Welcome to oligarchy

The BBC reports on an academic study that finds the US is an oligarchy rather than a democracy. I knew that, but it’s interesting to have a study.

the two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here’s how they explain it:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

2002…long before Citizens United.

They conclude:

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. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Eric Zuess, writing in Counterpunch, isn’t surprised by the survey’s results.

“American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media),” he writes. “The US, in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious ‘electoral’ ‘democratic’ countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now.”

It’s not a cheerful finding.



  1. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Yeah. Our one vote makes little difference in reality. At most, it just changes who (and maybe how much) the rich have to pay to get what they want.

    Not sure how to fix it given the entrenched establishment. I really don’t think it will ever happen until the US gov collapses, or is overthrown. I would like to see a similar comparison to some other developed countries, then a cross study that attempts to compare how and where money has the most influence in order to try to get a system that work better.

  2. A Masked Avenger says

    I tend to reference this when people engage in victim blaming, by suggesting that we got the government we wanted, or that if we dislike the government’s policies we should get out there and vote to change them. We have an oligarchy, but not just an oligarchy. We have an oligarchy that gives everyone the illusion of a voice, which sets most of us up to take the blame for our own victimization when the ones with the real power screw us over.

  3. Al Dente says

    We can see the results of the oligarchy in the two main political parties. They’re widely separated on social issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, etc., but very similar on fiscal matters like taxes. The 1% don’t really care whether abortion is widely available because they know if one of theirs wants an abortion she will get one quickly and easily. They do care about keeping tax rates as low as possible.

    The oligarchs don’t mind if the Republicans and Democrats squabble over social issues. But the politicians know if they don’t toe the fiscal line they’ll lose their election funding.

  4. says

    The US has always been an oligarchy. Remember how it happened? A smallish group of wealthy and powerful people led a revolt to protect their wealth and power (it was the smugglers and slavers and land owners that England was taxing) then came up with a pseudodemocracy as a power-sharing mechanism to keep them off eachother’s throats. Which didn’t work very long until the system stabilized around economic expansion and opportunism for those wealthy and powerful, and their hangers-on and bootlickers. The innovation that makes the US great is its use of a propagandized ideology of freedom, which managed to be sold in spite of the state being an apartheid state that was committing genocide against the original inhabitants of the land it was taking over. Instead of being expected to love “the party” or “the committee” or “big brother” the US’ youth are indoctrinated with the idea they have ‘freedom’ and that the founders of the country were democratic (what’s so democratic about a bunch of rich racist oligarchs meeting in private to hammer out a political system, then voting it and themselves in place, then perpetuating it using ruthless violence?)

  5. Shatterface says

    The problem is that as soon as someone points out that the USA is an oligarchy you get fuckwits arguing that they were better off under the British monarchy.

  6. RJW says

    America is an oligarchy, so are all the other ‘democracies’, probably the higher the Gini coefficient, the less democratic the society and the US has a greater degree of inequality than most other OECD countries.

    Actually most NW European monarchies have less inequality than the US Republic and that includes a greater degree of social mobility, perhaps Americans would have been better off under Britain’s social democracy. Just think, intelligent gun laws, no capital punishment, and social democracy and, perhaps, a reduced inclination to bomb the crap out of people they disagree with, one never knows.

  7. Omar Puhleez says

    Robert Michels wrote a book (‘Political Parties’) on the tendency of organisations of whatever size to evolve into oligarchies.
    ‘Democracy’ comes from the Greek ‘demo’ (popular) and ‘kratia’ (rule or authority), but authority only in the final sense. All the above cynicisms re the US and other constitutions are noted, but the most important fact seems to have been overlooked. Representative government and popular franchise give its country’s people a means of changing governments without having to resolve to civil war.
    I am sure the Syrians and a host of others would cheer for that.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *