Affluent Authoritarianism: New Evidence on Public Opinion and Policy

Yves here. Yet more evidence, in case you needed it, that money, as opposed to popular views, is what drives policy.

By Thomas Ferguson, Director of Research, Institute for New Economic Thinking and Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Boston. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

The idea that public opinion powers at least the broad direction of public policy in formally democratic countries like the United States has been an article of faith in both political science and public economics for generations.[i] Especially during the Cold War, direct tests of this hypothesis by social scientists were rare – indeed, questioning it was often considered un-American. But not long after the U.S. government dramatically ushered in a single payer insurance system for banks but not the rest of the population in 2008, long simmering doubts began to crystallize.

In 2014, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page drew on a data set originally compiled by Gilens for an earlier study of opinion change and policy. They scrutinized more than 1,700 cases stretching across more than twenty years that tracked public opinion about proposed policy changes at various levels of income and how policy responded. Their unsettling conclusion startled many: “Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.”[ii] The pair reaffirmed Gilens’ assessment in an earlier study that knowing what high income Americans think matters a lot: If opinion shifts among those at the 90th percentile of income and above, changes in policy in the direction they want become far more likely.

In their new INET Working Paper, Shawn McGuire and Charles Delahunt look afresh at the data Gilens and Page relied upon. They reanalyze the data set using a technique derived from research into artificial intelligence and machine learning. The method involves combing through the evidence using so-called “random forests.”[iii] This approach is less encumbered with restrictive assumptions than the usual regression tools Gilens and Page and other scholars use. It is particularly helpful when data is sparse.

Their findings confirm Gilens and Page’s conclusions and likely admit of exciting extensions. We have all heard the Zen-like tease: What happens if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it? McGuire and Delahunt’s pioneering AI application now yields a high tech twist on this hoary query: What happens when the central hypothesis in political science and public economics – that public opinion is the mainspring of public policy in countries like the United States – falls in a random forest? Will social scientists hear the message and take it to heart or not?

I fear I already know the answer. Even in our new Gilded Age, when almost every day brings new testimony about the towering significance of big money in politics, I am sure Max Planck’s theory of scientific progress will prove right once again: not till the current crop of scholars have mostly departed the field will the disciplines update.

But McGuire and Delahunt’s results are remarkable and deserve wide attention. They find that just a handful of variables suffice to explain a great deal: In contrast to so many political scientists, who linger over possibilities that the political system somehow responds to less affluent Americans in the normal course of things, McGuire and Delahunt flatly dismiss notions that anyone’s opinion about public policy outside of the top 10% of affluent Americans independently helps to explain policy. Knowing the policy area, the preferences of the top 10%, and the views of a handful of interest groups suffice to explain policy changes with impressive accuracy. Resorting to the preferences of less affluent groups actually degrades predictive accuracy, consistent with the Gilens and Page analysis.[iv]

This laser-like focus on just a handful of variables helps bring into better focus the truly significant implications of these findings. As I suggested when I reviewed Gilens’ first study, the negative results are analogous to the Michelson-Morely experiment in physics.[v] That disproved the existence of the ether, which Newtonian physics was thought to require, but it did not put anything in its place.

Ever since, alas, the major positive finding of this work – that opinion above the 90th percentile of the income distribution is key for understanding policy change – has been systematically misunderstood. Social scientists play with it like a cat with a ball of yarn. They seem unable to metabolize it or build upon it. Instead they keep repeating variations on old themes and stay fixated on opinion. If average voters are unimportant, they want to identify some precise stratum of opinion that is.[vi]

Page and Gilens themselves were clear that opinion within the top 10% of the income distribution may well be a proxy for opinions of the top 1 or 2 percent. But that makes them wish more devoutly for surveys capable of sampling the very top of the income distribution: Only the timorous unwillingness of American foundations to fund hunts for that Snark has saved us from a spate of papers battling over which level of affluence – the 1%, the 1.5%, etc. – are decisive for policy and whether these levels differ across states or cities.[vii]

By contrast, by the end of their study, McGuire and Delahunt look forward to turning the corner: Their conclusion voices the suspicion that the “likely lodestar variable affecting policy outcomes…is the transfer of large amounts of money to policy makers from the wealthiest sources focused intensely on particular policies.”

That is precisely the point. Surveys of opinion at the level of the 1 or 2%, especially if they are trying to explain changes in policy, do not typically reflect anything as innocently vaporous as “opinion” at all. Their data are instead noisy by-products of the mobilization of big money with its comet-like trail of social networks, subsidized op eds, subservient think tanks, and journalists seeking applause and better positions. That is how the reality of money-driven political systems shows up in surveys.

This is the crucial point that economics and political science need to absorb. Refining models of voter behavior to take more account of voter ignorance is pointless if you systematically bypass what’s driving the system, especially when money speeds across state lines at the speed of light.[viii] Modern political economy has to recognize action at a distance: To understand, say, Harry Reid when he was leader of the Senate Democrats, you would be better advised to analyze his relations with Wall Street or the Chicago Mercantile Exchange than puzzling over any level of Nevada opinion, save perhaps the casinos. The judgement is not partisan: The idea that Mitch McConnell can be understood by reference mainly to even very highly remunerated opinion in his home state is preposterous. He survived as Majority Leader of the Senate in 2016 only because of his ties to super-rich Republican donors who nearly all live out of state.[ix] It is high time to start framing problems in terms of money in politics, not public opinion.

McGuire and Delahunt are well aware of problems in the original Gilens and Page study, but because many readers of their study will not be, it may be worth expanding on some caution flags I raised when Gilens’ first study appeared. His list of major business lobbies excluded all of the historically most powerful ones – not only the Business Roundtable, but the Committee for Economic Development and the Business Council.[x] More broadly, though, devoting so much relative attention to interest groups is a false trail. Anyone who spends much time in archives scrutinizing real cases quickly realizes that individual firms carry most of the water in major policy battles: they foot the bills for most lobbying efforts and make most political contributions.[xi] When business associations mobilize for keeps, they customarily rely on their “stars” from individual firms to help carry the ball. They also typically act alongside swarms of individual firms mounting campaigns of their own, while some large firms use associations to disguise their own presence. Gilens and Page take a stab at indexing lobbying efforts, by aggregating totals by industries, but that simply repeats the basic problem at a lower level. The political coalitions at work in these cases quite transcend business associations.[xii] Individual firms and investors virtually always dominate.[xiii]

Some of the blame for the persistence of these tendencies obviously has to be shared by historians, who, as a group, are increasingly defaulting. Under pressure to publish rapidly, many have become far more likely to repeat old canards in the literature than to take the time to check actual archives. Not long ago, for example, I was astonished to read otherwise excellent historians repeating Herbert Hoover’s nonsense about not having talked with bankers as he prepared his famous proposal for a debt repayment moratorium in the 1931 financial crisis. I had long ago drawn attention to surviving telephone transcripts between Hoover and Thomas W. Lamont of J.P. Morgan & Co. to correct that legend, which had important implications for later events, including the 1932 presidential campaign.[xiv] The example of how a major banker simply telephones top political leaders during crisis is instructive, though. Exactly the same thing occurred in the 2008 financial crisis – and both cases deepen misgivings about singling out interest groups for particular emphasis. The “spectrum of political money” is much wider than interest groups or formal lobbying; all these kinds of omitted variables often play major roles in political outcomes.[xv]

McGuire and Delahunt’s reassessment of the older data makes it much easier to see how far from reality ideas that average voters drive politics really are. To make progress on understanding the mainsprings of actually existing democratic systems like the United States, the fixation on public opinion has to change. McGuire and Delahunt are right that the “linear model of Congressional elections” that Jie Chen, Paul Jorgensen, and I discovered in the data is consistent with their findings and irreconcilable with median voter accounts.[xvi] The key point of the investment approach to political party competition in my book Golden Rule is that only political appeals that can be financed can be brought before the public. The corollary is that there is thus little reason to expect that many important issues of great concern to ordinary Americans are likely to find expression in the political system – as the battles over health care in recent years illustrates vividly. In money-driven elections and policymaking, you will have candidates, elections, real competition that is not collusion, and all kinds of noise, but when the smoke clears – and there will be lots of handsomely subsidized smoke – average (“median”) voters will not determine where policy settles. This doesn’t mean that elections do not present real choices: divisions among oligarchs can really matter. But if you want to tax the rich or pass Medicare for all, you will need a real mass movement not dependent on the good will of the superrich. Maguire and Delahunt’s important new paper makes it obvious that to understand how policy is hammered out, you need to analyze policy formation as a component of a much bigger system of political money.[xvii] Throughout the period Gilens and Page analyzed, the structural position of organized labor steadily deteriorated, while economic inequality soared.[xviii] This ever more lopsided distribution of income and related institutional change has now produced a form of affluent authoritarianism. It is high time that the social sciences recognize it.



[i] This innocent sounding formulation is always freighted with more hedges than a Too Big To Fail Bank. For a long list, see e.g., Page, 1978a and 1978b.

[ii] Gilens and Page, 2014, p. 572. McGuire and Delahunt research focuses on this paper; but two books of those authors are also of interest: Gilens, 2012, whence most of the actual data came; and Page and Gilens, 2017.

[iii] A lucid guide is Breiman, 2001.

[iv] McGuire and Delahunt: “Policy outcomes on holdout sets can be predicted with approximately 70% balanced accuracy (vs 50% chance baseline) using only a few feature categories from the Gilens dataset: rich voters’ preferences, a subset (as few as 14 out of 43) of individual IGs’ preferences, and policy area labels.”

[v] Ferguson, 2013.

[vi] Much of the technical discussion is about the so-called “median voter,” who takes a position at precisely the place in public opinion where a party cannot be defeated, because it would win at least one more vote than any party assuming any other position. All this requires spelling out assumptions about issue distributions, voting rules, numbers of parties, etc., that are unnecessary to make the basic point here.

[vii] Page, Bartels, and Seawright, 2013, remained a pilot study.

[viii] Aachen and Bartels, 2017.

[ix] Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen, 2019.

[x] Ferguson, 2013. For discussions about the evidence in regard to these groups, see, e.g., for the Roundtable, Ferguson and Rogers, 1986; Ferguson and Rogers, 1979. For the influence of Committee on Economic Development, see Collins, 1981, but especially Costantini, 2018. Under an unusual arrangement, I had been allowed to look at many CED files in the late seventies, but could not cite them.

[xi] For evidence about actual cases drawn from archives, see, e.g., Ferguson, 1984, Epstein and Ferguson, 1984; the latter concerns Federal Reserve policy, about which few polls ever ask. I use “firms” here in the extended sense of Golden Rule, 1995, which also includes major investors. Top executives of these firms contribute alongside companies themselves. Note that American laws regulating lobbying are akin to Swiss cheese: they do not catch many forms of direct lobbying. See the discussion below on the spectrum of political money. If you simply add up lobbying and direct political contributions, the point here is also evident.

[xii] “Peak associations” are sometimes said to be more important in “corporatist” political systems. Adherents of this view typically instance various European countries at different periods. I have spent large amounts of time in European as well as American archives. In both France and Germany in the inter-war period, I was surprised to find that differences with common US proceedings were less than expected, though some legal practices created minor variations. See, e.g., the way Lee, Higginson worked the French political system in the months before the 1931 financial crisis in Ferguson and Temin, 2003. Or the way German large firms behaved in the Nazi seizure of power, cf. Ferguson and Voth, 2008. That last paper findings are a reminder that event analysis indicates that that gains or losses from political events are rarely indifferently spread over the members of peak associations, not even the Stahlverein.

[xiii] Gilens’ treatment of some cases involving labor unions was especially problematic. They were the real force behind the resistance to cutting Social Security, not the American Association of Retired Persons, which is actually an insurance operation and in more recent times has wobbled on possible cuts. See Ferguson, 2013.

[xiv] Compare the discussion of the Hoover Moratorium proposal in Ferguson, 1984; reprinted in Golden Rule, with Tooze, 2015. The episode reverberated for a long time, but the outpouring of literature since the Great Financial Crisis that looks back on it has yet to draw the right lesson from the earlier episode, which is that in a true financial crisis the top of the financial community heads straight to the top of the political order.

[xv] See the discussion and diagrams in Ferguson, 2015; and Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen, 2020. The excessive emphasis on interest groups, I think, makes Gilens and Page’s discussion of “biased pluralism” very problematic. Neither the groups nor the processes they figure in are authentically pluralistic.

[xvi] Especially once endogeneity is controlled; see the discussion in Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen, 2019.

[xvii] Formally and for the record, there is no implication that ideology or ideas do not matter. They are actual forces and can in principle be assessed and measured. But treating them in abstraction from the historical development of the economy and institutions just leads to empty assertions.

[xviii] The economic side of these developments has been analyzed by many able scholars; one that is especially clear about the interaction between politics and economics in the macrodynamics of the system is Taylor and Ömer, 2020. See also Temin, 2017, which also examines in detail the role race plays in the system and the way tax policies evolve to protect the superrich. Note that the same phenomena show in other countries, they are not unique to the United States, though I think the scale of the deformity may be. The linear model of elections shows up in France, for example. See Bekkouche and Cagé, 2018. Elsässer, Hense, and Schäfer, 2018, report findings similar to Gilens and Page’s for Germany, though I think their analysis of political finance in Germany is very incomplete.

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  1. Sound of the Suburbs

    Western democracy doesn’t seem to work as well as it used to.
    Where did it all go wrong?
    James Buchanan came up with Public Choice Theory.

    James Buchanan life’s work was dedicated to putting democracy in chains and this is covered in Nancy MacLean’s book of that name.
    He wanted to take power away from the people and he came up with “Public Choice Theory”.
    As soon as you know what it is, you’ll see what’s wrong with it.
    Who better to explain it than the man himself?
    James Buchanan explains “public choice theory” in a BBC Documentary called “The Trap”.
    At 48.00 min.

    When you know the theory, you can see the problem.
    Politicians are supposed to be for sale; that is the idea.
    Lobbyists would now guide Western politicians rather than the electorate.
    It wasn’t actually democracy anymore.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      Cor blimey, what a stupid idea.
      How did Western elites fall for that?
      No one ever called them streetwise, they are very gullible.

      1. Adam Eran

        Koch bro’s are the source of Buchanan’s sponsorship (endowed university chairs, pseudo-Nobel, etc.).

        1. LilaJean

          Why call it “pseudo-Nobel?” My suspicion is that the Nobel prizes were tainted at their very birth. I understood that Nobel was trying to alleviate a guilty conscience.

    2. IowanX

      Thank you for sharing that video, SotS. It appears to come from a time when the BBC actually produced good work! Bookmarked that for future use. The whole thing is worth a watch, and I’ll look at Part II and Part III as well.

  2. Dirk77

    I am glad the social sciences have at least glommed onto (modern) machine learning as a powerful, essentially model-free, approach to statistical analysis.

    And Ferguson is correct as usual. I now look at a politician and see if he/she takes PAC or large donor money. If so, it’s certain now that they will never represent my interests, so are eliminated no matter what they claim. Saves lots of time.

    1. Otto B.

      Machine Learning is not model-free at all, I don’t know why you would think that. Huge models with anything between thousands to over a hundred billions parameters are not not a model, quite the opposite.

      1. Dirk77

        I was just remarking that statisticians have a larger toolbox now. As someone who spent time in the dark ages before SVM’s, I have an appreciation for them, in spite of them being oversold and misused – which happens to everything initially really.

        1. Otto B.

          Certainly, it’s a larger tool, but I’m reluctant to even call it “new”. It’s good’ol model fitting, only with much larger models (orders of magnitude larger) than it’s traditional. It’s statistics taking advantage of the massive increase in computing power. Now that we have all that compute available, we are fitting models pretty much by brute force. I’m eager to see what people can come up with once they start building smarter models (-:

          1. Dirk77

            I disagree partly. Traditional curve fitting had always been about getting a good fit to data and then after that worrying about the predictive power of that fit. It often didn’t go well, especially for large dimensional spaces. Vapnik’s SVM’s turned that around: you solve for a robust solution, and then satisfying for known data becomes a minimization problem based upon Lagrange multipliers. The added bonus is that minimization is quadratic, which greatly speeds finding the true minimum. (And that’s all I can tell you as I haven’t looked at field really in 15 years.) So it really isn’t about more computer power, though having more does help with handling large data sets. As you mention, there still is modeling going on: in the choice of kernel, structure of the network if it’s multilayered, and stuff. So my original claim wasn’t quite right. Anyways, it provides employment for thousands of “data scientists” now, who most are probably unaware what’s under the hood, but that’s ok in a way.

    2. Mel

      It’s comforting that the machine told us the same thing we already knew. It would be hellish if it hadn’t: “No, your views are being considered. Just calm down.”

  3. JBird4049

    It’s money as people and their families need to live. Writers (or historians or researchers) usually only publish what publishers are willing to print (think profitable) with these kinds of books usually being sold either to schools or to people in the PMC. There are many of people outside those groups who will buy those kinds of books but I believe that the first two groups are more likely to be profitable.

    Think of it like a researcher’s snipe like hunt for grant money or even a writer trying to get an advance that helps them live while writing. The research and writing both depend on someone other than the scientists or writers for funding the work. And in our society who has the money? People often, but not always, can do the work without outside funding, but it is much harder and an impediment.

    Much of what is taught at all levels of education is at least indirectly determined by the textbooks available which are often the most politically and community acceptable anodyne texts that are economic with the truth. It does get better in college education, but it does not go away. Add that in fields like economics where people like the Koch have funded a very successful, multigenerational effort to reduce economic teachings to just the over simplified, neoliberalized pile of… dogma being taught. One of the tools to do that is to donate a ton of money and then “remind” the college of what the donor would like to see. No pressure.

    We still have the state and local k-12 school boards being offered and buying those acceptable, anodyne, economically truthful texts. Since Texas and California are the major buyers, the textbook sellers and the writers have to write and hopefully sell books acceptable to both regardless of what anyone else wants. Two states that are almost caricatures.

    It all comes to money with those who have it either refusing to pay for the creation and dissemination of the knowledge needed or actively blocking it.

    1. rob

      there was a good book about the text book “follow the leader”… of those big states and what they allowed…
      It was called “lies my teacher told me”..

    2. hunkerdown

      Lower elites tend to project the (perceived) values and interests of their own (perceived) class position onto their supposed superiors. “It’s about the money” is one example. It reifies money as a real thing and so naturalizes the wealth of the barons. It fails to consider non-constructive forces like sabotage or resistance, even as superiors’ deployment of these concepts and their ruins parade daily for us in Links. It fails to comprehend class at all, explicitly, by intent. It erases the distinction between subsistence and luxury, debtor and creditor, as a simple matter of magnitude. It holds out the false dream that someday we can all be Big Market Actors, as a substitute for direct, stable constituent power and unmediated social bonds. It does not concord with anthropological work in primate or human hierarchy, nor the well-tested models and schemata they have constructed. Finally, it has little predictive power, as one would expect beggars without the power of sabotage to take terms, not set them.

      The state theory of money, on the other hand, implies that money is only powerful* in scarcity, where others can be forced to need yours. There is no power in having what others have and don’t need. There is power in having all of something everyone else needs, there is great power in controlling sources of what everyone else needs, and there is absolute power in controlling all sources of what everyone else needs. That frame explains such micro phenomena as the lash of hunger and fear of the sack, as well as macro phenomena such as the information police state, right-wing death squads, and the prevalence of bullshit jobs, designed to keep as much of the people, their information, their lives, and their time under management and aligned with the system.

      I know it’s not “nice” to think of rule as enforcing scarcity to weaken and disable resistance, depriving us of the resources we need to renegotiate any aspect of the dependency relation, but that’s how states, including republics, are built and maintained. Other technologies may be possible.

      * In the abstract sense of an ability to create facts against resistance, as any competent state or other firm is expected to do. Not the same as “valuable”!

  4. Laura H. Chapman

    Thanks for this report. I have been following the activities of Bill and Melinda Gates, especially as passed through their foundation. Bill Gates literally paid for the “Common Core State Standards” in math and English for K-12 students, paid to have state departments of education to adopt these, and sent Foundation staff to guide the policies of the US Department of Education under Arne Duncan and the Obama Administration. The B&MG Foundations has shuffled a lot of money to Rockefeller Financial Advisors, a pass-through firm that thrives on not being fully transparent. More recently Bill Gates announced he was setting up a lobby, likely because he still hopes to determine big policy issues in and beyond education and without the architecture of a non-profit foundation.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I remember reading several years ago of a personal encounter between Neil Bush and some actual real-live high school students discussing his ejukayshunul software. They kept pointing out how enstupidizing and down-dumming it was and he kept affecting to not understand their point.

        I don’t know if there are any findable links to any preserved evidence of that encounter.

        But Neil Bush doesn’t have the respect or power of Bill Gates. If Bill Gates is the garbage barge, Neil Bush is a random piece of garbage floating in on Bill Gates’s wake.

        Bill Gates is considered very smart. A lot of low-functioning dull-normals in authority look up to Bill Gates. We read just recently that Governor Rat Face Cuomo looks up to Bill Gates and thinks
        the whole education sector should be Gatesified.

    1. Stephanie

      Laura, do you have recommendations for sources on the Gates Foundation? I had a recent convo with a few friends who think Bill and Meelinda are doing the Lord’s work on education and any resources I could point out that would encourage them to question that narrative would be welcome.

  5. ChiGal in Carolina

    Excellent post, useful reminder and amplification. Was just talking with a friend yesterday and everything really does hinge on who is represented. He is faithful NYT reader with TDS and quick to overstate the benefit of Biden vs Trump. I said unless we can get $ out of politics there is little benefit to citizens: donors call the shots.

    Then we were discussing how it got this way and James Buchanan came up. He has heard of but never read Democracy in Chains. Then I see this, fortuitous! I will send it to him.

    Sorry, sorry day…

  6. David in Santa Cruz

    Hoover and Lamont; Shrub and Paulson. I don’t need to comb data about public opinion to know who calls the shots. Just look at the White House telephone log…

  7. sharonsj

    All I can say about this article is: “No sh*t, Sherlock.” As if we didn’t know this already, reinforced by Congress going on vacation while the U.S. sinks into another Great Depression.

  8. flora

    It is high time to start framing problems in terms of money in politics, not public opinion.

    Great post. Bookmarked for later reference. It puts a stop to this forlorn hope: if only the czar the politicians knew. The politicians know. (The dry humor in some of the descriptions is welcome.)

    This post sums up the whole of US national politics for the last 30-40 years, imo.

  9. Minalin

    I duuno. The master on popularism, at least one of them has to be Thomas Frank, who to my mind is The Godfather of what and isn’t popularism. I strongly suggest reading “the people, no”. Reading all his books is even better, time allowed. It seems according to doc (PhD) Frank, that from 1776 we the people have continuously been in the process of being screwed. Sometimes the people gain an upper hand but mostly not. Our fore fathers thought the ‘people’ were idiots and couldn’t be trusted with anything more complex that cleaning up after the horse. And how the oligarchs fought us, really fought. The reality is common folk were capable and when they could, they showed it, they proved it. Sad to think we are despised and hated. So, I ask what do we (people) want?

  10. Minalin

    I duuno. The master on popularism, at least one of them has to be Thomas Frank, who to my mind is The Godfather of what and isn’t popularism. I strongly suggest reading “the people, no”. Reading all his books is even better, time allowed. It seems according to doc (PhD) Frank, that from 1776 we the people have continuously been in the process of being deplored. Sometimes the people gain an upper hand but mostly not. Our fore fathers thought the ‘people’ were idiots and couldn’t be trusted with anything more complex that cleaning up after the horse. And how the oligarchs fought us, really fought. The reality is common folk were capable and when they could, they showed it, they proved it. Sad to think we are despised and hated. So, I ask what do we (people) want?

    1. JBird4049

      Even the Founding Fathers thought that the masses should have some say in running the country. They just thought it had to be severely moderated by the elite or upper classes. The current and past periods of rule kleptocratic oligarchy with the people effectively having no say is not something they would have approved of. Unfortunately, they also thought that a revolution would happen from time to time to correct such situations. The Thomas Jefferson’s quote “The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed time to time with the with the blood from patriots and tyrants.” is an example of such. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this time.

  11. Kouros

    Great post, thank you. On a small note, I thought it was Kuhn and not Max Planck that formalized this different view of knowledge and understanding, different than Popper falsification approach.

  12. IdahoSpud

    How can this come as a surprise to anyone, least of all a political “scientist”?

    You can see it quite easily at a local level, for example when a developer wants to make a fast buck that will ruin the quality of life for hundreds or thousands people. After a token public hearing – in which the outcome has been decided in advance – the developer gets his way, and everyone negatively affected by his $ project gets to eat sh*t.

    Same with highway easements, prison locations, prime waterfront property, etc etc etc. And that’s just at a very local level. To not be able to see and understand this dynamic is almost cult-ish, if not in the realm of outright propaganda and apologia for the wealthy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you re-read the post. Ferguson created the “Golden Rule” theory of politics in the early 1990s. It is still not much accepted among political scientists.

  13. Susan the other

    “Political money” is actually privatized money. I’m pretty sure the banks know full well they are not sovereigns. I’d be pretty uncomfortable about now if I were a big banker. – unable to spend their way out of all the corporate debt that is failing, etc. It’s a total mess. So it is timely for the Federal Reserve to actually implement something that could eventually be called “democratic money.” They aren’t gonna come right out and say this. But if it ceases to be “political money” – there will be completely different rules. Planck’s comment about science advancing one death at a time is very appropriate here. The top 10% know all this. They aren’t stupid. And they aren’t bad guys, but they are frightened. For most of the 20th C. “capitalism” was the ideology that was embraced to raise people out of their squalor. It might only have worked (been profitable) because we exchanged environmental squalor for human squalor. And we’ve still got at least a 15% poverty rate, just in this country. There were too many degrees of freedom to reign it in (all that looney, frivolous consumerism to feed neoliberal profits) short of a command economy. (Democratic Command) As of now everybody is in the profit-motive rut. Seeking profit needs to be closely regulated to serve society. I really cannot imagine that the “capitalists” – all of them – don’t hate the mess they are in. It is a trap. I recently read a timely piece about how it is the hardest thing anybody ever does when they finally admit their business can’t make it. Imho that is exactly where the ideology of capitalism stands today; in total disillusionment – and “enlightened capitalism” is just an insidious veneer to keep profiteering churning because that is what unregulated capitalism does. Financialization, if all else fails. It would be a relief to admit that capitalism doesn’t work. Give people a guaranteed job and other benefits, which are actually human rights (M4A); it’s is much easier to manage than the “GDP” and all the environmental chaos we must fix – TINA.

  14. drumlin woodchuckles

    ” Before there can be a revolution, there first has to be a revolution between the ears”. Butch Swaim said that. Who was Butch Swaim? Well, don’t bother asking Noam Chomsky. Butch Swaim is just one of many intelligent social thinkers that Noam Chomsky would know nothing about.

    Whenever I biked around Old Leafy Suburbia, I saw an open yard forest of huge yard trees. Food growing would not be possible in Old Leafy Suburbia.

    But in middle aged to newer Less Leafy Suburbia, I saw lots of land available for gardening on. It was growing lawns but it could grow food and it still can.

    Fifty million suburbanites could grow some of their own food and thereby partially defect “just that much” from the Slave Market Moneyconomy. But first they will each need their own 50 million individual “revolutions between the ears” to understand that they can actually think in such terms.

    All life begins and feeds on the Original Free Lunch, which is free energy unpayed for coming in from the sun, moon, earth-core itself, and deep space. All that energy begins as Free, and all we need to pay is attention. ( Well, some of us. Those of us living in the Great Urban Death Traps called Cities are out of luck in that regard).

  15. Upwithfiat

    Yet more evidence, in case you needed it, that money, as opposed to popular views, is what drives policy. Yves

    No problem since we have an inherently just economic system – especially the fiat creation and banking models. /sarc

    Except they aren’t. Instead they are obsolete, inherently corrupt relics of the inherently corrupt Gold Standard. So instead of a true meritocracy (and also because of unjust land ownership laws or the lack of just ones) we have a government-enabled kleptocracy with rent, wage and debt slaves.

  16. Steve Ruis

    Re “I am sure Max Planck’s theory of scientific progress will prove right once again: not till the current crop of scholars have mostly departed the field will the disciplines update.”

    Maybe, then, it is time for a Shakespearean solution: First, we kill all of the “social scientists” (especially the economists).

  17. Duane Swacker

    Peeons! Yep, that’s what the vast majority, the bottom 75% (figure off the top of my head for illustrative purposes only) are since that Voodoo Master Saint Unca Ronnie Raygun instituted full force “trickle down” economics. Or what should actually be named “Piss on the Peons” economic theory, i.e., economic horse manure.

    One should be proud and happy that those on top take the time to piss on the rest. Learn to embrace one’s inner Peeonness!

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