for an increase in the minimum wage is strong. According to polling carried out last year for the National Employment Law Project, 80 percent of adults in the U.S. support a $10.10 minimum wage — a figure that received strong backing from all demographic and ideological categories.

Carey L. Biron is Washington correspondent for MintPress and for Inter Press News focusing on issues of equity and accountability, environmental and corporate regulation, and international development and governance from Capitol Hill. Carey spent much of the past 15 years covering South and Southeast Asia as a radio and print reporter and editor.

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In a capitalist economy, those who own the majority of property set the terms for everyone else

…and in the process, prevent most of the rest of us from setting the terms of how we would like to live

No 826 Posted by fw, August 12, 2013

“…the journey that I personally took, and, of course, others take…who move left, take this journey. And the journey we take essentially is come to the root of the question why are things the way they are? … if you try to understand how the system is operating, you can have a much more complete, much more robust picture. You can understand, for instance, how the fact that small numbers of people arrogate to themselves the right to hold property…and because they hold property, they’re able to disenfranchise people and make people make judgments based on the fact that they have no property. So then I, having no property, have to come to you who have property and say, give me a job, and then you set the terms in which I’m employed…. You know, that is the root problem of how inequality is, you know, you know, constantly reproduced in our society, that those with property get to set the terms by which the rest of society lives. And, you know, if you don’t come to that, if you don’t grasp that…then you’ve not understood how we can constantly have discussions…about how to solve poverty. Can we raise enough money to solve poverty? Well, you can raise a lot of money, you can eradicate malaria, you can give to people, you know, a laptop computer, but they’re still not able to set the terms themselves of how they should live.”Vijay Prashad

Paul Jay and Vijay Prashad discuss the limits imposed on questioning the roots of inequality and how those who own the majority of property set the terms for everyone else.

Click on the following linked title to see the original interview and access the complete transcript. Alternatively, watch the 26:44-minute embedded video below along with an edited and greatly abridged transcript with added subheadings and text highlighting. Note — The abridged transcript ends at the 11:41-minute mark of the video.

Questioning the Underlying Structures of Property and Power is “Off the Table” – Pt 2 of 4, The Real News, August 9, 2013

Bio: Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College and this year’s Edward Said Chair at the American University at Beirut. Among the many books he has authored are The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. His most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. He also writes regularly for Asia Times Online, Frontline magazine and Counterpunch.

ABRIDGED TRANSCRIPT

Lots of people are distressed about the way of the world but don’t understand why or what they can do about it

I don’t judge somebody coming to that conclusion — [i.e. that all I can really do is look after myself, look after my family perhaps, maybe those close to me, but I can't do anything else really about the rest of the world, so sort of to hell with it, except maybe some nice rhetoric] — because it’s a way to survive. A lot of people will say, I’m distressed with the world, I see that it’s not going anywhere, I see that any contribution from me is Band-Aid, notional, whatever. We’ll do some of it just to maintain our humanity, but then we’ll go ahead and live our lives, you know, the way we would like to. I don’t judge that. [If] somebody wants to make that decision, that’s their decision.

I had a different road, largely because I think the disillusionment with liberalism came early in my life.

The problem with “liberalism” is that any questioning of the foundations of capitalism is off the table

…classical liberals will say [liberalism] is about having individual rights and individual freedoms, which actually amounts to the right of property to assert itself in the world. And so from classical liberalism you come back to [the principle] that property is inviolable, you cannot change the relations of property, in other words, we won’t question the foundations of capitalism, if we keep that off the table, all we can do is change a few things, make a few people happier. And, you know, again, given the context in which–how harsh the world is, it’s very hard to begrudge people from having a little joy in their lives.

…liberalism says that changing the structures of the world, that’s off the table; everything else can be discussed.

With the foundations of capitalism off the table, we can’t fully understand the very nature of our predicament

But [that excludes] the most important aspect for discussion, which is how did things get here. And in that sense, the journey that I personally took, and, of course, others take–you know, people who move left take this journey — and the journey we take essentially is come to the root of the question why are things the way they are.

Typically, the right wing wants to keep the roots of the problem buried

I mean, that is why generally the word radical should be kept for the left. You can’t really have right-wing radicals, because radicalism in its origin means getting to the root of something. And typically the right don’t get to the root of things. You know, they want to keep the roots buried and deal with surface phenomena. But because there is a temptation in some of us to go to the root of the question, to ask the basic question…

Marx et al. saw the flaws and incompleteness of contemporary liberalism, and socialist and utopian thinking

…why does something become the way it does? And here the thinking of somebody like Marx is crucial, because Marx’s general approach to the world runs through what I would consider liberal ideology. I mean, one of Marx’s early books written with Friedrich Engels was The German Ideology, where they took the best mainstream thinking of the time in Germany, the best liberals, the best what in those years would have been socialist, utopian socialist, etc., they took the best thinkers, and they demonstrated how they were incomplete. They were not able to see what was driving, you know, inequality in the world. You know, Charles Dickens saw that there was inequality in the world, but what he didn’t necessarily see was why this was so, why this reproduced itself. And that was Marx’s project.

And that’s really the reason why I find Marx even today to be an earth-shattering approach. You know, his approach is earth-shattering to understand the world, because it suggests that if you go through liberalism, you can understand its incompleteness.

Small numbers of people arrogating to themselves the right to hold property creates inequality 

And then if you try to understand how the system is operating, you can have a much more complete, much more robust picture. You can understand, for instance, how the fact that small numbers of people arrogate to themselves the right to hold property, you know, and because they hold property, they’re able to disenfranchise people and make people make judgments based on the fact that they have no property, so then I, having no property, have to come to you who have property and say, give me a job, and then you set the terms in which I’m employed.

You know, that is the root problem of how inequality is, you know, you know, constantly reproduced in our society, that those with property get to set the terms by which the rest of society lives.

“Unless people are able to set the terms in which they can live, they’re not going to be free.”

And, you know, if you don’t come to that, if you don’t grasp that, which is the essence of Marxism, then you’ve not understood how we can constantly have discussions, every generation can have a discussion about what to do with poverty, you know, how to solve poverty. Can we raise enough money to solve poverty? Well, you can raise a lot of money, you can eradicate malaria, you can give to people, you know, a laptop computer, but they’re still not able to set the terms themselves of how they should live. And that is the core lesson of Marxism. Unless people are able to set the terms in which they can live, they’re not going to be free.

Extreme privatization drives up North American labour and drives jobs to cheap labour locations

Right now, American workers have to bid up their wages so that American workers are much more expensive than workers in many parts of the world. You know, that is why corporations prefer to source their labor from outside the United States. There is no necessary reason for American labor to be this expensive. One of the reasons American labor is so expensive is that everything is privatized, you know, that I am responsible for insurance for transportation, for health care, for my children’s, you know, everything. So because everything is privatized, the bill is with me. So I have to bid up my wages.

A “What If” vision

Wages [here] are not going [up]. So you put a lot of pressure on individual households to deal with the basic facts of life. If on the other hand we had excellent public transportation, decent health care, good schooling, you know, decent schooling, if these things were provided by the state, if there were some socialization of these things, then we would not need to bid up, you know, or put pressure on wages in order to survive. We could put pressure on wages because we want to have an imagination, we want to have more leisure, you know, we want to enjoy our lives, not just for survival.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

How the planet’s richest rob its poorest and what we must do about it

The richest 200 people on earth have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion. We need to change the rules.

No 719 Posted by fw, April 15, 2013

“We have to face the fact that the democratic institutions we worked so hard to shore up during the 20th century are no longer sufficient to protect us in this brave new world. We need to change the rules, and we need to do it quickly. Given that real power is now routinely wielded at the supra-national level, we need to start building global democratic capacity that can keep rampant greed and profiteering in check.”Dr Jason Hickel

The truth about extreme global inequality by Dr Jason Hickel, Aljazeera, April 14, 2013

The global inequality is growing in part because of the neoliberal economic policies imposed on developing countries.

Viral video exposes cruel reality of inequality of wealth disparity in US

The crisis of capital, the rise of the Occupy movement and the crash of Southern Europe have brought the problem of income inequality into mainstream consciousness in the West for the first time in many decades. Now everyone is talking about how the richest 1 percent has captured such a disproportionate share of wealth in their respective countries. This point came crashing home once again when an animated video, illustrating wealth disparities in the US, went viral last month. When an infographic catches the attention of tens of millions of internet users, you know it is hitting a nerve.

New video reveals the brutal disparity of global wealth disparity

But the global scale of inequality remains largely absent from this story. So we at /The Rules decided to put together a [3:52-minute] video that would give it some attention –

Global Wealth Inequality – What you never knew you never knewPublished on Apr 3, 2013 The extreme truth about how wealth is divided globally. Inspired by the amazing Wealth Inequality in America video. Production Company: Grain Media www.grainmedia.co.uk

While this information is not new, it is still startling. In the video we say that the richest 300 people on earth have more wealth than the poorest 3bn – almost half the world’s population. We chose those numbers because it makes for a clear and memorable comparison, but in truth the situation is even worse: the richest 200 people have about $2.7 trillion, which is more than the poorest 3.5bn people, who have only $2.2 trillion combined. It is very difficult to wrap one’s mind around such extreme figures.

Wealth disparity is getting progressively worse

But we wanted to do more than just illustrate the brutal extent of inequality; we also wanted to demonstrate that it has been getting progressively worse. A recent Oxfam report shows that “the richest 1 percent has increased its income by 60 percent in the last 20 years, with the financial crisis accelerating rather than slowing the process”, while the income of the top 0.01 percent has seen even greater growth.

The [above] video shows how this widening disparity operates between countries. During the colonial period, the gap between the richest countries and the poorest countries widened from 3:1 to 35:1, in part because European powers extracted so much wealth from the Global South in the form of resources and labour. Since then, that gap has grown to almost 80:1.

How is this possible? 

World Bank, IMF and WTO policies reward multinationals and punish the poor

The gap is growing in part because of the neoliberal economic policies that international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have imposed on developing countries over the past few decades. These policies are designed to forcibly liberalize markets, prying them open in order to give multinational corporations unprecedented access to cheap land, resources and labour. But at a serious cost: poor countries have lost around $500bn per year in GDP as a consequence of these policies, according to economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts.

As a result we see a clear net flow of wealth from poor places to rich places. We designed the [above] video to help people visualize this flow, and to show how it pumps up the Global North at devastating expense to the Global South.

News about aid going in to developing countries seldom discloses how much wealth is taken out

Few people know about this constant siphoning of wealth. One reason for this is that the discourse of aid takes up so much space. Consider the enormous publicity captured by Jeffrey Sachs and the Millennium Development Goals, or Bono and Bob Geldof, or even big charities such as Save the Children, Christian Aid and Action Aid.

Governments of rich countries constantly celebrate how much they spend in aid to developing countries, and multinational corporations splash CSR credentials across annual reports and product lines – neither of them confess how much they take out of developing countries.   

Tax avoidance and debt service used as a form of cash transfusions from poor to rich

The [above] video highlights the fact that aid disbursements from rich to poor pale in comparison to the amount of capital that flows the other direction. Tax avoidance alone accounts for more than $900bn each year – money that corporations steal from developing countries and hide in tax havens (or thiefdoms, more accurately), of which the City of London is the global hub. Debt service accounts for about $600bn each year, much of it paid on the compound interest of illegitimate loans accumulated by dictators long since deposed. Both of these flows can be understood as direct transfusions of cash from poor to rich.

Land grabs are another form of wealth stealing from poor to rich

There is much more that we could have included in the video. Land grabs, for example: Fred Pearce’s new book, The Land Grabbers, shows that land exceeding the size of Western Europe has been grabbed from developing countries by corporations in the past decade alone. If we could quantify the value of that land, we could have added a huge amount to the $2 trillion stack of cash that the video depicts flowing from poor to rich.

Climate change disasters cost poor countries larger portion of their GDP than that of rich countries who caused the problem

Or consider climate change: A 2 degree rise in global temperature will cost regions like Africa and South Asia about 5 percent of their GDP, much more than rich countries will suffer despite the fact that they bear most of the responsibility for causing this disaster. Losses on this level make aid seem insignificant.

These are the ultimate drivers of poverty and inequality. These are the problems that we need to tackle. 

Wealth disparity no longer a geographic divide; it’s increasingly a class divide within borders

It bears pointing out that the geographic divide that the video depicts between the Global North and the Global South does not make as much sense today as it once did. We tried to show how both China and Russia embody this divide within their borders. But to be even more accurate we would have had to depict a small wealthy core of corporations and individuals – a global elite versus the majority of the world’s people. It is no longer only about the West versus the Rest; the class divide is now internationally dispersed.

Western institutions that control the global economy represent interests of wealthy not poor

It remains true that the institutions that control the global economy (the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and various bilateral Free Trade Agreements, or FTAs) are monopolized by Western countries. But that does not mean that they represent the interests of voters in those countries, for the people who run these institutions – central bankers, trade representatives and their corporate lobbyists – are not elected by any democratic process. 

The World Bank and the IMF have the power to impose economic policies on developing countries even when voters and elected politicians in those countries unanimously reject them. On top of this, they enjoy “sovereign immunity” status that protects them from lawsuit when their loans fail and their policies cause economic crisis and human devastation. In other words, not only are these institutions undemocratic, they also trump local democracies and override the will of voters in independent nations. The people affected have no recourse to justice.

Moreover, corporate power of wealthy elites trumps national sovereignty of the poor

We see the same democratic deficit in corporations. The majority of the world’s biggest economic entities are now corporations, not countries. They are run by CEOs who are unelected and unaccountable to any citizens; they are responsible only to their shareholders, and their mandate is to turn as much profit as possible at whatever cost to human life or the planet.

These corporations often have more power than the governments of the countries in which they operate. One reason for this is that the WTO and most FTAs enforce “investor-state dispute agreements” that allow corporations to sue local governments for legislation that compromises their profits, like minimum wage laws or pollution laws.  

The point here is that corporate power regularly transcends national sovereignty. We have to face the fact that the democratic institutions we worked so hard to shore up during the 20th century are no longer sufficient to protect us in this brave new world.

We need to change the rules – e.g. global corporate tax; global democratic oversight

We need to change the rules, and we need to do it quickly. Given that real power is now routinely wielded at the supra-national level, we need to start building global democratic capacity that can keep rampant greed and profiteering in check.

This might mean a global corporate minimum tax that will put an end to trade mispricing and tax havens. It might mean a global minimum wage that will put a floor on the “race to the bottom” for labour. It will certainly mean wresting control of international trade laws from the hands of IMF bankers and WTO technocrats and placing it under new institutions that are transparent and democratic.  If we are going to have a global economy, we need to have global democratic oversight.

Can we accomplish this?

Yes. And anyhow, we have no choice; the future of humanity, and of the planet, depends on it. They will say we are dreamers for demanding these changes. But the dreamers are those who imagine that we can feasibly carry on with the status quo.

Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. He has contributed political critique and analysis to various magazines, including Le Monde Diplomatique, Foreign Policy in Focus, The Africa Report, and Monthly Review. He is currently working on a new book titled The Development Delusion: Why Aid Misses the Point about PovertyFollow him on Twitter: @jasonhickel

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.