Friday, April 18, 2014

Oligarchy in the USA

A recent study published by some Princeton and Northwestern University professors finds that the U.S. is under an oligarchy of the very rich (the richest 10%) of the population. In general terms, if the top 10% do not agree with a policy, then it is likely to change even though a majority of the other 90% agrees with it. Same goes with policy change; if the majority of Americans want such change, they are unlikely to get it if the top tier do not want said change. The very rich rule the country.
Shocking?  Not to me or many other people. And it would be difficult to refute this study as such observation is fairly obvious notwithstanding the research, which only adds an affirmation. But after pondering this "news" I've come up with a couple of observations:

It's suppose to be that way

What might be shocking is that this country was founded to support an oligarchy. Upon ratification of the Constitution, only white, male, adult property owners were allowed to vote. This, in some estimation, counted only 10-16% of the total population. Not only was the voice of the majority unheard, it would not have even counted. Today, votes are secondary to influence, and those with the most influence own most of the wealth. Back then property was top value; today it is money.

Maybe oligarchy is better

Even though the majority may disagree with the top 10%, it does not mean that agree with each other. With over 100 million voting voices (presumably), how could they ever agree on anything? How would anyone hear such a multitude of opinions, wants, needs, theories, etc? We scoff at Congress when it is gridlocked.  Imagine the whole country in such a state.  At least in an oligarchy decisions are made by those with huge "voices" and vested interests.  Which leads to…

The majority has no clue

By allowing only a certain section of society to vote (white, male landowners) the government was relying on the vested interests of those voters. In other words, since they have something to lose, these voters were assumed to have knowledge of policies, policy changes, issues, and laws. In this sense they were the educated bunch. They knew what they were doing.  It is a extremely farfetched idea to assume today's voters know (i.e. understand) much about anything in governance, policy, foreign relations, law or anything connected with the issues of the day. Do we really want a country based around the whim of an ignorant public? The Founding Fathers said no, and they were no dummies.

It can change

All of this does not make oligarchy the correct form of rule, and those oligarchs have no wish to change it. We cannot rely on them to suddenly change their attitudes and put their interests secondary to the majority. It would be incorrect and unreasonable for the majority to think and expect this. Change must come from the majority, and it won't be easy.  First, know the opponent. Who are these oligarchs? On what is their power based? What is their reach (i.e. what do they own)? We give them their power, either by purchasing their products and services, or believing their propaganda.

Second, think for yourself. Just because something was on MSNBC or FoxNews does not make it true or important. Finding truth and relevance is not easy. It requires critical thinking skills that are not taught unless we seek it out (that is, it's not in public education curricula). Even then, it is tough to put emotions aside and think with reason. Mistakes will happen, we must learn from them.

Third, the majority must educate itself, at least to some degree, on issues, events and policies. Sitting in front of the TV watching Duck Dynasty or Real Housewives of wherever is antithetical to this goal. The top 10% enjoy seeing their mindless shows capturing the attention of the majority, thus keeping them uninformed of their surroundings. Yet, education is not easy. It does take time and energy to search through the propaganda to find realities, but they do exist (note: not in television lineups we see every day. FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC, etc only entertain and do not inform).

Fourth, do not expect politicians to do…anything. They use buzzwords to excite emotions, from which they trust a vote to follow. Since the majority do not generally think and instead react on emotions, this is the best way for politicians to garner votes. They will say (and have said) anything to swing emotions (votes) their way: Flip flop, charged language, accusations, sidestepping questions, and issue warnings.

These are not easy to follow, but it is happening. Today's world is so much more faster than that of 200 years ago. But this government is of the people, by the people and for the people. It is up to the people to sustain it.

Expect disappointment

It is important to note the difference between an unjust law and an unpopular one. Some policies will not agree with a good number of people. We will not receive everything we want, but we will get some things. In a sense, the people of the United States are a team. They live with each other and interact on a daily basis.  We must be magnanimous in our victories and forgiving in our defeats. We are not the enemy of ourselves. We should not gloat or hold grudges, if only for the simple reason that one day it could be us on the short end of the stick, and who would protect us then? We enjoy the highs and endure the lows together; this is the power of the U.S. We can take it back…if we really want to.

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