Well, I counted 15 of us. I thought the topic would scare people away. Good discussion, too, but a little one-sided. Either that, or we are closer to an oligarchy than I thought. Thanks to Jim W. for challenging us on whether we were overstating the extent to which plutocrats control our politics.
Here are some follow-up links, and a bit of a rebuttal to Jim, which I should have made last night. Or, maybe I did. Who listens?
- Atlantic Monthly cover story I referenced on The Rise Of The New Global Elite. It’s similar to a book I think I read called, appropriately,
- Superclass: The Global Power Elite And The World They Are Making.
- (per John) Bill Moyers’ Welcome To The Plutocracy (text) (video) speech from October 2010. It’s actually pretty riveting.
Jim questioned whether it makes sense to call the U.S. an oligarchy when every effort to cut middle class entitlements or meat ax middle class interests has crashed and burned (Social Security privatization, slashing Medicare, etc.).
Fair enough. But, I wonder if the point isn’t so much that the rich always get everything they want, but that they never get what they don’t want. Letting the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of filers reset to its 1999 level. Keeping the estate tax exemption at $5 million rather than raising it to (I think) $7 million. Adding a public option insurance plan to health care reform. Major new regulations with teeth on Wall Street or a greenhouse gas cap and trade. In all of these recent cases and more, the boundary of what is acceptable public policy seems never to extend to the point where the top 1% or so of the public and the corporate donor base that both parties depend on would have to give up much of anything for the public good. I know the electorate doesn’t support all of these things, for example cap and trade. But, even when they do, the hurdle of elite opposition seems to be insurmountable.
Plus, even if Jim is right and Peter is wrong that middle class entitlements remain exempt from predation, keeping taxes and regulation on the wealthy low is forcing major cuts in social services that another group of americans need to get by: The poor and working class. In California alone, they have or are going to gut Medi-Cal, In-Home Supportive Services, community college budgets, and on and on. Closing the budget gap with tax revenues may not always be the best option, especially in a recession. But, regardless, it’s simply off the table in CA and almost every other of the 50 states.
No, I suppose this isn’t oligarchy. In a way, it’s not even close. But, it may have a snowball effect over time, as protected wealth begets more political power begets more wealth. Will there come a point at which we still call it pluralism when the interests of the bottom one-third of earners — and maybe one day the middle one-third — only get met when they don’t conflict with the interests of the top 1%?