By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
The Real News has an interview with Thomas Ferguson, where he expands on the ideas expressed in “Walter Dean Burnham and Thomas Ferguson: Americans Are Sick to Death of Both Parties: Why Our Politics Is in Worse Shape Than We Thought” (NC, December 20) in an interview with Jessica Desvarieux.
Unfortunately for us, TRNN seems to have recently made a policy change whereby its own embeds are available only to donating members, and YouTube embeds are disabled. So all I can do is ask you to open TRNN in a separate tab and play the video, or do the same with YouTube.
Listen along, and you’ll come to this paragraph, which is the heart of the matter as far as the 2014 election goes:
[FERGUSON:] And so the first thing to be said, I think, is how come so few lower-income voters turned out. I think there the answer’s pretty clear. They’ve had a very difficult time, and they’ve been living under a Democratic presidents for six years now, since–or almost six, since they took over. And while we hear constantly about how wonderful the economy is doing, in fact the stock market is up, but the unemployment rate’s still pretty high and wages are dead flat. They’re almost pancake flat there. And as of last July, everybody else except the 1 percent’s income was down about one–I’m sorry–it was down about 6 percent from where it was in 2008. People haven’t recovered their income losses there. The labor markets aren’t back to where they were.
And after six years, I think it’s perfectly obvious what’s going on here, which is that people are just saying–this being a family program, I won’t–I’ll control myself here. They’re saying, who needs this? And they’re sort of nonvoting, if you like, for a new America. That, I think, is the essence of the story.
FERGUSON: Well, I like public financing. …
Your fundamental problem here is very simple. The sort of classical views of everybody sort of just showing up in green wood or in front of the Church in Lexington, Massachusetts, or something to vote on the common is a nice story, but in fact it’s pretty costly to run campaigns and reach people. We know this. So you have a very simple problem: either we all pay a little, or they, meaning the 1 percent, pay just about everything. And the statistics that Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen and I put together, you know, in our paper in the International Journal of Political Economy, for example, where we actually correctly sum the real level of contributions–and both parties are heavily dependent on money from the 1 percent. I can’t help it if The New York Times’ Sunday magazine tells you a couple of weeks ago that something else–they’re just plain wrong. And everybody knows this number. It’s been out for quite some time. And you’ve got to get–basically, we pay a little or the 1 percent own the system. There’s just no alternatives here.
Somehow I don’t think a voluntary program to encourage small donors would do the trick, even if Andrew Cuomo likes that idea. And I’m not sure whether states that have public financing, in good laboratories of democracy mode, are all that different from states that don’t. Seems to me like 100% Federal funding, with no private contributions whatever, would be the way to go, along with some free use of the public’s airwaves for limited advertising, to encourage actual pressing of the flesh. But I don’t know the field, and I’m sure people smarter than I am have real proposals. Readers?
NOTE Here’s Wikipedia on Ferguson’s “Investment Theory of Party Competition.” It seems to me that it’s never going to be possibly to completely stop the wealthy from investing in politicians; money is speech, after all, at least until it turns out not to be. But we ought to be able to make it a lot harder.