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”.
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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.
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.
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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