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You probably heard about a recent study that the media interpreted as showing evidence that the United States is sort of an oligarchy.

Cue ominous music.

The authors of the study in question didn't use the word oligarchy because the study doesn't support that conclusion. But the media sounded the oligarchy sirens anyway because that's how one creates news where there is none.

MSNBC, a skilled manufacturer of artificial news, led with this headline: "U.S. more oligarchy than democracy, study suggests."

The first bit of context that MSNBC and others in the news removed from the story is that the United States isn't, and never was, a democracy. The founders of the country created a republic that is designed to be more like an oligarchy than a democracy. The founders surely assumed that rich, educated landowners would be the ones getting elected, for the most part, and they preferred that. A poor(ish) person could get elected but the odds were low.

So the headline could have been "Study shows that the U.S. government is working exactly as the founders hoped."

The next bit of context omitted from the story is the compared-to-what. Has anyone studied how well off the poor and middle class are under our current system compared to how they would be under a pure democracy? How would we know if the alternative is better or worse? No modern country has ever tried a pure democracy.

Clearly the wealthy have more clout in creating legislation and so they tilt laws in their favor. But are those oligarchy-favoring laws 2% of the total laws on the books or 98%? And if the answer is 2%, are those few laws the ones that matter the most in some way? And how much better or worse would the country be if we were less of an oligarchy/republic and more of a pure democracy with laws created by folks who, on average, had trouble getting through high school?

I'm not defending oligarchies, or even republics. I just want some data that is useful for forming an opinion. But all I get is the news media saying rainfall is bad for your hair while ignoring the context that we're in a drought.

In a perfect world, the most well-informed and intelligent among us would be leading the government and creating unselfish legislation. But human nature makes that option literally impossible. So why compare our current government to one that is impossible? We might as well compare our government to the system at Hogwarts in which the best wizard is in charge. That's just as impossible as a fair government run by elites.

As citizens, our only protection from the abuse of government power is the skill and objectivity of the watchdog press. How's that working out so far?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree

I'm one step closer to getting my much deserved Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

 



 
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Apr 21, 2014
Government, and society in general, is all about relationships and transactions. Sometimes those relationships and transactions are cooperative - like when you go to work and get paid, or when you go to the store and buy something. In those cases it is generally in the interests of everyone to be nice, and play fair. If all transactions were like that you wouldn't necessarily need laws or government.

But sometimes relationships and transactions are adversarial and full of conflict. Like when my interests are in opposition to someone else's interest, whether directly or indirectly, material or perceived. It is for the resolution of these conflicts that laws and governments need to exist.

In an oligarchy, when the interests of the elite conflict with the interests of the non-elite, the interests of the elite always win. When the conflict is between elite and elite, or non-elite and non-elite, there may be some justice, or not, depending on how the laws are structured. In a pure democracy, the interests of the many always trump the interests of the few. This may not be any better, especially if you are always in the few.

The key to a robust system is in diversity. No one group of people has enough power to always get their way. They have to align themselves with other groups with similar (though not necessarily the same) interests in order to win out in conflicts. At the worst it means groups taking interest in things that don't really concern them (the 'Christian Right' is one such strange alliance), but at best it means working together to turn conflicted relationships into cooperative ones.

The U.S. has many strengths. Diversity in government is not one of them.
 
 
Apr 21, 2014
About 20 years ago a man who was a Swiss citizen showed me a pamphlet from the Swiss government. Once or twice a year he voted on about 50 items, it was not a case of his elected rep making ALL decisions. I'm Canadian. I sure wish I had a direct say in whether the federal and provincial governments had a balanced budget, whether the post office should keep delivering mail (they're going to corner post boxes for everyone soon), etc.

The writer Robert A Heinlein once said "democracies have traditionally lasted as long as it takes the public to discover they can vote themselves bread and circuses". I get the feeling the world has discovered that.
 
 
Apr 21, 2014
If the people with money make the rules, I can design my economic life in a way to build wealth within those rules.

If the people with no money make the rules, it doesn't matter how I design my economic life, they are going to find ways to take any wealth I accumulate.

Given those two choices, I'll go with the moneyed people every day of the week.
 
 
Apr 21, 2014
[The next bit of context omitted from the story is the compared-to-what. Has anyone studied how well off the poor and middle class are under our current system compared to how they would be under a pure democracy?]

Never mind pure democracy, how well off are our poor and middle class compared to other countries? How do we stack up oligarchy/democracy-wise against other countries?
 
 
Apr 21, 2014
@Tonyo123

[I agree with the concern. At one time i thought the internet was the solution in that you could search out independent information instead of being fed it to manipulate you. Naive.]

???...maybe its just because Im older, but I feel more empowered to get the truth now on the internet than I ever did in the pre-internet days when I had to rely on TV and the newspaper. Not saying the internet is perfect but its a step in the right direction.
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2014
usmdj:
A bit of an out-of-context quote from Scotts post, don't you think?

He does write:
"As citizens, our only protection from the abuse of government power is the skill and objectivity of the watchdog press."

But his follow-up ("How's that working out so far?") should make it obvious to anyone but the very densest of fúcks that he's already well aware of the flaws of the previous statement. Irony, I suspect, which makes your comment a tad redundant.
 
 
Apr 21, 2014
The real genius of our Constitution is the enshrinement of individual rights within the context of a democracy/republic. The explicit acknowledgment of those individual rights (that should never be trespassed upon by government) laid the foundation for our belief system that goes as far as possible to limit the power of the rich & powerful. Majority rule, as well as special interest rules, get trumped by any individual's rights, if the violation of those rights is recognized.

Now, we have had various groups that were too long excluded from those individual right protections, but it was the very unfairness of those situations that could ultimately only be recognized within those basic precepts framed in the Bill of Rights. Once those violations have been recognized, it's clear that minority rights have been extended further here than in any other historical political system.

We are also currently having problems with positive rights and negative rights. But at least we are discussing them within the parameters of individual rights.

But I'll also say once again that any semblance of oligarchy is only possible in a large and powerful federal government. There will always be those that will try to warp any system to their benefit. But the fewer rules, exceptions or special favors that can be doled out by government is essentially the other way to protect ourselves.
 
 
Apr 21, 2014
I agree with the concern. At one time i thought the internet was the solution in that you could search out independent information instead of being fed it to manipulate you. Naive.

I have been thinking that an independent search engine (one that gave truly random results that could not be bought to come up first) would do well. I would pay a fee to use something like that, where every search of the same term brought up relevant but random results that no person with an interest in the results could affect. Also a news app that gave me random news articles on any subject so i could form my own opinion based on a well-rounded view.

Scott may know of existing things like that, or may be the one to get them created.
 
 
-12 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2014
"As citizens, our only protection from the abuse of government power is the skill and objectivity of the watchdog press. "

Actually our protection derives from rich people trying to keep other rich people from pushing them around. The common man just rides the coat tails.

Look up the reason for the Magna Carta.
 
 
 
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