Today is tax day in the US, the deadline for filing one’s returns. Reader Norm sent me this short clip by Robert Reich where he explains how it can be that the rich and super-rich pay taxes at a much lower rate than do the middle and classes, thanks to a whole bunch of measures that have been thoughtfully inserted into the tax code by the people they purcahsed, also known as the members of Congress.
Princeton University professor Martin Gilens has long been writing about how the rich have such a disproportionate effect on policy in the US (see here and here for my earlier posts about his work), and he continues his critique with a long paper (thanks to reader Peter for the link) where he argues that it is now possible to empirically test the four theories about who has most influence in government: “Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism – Majoritarian Pluralism, in which the interests of all citizens are more or less equally represented, and Biased Pluralism, in which corporations, business associations, and professional groups predominate.”
Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
Some of us may be tempted to say, “Well, duh!” but it is important to realize that having empirical support for a proposition, however obvious it may seem, is an important factor in pressing for social change.
The only times that those who are not rich see their views advanced by government is when those views happen to coincide with those of the wealthy. This happens enough that they fool themselves into thinking that the government actually listens to them.