Friday, April 1, 2011

Political Frustration

The number of times good decent dairy farmers think all that is necessary for change is a trip to Washington, D.C. where some eager representative of the people will listen to the "real" story and presto fix the problem cannot be counted.

As most learn, the task is more daunting. Martin Gilens, a researcher at Princeton University has assembled some shocking data.

Inequality and Democratic Accountability

The ability of citizens to influence government policy is at the heart of democracy. But citizens are quite unequal in their ability to shape government policy to their liking. In this project I examine the association between what Americans say they want the federal government to do (based on national surveys) and what government does (based on detailed coding of public policy). I find a moderately strong relationship between public preferences and public policy, albeit with a strong bias toward the status quo. But I also find that when Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear virtually no relationship to the preferences of poor or middle income Americans. This vast discrepancy in government responsiveness to citizens with different incomes stands in stark contrast to the ideal of political equality that Americans hold dear. Although perfect political equality is an unrealistic goal, representational biases of this magnitude call into question the very democratic character of our society. I am currently working on a book manuscript based on this project.

Gilens concludes his research with:

There has never been a democratic society in which the citizens' influence over government policy was unrelated to their financial resources. In this sense, the difference between democracy and plutocracy is one of degree. But by the same token, a government that is democratic in form but is in practice only responsive to its most affluent citizens is a democracy in name only.

Most middle-income Americans think that public officials do not care much about the preferences of "people like me." Sadly, the results presented above suggest that they may be right. Whether or not elected officials and other decision-makers "care" about middle-class Americans," influence over actual policy outcomes appear to be reserved almost exclusively for those at the top of the income distribution.

The fact is Americans cannot simply give up on government, but, efforts to get behind some "silver bullet" piece of legislation must be judged under a strong light of reality. There is only so much energy left in the dairy community. That energy should not be spent spinning wheels.

1 comment:

  1. Guess I'll have to get me some money...oh, wait....