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Antidemocratic in spirit, design, and operation
July 2, 2013 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Bill Moyers interviews Sheldon Wolin in two parts.

Moyers: This will strike you as a very simplistic question, but I need to ask it. Do we have a democracy?

Wolin: It isn't a simplistic question, and the answer is I think we don't.

Moyers: *Spock eyebrow raise*


More from Wolin:

Inverted Totalitarianism

A Kind of Fascism Is Replacing Our Democracy

The classic work, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
posted by AElfwine Evenstar (67 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
When was this interview recorded? The 90s? It would be interesting to see which of the past decades' events are factored into his comments.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:22 PM on July 2, 2013


It was recorded in 1988.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:31 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, if I were to ask you, tell me: you can vote for any of the subordinates, any of the secondaries. The #2 man in this organization, you can choose them. Candidates will make their case by telling you whatever they say they'll say, they will tell you about the beliefs they will profess to profess to the person who's actually in charge. And you, citizen, by right of your membership in this organization, can decide who the second-in-command is, and the third in command, and the various members of committees. That is within your power, but that is all that's within your power.

Would you call that a democracy?
posted by mhoye at 10:35 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Geez, 1988? Wolin's attire definitely is a bit more timeless than Moyers'.

Given the prescience of his comments to even the past decades' events, he's either nailed a real trend that's lasted for 30+ years, or all my fears about the centralization of power and of increasing surveillance by the state are illusory feelings---just like the fears about the youth bastardizing and destroying our language despite language change being continual and normal. Either way makes me feel bad, just in vastly different ways.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:41 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know, I could have sworn I voted to elect a black guy -- twice -- in this horribly racist, fascist country.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:06 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


A new, friendly face on fascism
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:24 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


You know, I could have sworn I voted to elect a black guy -- twice -- in this horribly racist, fascist country.

When given two choices — a sociopathic oligarch and an eavesdropper who gladly works for oligarchs — it seems the room for democracy has narrowed considerably.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:28 PM on July 2, 2013 [29 favorites]


"government" and "democracy" are two words that don't really don't go well together.
posted by New England Cultist at 11:37 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love that he hits on one thing which is just fundamental to explaining what happened with power structures between the time of the interview and now, which is the idea that expanding the private sector is NOT the opposite of expanding the state, that by doing so you're just shuffling power around between the powerful. Because with the entrenched idea that private entities should always keep growing, keep making more profits, coupled with the fact that checks on the private sector seem to be some of the first things to go when whittling down the state, you've got the capacity for unrestrained power. And here we are at "too big to fail." One of the masterworks of the "small government" types has been taking the idea that the opposite of "big government" is offloading government functions to the private sector and positioning that as one of the default arguments of modern politics. Helps that the main platform for having widely-disseminated political discussions, the large media corporations and those with a financial stake in them, directly benefit from the argument being framed in that way.

But he's also right on here: "Modern societies have reached such a fragility that the notion of overturn and overthrow makes no sense except if one has an unlimited appetite for barbarism." It's a massively broken system right now, but you can't just tear it all down because it really would crush so, so many people underfoot. That's the Sword of Damocles right there, and we all know it and plenty of people use the threat to their advantage.

It's a really weird place to be in as a society. All you're really left with personal power over is what he says at the end, that it does ultimately come down to how we treat each other in our ordinary range of relationships. And that can be a way towards fixing things, I really believe it can. But holy shit, that's a well they keep trying to poison too, demonizing "political correctness", hyping every fear around and inventing new ones, promoting selfishness as a virtue.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:38 PM on July 2, 2013 [48 favorites]


I think the rhetoric is overheated, Blaze.

Heated? Blaze? I rule!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:53 PM on July 2, 2013


"Power Structure Research and the Hope for Democracy", G. William Domhoff, April 2005

"Vilfredo Pareto: A Concise Overview of His Life, Works, and Philosophy" By Fr. James Thornton, q.v. "In the end, of course, the ruling class falls from power. Thus, Pareto writes that 'history is a graveyard of aristocracies.'"

The Circulation of Elites: A Review and Critique of a Class of Models [JSTOR], Thomas W. Casstevens, American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb., 1989), pp. 294-317
posted by ob1quixote at 12:04 AM on July 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the rhetoric is overheated, Blaze.

Maybe you're right. I hope so.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:36 AM on July 3, 2013


We elected a SAFE black guy. A half-white, Harvard Law educated, Illinois Politics experienced, yeah-the-racists-are-going-to-use-that-against-him-but-not-successfully black guy. Still, the best choice available compared to all the white folk competing with him, but the lesser of all evils is still, you know...
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:25 AM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Given the prescience of his comments to even the past decades' events, he's either nailed a real trend that's lasted for 30+ years

Yes, more or less. Remember, the eighties was the decade of the Savings&Loans crisis and the Iran-Contra scandal, the decade in which the national security state came back from the wounds inflicted on it in the seventies.

At roughly the same time as Bill Moyers interviewed Wolin, he also produced a PBS documentary about The Secret Government, which is worth watching in its entirety.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:33 AM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Heated? Blaze? I rule!

Nice to be cool?
posted by pulposus at 1:34 AM on July 3, 2013


you can't just tear it all down because it really would crush so, so many people underfoot.

I think this is particularly true for America, because of the geographical dispersion. With a physically 'compact' country, one could imagine a political revolution taking place, with a (hopefully short) period of disruption being replaced by a new structure. The national identity would remain constant. But it seems impossible to imagine such a thing happening in America, because at the first crack in the current system, that hugely varied country would dissolve into local fiefdoms (some based on large regions, some on the current states, and some on even smaller areas), and putting it all back together would just not be possible. Like it or loathe it, the US is stuck with the current form of government. When it goes, the country will go too ...
posted by woodblock100 at 2:18 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


"So, the way we get everybody to do what we want is by getting our Democrat elected - after eight years of Bush, they're not going to stand for any more Republican bullshit. We need Democrat bullshit now."

"That way, whatever half-assed technocratic crap he pulls, they have to admit they elected him."

"Exactly. Get the GOP to crank up the crazies, and they'll be desperate to vote for our guy. Worked like a dream in '96, after all."

"But... yeah, doing that a second ... third time - won't it be a bit obvious? I mean, it's exactly the same game plan.'

"We need a gimmick... hey, I know! Why don't we make him black or something? He'll be halfway through his second term before they realise. In 2016, maybe we can swap in a gay one."
posted by Grangousier at 2:37 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


At roughly the same time as Bill Moyers interviewed Wolin, he also produced a PBS documentary about The Secret Government , which is worth watching in its entirety.

previously
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:58 AM on July 3, 2013


"It's been accompanied by an incredible amount of apathy on the part of the american electorate, in terms of the simple fact of voting."

Except, of course, that voter turnout since 2008 is the highest it's been since the '60s, and the very fact that we're having discussions like this on a pretty frequent level all across the internet seems to call into question the idea of an increasingly uninformed electorate.

More polarized? Certainly. More uninformed? Not active or informed? Doubtful.

"It's become a much more of a surveyance and control state, in terms of the way that it intervenes in, knows about, pries into individivual lives.

Intervenes in? Knows about? Pries into?! These are all direct effects on the individual, as opposed to something indirect, like data mining, that doesn't affect the average citizen in any way.

Compare that to what was happening in 1988, when this interview was taken. Reagan used federal agents to infiltrate, investigate, and file reports on teachers, clerics and political activists. Not criminals. Not suspected terrorists. Actual political activists.

I can see the basic argument that a large, centralized state can potentially be a negative when it comes to democracy, but the simple fact is, Sheldon Wolin's critique is a bit akin to fortune telling. He's telling people things that they feel and that they agree with about their view of the world, but his actual claims don't stand up quite as nicely or clearly in the modern day as most people here seem to want to believe they do.

Also worth noting: Wolin's concept of "inverted totalitarianism" dictates that corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the United States, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. But even with the Citizens United ruling, that wasn't the case in this most recent presidential election. In fact, personal donations were the primary way of funding campaigns, to a greater degree than in the past.

In short, his work stands as a warning about problems that could occur, but not ones that are dominant and all-pervading, as he suggested. It's a speculative warning, and not a bad one... but certainly not something that really indicates corporate rule and the end of democracy as we know it.
posted by markkraft at 3:36 AM on July 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


"but the lesser of all evils is still, you know..."

The best, least evil, most significant choice available? One step closer to the goal?

Lest anyone forget... the ONLY reason that there was generally good news last week from the Supreme Court was that it was President Obama who got to appoint the last two Supreme Court justice vacancies, and not John McCain or Mitt Romney.

He's also the reason why we are out of Iraq and why we are leaving Afghanistan.

Democrats might not be very good at risking their entire political career -- or even gambling their political capital -- on your behalf in order to bring about change... but what they *are* good at is making the possibility of change possible.

To the degree that you approach this situation as a cynic, believing nothing can be done to change a corrupt system... you damage that system. And frankly, this is something that Professor Wolin clearly would've agreed with.

You can only be a negative, introspective pessimist with a victim complex for so long... the cool rebelliousness wears off rather quickly, when you realize that you've been not only a complete knob, but a completely ineffective, self-defeating knob as well.

But if you want to bring about actual change in this world, you'd damn well better start being an outward-facing optimist, and start doing the hard work necessary... and, yes, usually that means compromise and incremental change, voting for the lesser of all evils, while doing what you can to steer fallible individuals in the right direction.
posted by markkraft at 4:00 AM on July 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Would you call [voting for subordinates] a democracy?"

Influential people fight quite hard against any change that'll reduce their power. Witness the no campaigns' for the Alternative Vote referendum, basically their argument was "It's complicated and you're stupid," but they spent enough money.

Germany and Scandinavia have cool political parties like the Greens and Pirates who, even if don't win many seats, still pressure larger parties into taking more sensible positions. Why? Easy, Germany and Scandinavia benefit from proportional representation and comparatively strong restrictions on corruption. Italy has proportional representation but no effective restrictions on corruption. The U.K. has first-past-the-post.

There are numerous tricks for improving democracy besides proportional representation and ranked voting systems like STV :

- Radical transparency - Anyone should have access to almost all internal government communications all the time. Any powerful government officials should've all their interactions recorded and accessible by court order. Any missing records invalidates past government action.

- Modular government - Separate the government into directorates with separate legislatures and specific charters explicitly enumerating their powers. A senate writes the directorates' charters but cannot otherwise legislate. Allocate the budget amongst the directorates by referendum.

- Deliberative democracy / Demarchy - We could implement deliberative opinion polls by replacing the presidential veto with a requirement that legislation pass a large jury trial. Use several hundred jurors so that you can drop jury selection. Referenda for specific legislation sucks because publicists sell bad ideas really effectively, but once the opposing viewpoints are given equal time the bad ideas get exposed.

Just ask yourself : Why is democracy important? We're beyond "consent of the governed" here, well that's merely code for "rich folks shall back off before they break out the guillotines".

In truth, we almost always achieve better results by distributing power more evenly, meaning anarchism. Keynesianism works by equalizing purchasing power to improve the economy. Ditto progressive taxation. Feminism is equalizing power amongst men and women, increasing both's ability to contribute to society. Similarly LGBT rights. Small-mid scale capitalism enables experimental economic activity and helps remove outdated economic models. All make progress towards anarchism.

Anarchism isn't always so clear cut though because folks try collecting that distributed power. People adopt to overly simplistic ideologies. anarcho-capitalism, for example. Referenda don't work precisely because publicists abuse such simplistic thinking. So the general principle is : How do we distribute power without it simply recollecting elsewhere? All these ideas like transparency, ranked voting, deliberative opinion polls, etc. pursue that goal.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:29 AM on July 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Wolin is awesome, but he deserves better than this thread so far. He's largely considered a philosopher's philosopher (or a political theorist's theorist) so it's interesting to see his public stuff.

The essay we need isn't the recent stuff, it's "Fugitive Democracy."
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:30 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best, least evil, most significant choice available? One step closer to the goal?

More like only one step away from the goal, rather than the alternative of a giant leap away from it. And that's the thing - ALL of our choices are between bad things lately, Obama or the much worse McCain and Romney. The current government or the much worse anarchy or military dictatorship following a revolution. I don't see any winning choices for most people.

Also - no, I do not get to choose the guy in charge or the number two. Even if a candidate I genuinely like runs, by the time my state votes in the primary, all the actual good choices are eliminated, thanks to the tiny states that get to vote first and the business-fellating media.

I do feel fortunate that New Hampshire didn't get to tell me that I can't have Warren and Markey for my Senators, because I know that's what they would tell me if they could.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:45 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Still, the best choice available compared to all the white folk competing with him,....

I assume you are only thinking of the Republicans and Republican-lites.
posted by DU at 5:31 AM on July 3, 2013


If you don't think we live in a democracy, fair enough, but note that means we never lived in a democracy. This is not a fallen age; the country right now is in its freest and fairest form. Note, I didn't say "free" or "fair" (though I would argue it is the former but not the latter). Which means the progression is, if slowly, towards a more democratic system.

For the record, America is a polyarchy.
posted by spaltavian at 5:51 AM on July 3, 2013


the simple fact is, Sheldon Wolin's critique is a bit akin to fortune telling. He's telling people things that they feel and that they agree with about their view of the world, but his actual claims don't stand up quite as nicely or clearly in the modern day as most people here seem to want to believe they do

This was my reaction too. Some of his claims about the actual world are (as best we can tell) pretty much just wrong. Which is super annoying because he could just shout down the hall "Hey, Nolan! How well do legislatures represent their constituents?"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:53 AM on July 3, 2013


You can vote for whomever you want. The fact that the candidates who were listed on the ballot don't agree with you doesn't mean there isn't a democracy. It means your fellow citizens do not agree with you.

Arguing your fellow citizens are dumb for not voting with you is the single worst way to try and convince anyone that you are right. Calling the people they voted for "sociopaths" or "eavesdroppers" in an attempt to gain more adherents to join you will usually result in them not wanting to vote with you.

The people who argue these things have not put the investment in to convince their fellow citizens. They believe that the mere existence of their ideas should be enough. This has never been so.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:02 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


anotherpanacea your link is paywalled.
posted by bukvich at 6:03 AM on July 3, 2013


the country right now is in its freest and fairest form. ... Which means the progression is, if slowly, towards a more democratic system.

What a great way to stifle all nuanced discussion! Plot "freedom" on a single axis, as though voting rights, economic dependency, personal autonomy, etc were all basically the same thing! Just because workers rights have gone way, way down and corporations own the food supply now have no fear--we can find some freedom somewhere else has gone up to compensate!
posted by DU at 6:05 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bill Moyers is one of the last great interviewers still working today, and "Moyers & Company" has become Sunday morning must-watch TV for me. His episode on the documentary "A Place at the Table" is fantastic, and devastating. It probably needs its own FPP.
posted by jbickers at 6:06 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't help but feel that we're witnessing the end to this particular form of democracy. It was a more effective, to paraphrase Churchill, than every form of government that came before it, but now democracy is all the rage and the whole world's slowly shifting over to elections and personal freedoms and shit. And some of our fellow countries are a lot worse off than we are, but a whole bunch of them have systems that work slightly better, partly because they're smaller and partly because their system's a bit more modern than ours is.

Getting to vote for the powerful still assumes there is a centrally powerful force driving society, just as getting to choose which powerful person to give your money still assumes there is somebody to whom all your earnings ought to be flowing. These were revolutionary ideas in the 18th century (and the 18th century is a lot closer to our own than I think we usually assume), but now we take those freedoms for granted and can talk about all the many ways in which we're not free.

The biggest question in politics, as ever, is "How is thought shaped and controlled?" And the answer we've had for the last hundred years, the one-to-many media outlet, has been corrupt and too-capitalistic and pro-power from the start, only over the years it's gotten even better at specialization. The useful things they did, which were only ever tangential to their "real" goal (the metric that determined their success, at least -- making money) were optimized out, and now the media's worse than ever.

Now, however, we're seeing signs of discontent, both locally and globally. All this stuff with leaking, with whistleblowers, reveals one of this system's many weaknesses: it's easier than ever for information to leak top-to-bottom, and what's more, when it does leak it makes for big news. And if a news outlet ignores that news, that just reveals its irrelevance, which may not be important short-term but which long-term will speed up people's emigration to new kinds of media. And the new media is the Internet, which is...

...well, it's probably not as groundbreaking and breakthrough as people expected in the nineties. Corporations have taken over, large walled conglomerates are the norm. But! It's still a media form which requires audience participation, and gives people delusions of importance, and these are both very important.

As much as people would love to lazily absorb data around them, false or not, they love even more to be validated for having their ideas. All those shitty Internet comments? Those are people with quietly ugly minds, making themselves vulnerable. Every person who leaves a comment on Reddit or FoxNation then comes back to see if they've been upvoted is opening themselves to be mocked or argued with in what is theoretically the public eye. (Though nobody cares in practice.) And that means they're forced to confront with people who disagree with them, strangers who are telling them "YOUR ENTIRE WORLDVIEW IS WRONG" like it should be obvious. And most of those counterresponses will have no perceptible one whatsoever, but each one batters at those mental walls, some of them quite effectively.

(If that sounds too optimistic, let me say that I know this process occurs because I've seen it work in reverse -- some lifelong liberal deciding to adopt a more conservative mindset on an issue because a bunch of longwinded conservatives have given them a better argument than they'd encountered before in their life. So this is a give-and-take. But I'd rather have a person who thinks about issues and disagrees with me than a person who agrees with me blindly: once you open yourself to the possibility of changing your mind, you notice it happens far oftener than your dignity would prefer.)

There's a new method for interaction, for discussion, for debate, that's easier than ever and more devoted to making you feel like you matter than ever before. We've just seen the beginning of it; already it's sparked changes that would've been unbelievable a decade ago. (Decide for yourself which changes pass the bar.) But I'd argue that those changes are merely superficial, that they matter far less than the deeper change, which is that people using these systems will realize:

Democracy works. It yields points and counterpoints and complex, often unnecessary, argumentation. It's frustrating and it's bothersome and everybody is an idiot, including yourself, but at the end of the day it's a richer process, and one that gives you genuinely more power, than anything less interactive and involving which might be more superficially satisfying. Whether it's for ranking cat pictures or deciding whether libertarians do/do not suck, it feels good to feel like you're in charge of something.

And my bet would be that we see people on both sites, party not relevant, who start to realize how powerless they are. We have that already: my conservative acquaintances are just as pissed off as I am that voting doesn't matter much, that the system is broken, that the wrong guy keeps getting in. Their "right guy" may be a horrorshow, but that's okay, my "right guy" is a horrorshow to them. What matters is people are going to want more and more power than ever before, and they're going to want that power to matter.

The "petition Obama" site that the government created may be glib and superficial, but it's a start. It's satisfying to see the president respond to something that a group of people somewhere actually give a shit about. It's enraging to see that response come off as mere boilerplate, and probably even more so when the response is something like "sorry, Christians, it's okay for people to insult Jesus." (That really happened.) It motivates some people to get off their lazy asses and do something that might actually have an impact for once, or at least to do something that makes them pretend like they do. And the trend, for both liberals and conservatives, is that we want MORE freedom, not faked but actual. We may want different freedoms but one thing we Americans can agree on is that we ALL want to be free.

I don't know how we reform our system. Maybe it takes a third party, one dedicated to the neutral concept of government reform that both sides can get behind. Maybe it takes some huge scary outcry of people that convinces Dems and Reps that they oughta get behind this thing before they lose their jobs. Maybe Google Glass subliminal buy messages popcorn. But the world we're living in is becoming more open, and if it's not opening up from the top, then the top is going to get a bunch of scares like Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, and whoever else has an idea for how they might disrupt things. Obnoxious or not. Amateur or not. Immature or jerkish or patriotic or whatever the impulse might be, the fact remains that they can do that, and will do that until the system changes so that "doing that" has become somehow fundamentally impossible. Because state secrets are boring or because everybody's employed by the NSA or whatever.

What matters is that technology allows for a baseline level of intercommunication that wasn't possible with newspapers or television, and that means that information changes, which means that people change, which means that people will want the society they're living in to change. And it will change, unless global warming kills us all first or our computers stop working or whatever, And it'll change not for any loftiness of ideal or grandness of the human spirit, but for selfishness and pettiness and the horrible existential desire we all feel to be important, to be the one-in-a-trillion-gazillion speck of dust that the universe improbably chooses to revolve around.

Hell, the powerful might not even resist the change that much once they understand it. While more open systems means more people making systems, more competition for power, less loyal consumers (all good for capitalism and bad for Old Money), openness also means that the people in charge get to be more directly connected to the people leeching off their work. No more abstract cloud of numbers, now you get people mawkishly writing to you about how your thing saved their life! Must feel very uplifting. (There's also a fortune to be made in tools that stop rich people from having to read hate mails.)

I think things will get better, even if "getting better" often feels much, much worse (see: Internet comments). I've noticed that the more I pay attention to politicians representing me, the more I hate them. If I'm encouraged to follow politics even further, my hatred for politicians will surely increase. Yet that will lead to some form of activism, to some form of discussion and reform, to some kind of push towards people wanting change of some sort. And all it'll cost us is a little happiness -- what a bargain! What a price!

But all this aside:

If you think what we've got today is a "democracy" of the shining and glorious sort our history books try to make it out to be, with Washington and Jefferson shining down on each of us in turn, then... Jesus. I don't even know what to tell you. Either your hopes and dreams for the world around you are incredibly fucking small, or else you and yours are privileged beyond my (fairly privileged) imagination, or else you need to go to an optometrist and see if your eyes are okay. If your insurance covers optometry, that is.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:07 AM on July 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


You can vote for whomever you want. The fact that the candidates who were listed on the ballot don't agree with you doesn't mean there isn't a democracy. It means your fellow citizens do not agree with you.

See, but what's stupid about this is that it assumes everybody has meaningful agency as to what they think or believe or choose to vote for. Which they don't.

Everybody grows up believing the world they see is the world that exists, and they're goddamn wrong. A democracy of deluded people, rule by the oblivious, may be YOUR idea of a good time but it sure as shit ain't mine. And I won't point to one group of people or other as "the problem", because I know I'm part of the problem demographic for just as many people, but suffice it to say that SOME PEOPLE would love to live in a world that would be hell on Earth for the rest of us, and it's not because people are fundamentally incompatible or any such cynical shit, it's that people have a hard time understanding that other people are human beings too.

Democracy works when there's empathy and wisdom, and collectively we've got neither. Shrugging and saying "What can I say, the system works!" only proves that you and I disagree on either the definition of "system" or of "working".
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:11 AM on July 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


DU, is a bizarre, wrongheaded reading of my comment. I didn't say forms of freedom are interchangable. I said that right now, on balance, we live in the most democratic version of this country that has ever existed. If you disagree, fine, but I didn't "stifle" anyone, so ease up on the hyperventilation. The decline of unions, poor treatment of service worksers and the hollowing out of the Middle Class is a serious and real concern, as I have commented on before.

That doesn't change the fact that a 100 years ago, strikers were being mowed down with Maxim guns, and women couldn't vote. Sixty years ago, women had virtually no reproductive freedom, and Jim Crow was in full effect. PRISM pales in comparison to the Alien and Sedition Acts, and COINTELPRO. Racism still exists, the Klan is no longer an auxiliary police force in parts the country. The idea that overall, America is less free than at another other time is absurd.

Given your posting history, I know you will ignore any caveats I make, but I'll go ahead and make them again: I'm not saying this state of affairs is perfect or even good. I am saying, however, that the rampant declinism of the Left isn't any more accurate than the Right's version. We have dramatic setbacks, but the country has been slowly getting freer. And I credit that largely to the people pushing for it; many of them Lefty declinists.

But you know, I'm apparently the one who can't do nuance.
posted by spaltavian at 6:26 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Democracy works when there's empathy and wisdom,

You're describing a fairy tale. Democracy works when there are strong structural minority protections. There is no nation of Golden Ones only taking their fair share.
posted by spaltavian at 6:28 AM on July 3, 2013


I forget which cable news i was watching a little bit ago, but it was an Egyptian pundit talking about why even though Egypt is a democracy now, the people are demonstrating, and every item he listed fits here too. Basically boiled down to similarities with how our government spies on it's own citizens, lies to them, strips rights from minority groups, doesn't follow it's own rules and imposes religious laws on all. It would be funny if it wasn't so obvious to me that most people deny it.
posted by usagizero at 6:58 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm afraid that link isn't merely paywalled, anotherpanacea, but paywalled for a couple U.K. and U.S. institutions with top tier philosophy departments, so basically talking a work that's does not exist online.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:07 AM on July 3, 2013


I do feel fortunate that New Hampshire didn't get to tell me that I can't have Warren and Markey for my Senators, because I know that's what they would tell me if they could.

<McNulty>The fuck did I do?</McNulty> Here in New Hampshire the people you're worried about are bitching people from Massachusetts have screw up our elections because they keep moving here. Dixville Notch is like 9 old people.
posted by yerfatma at 7:22 AM on July 3, 2013


You know, I could have sworn I voted to elect a black guy -- twice -- in this horribly racist, fascist country.

MeFi's on a roll, cool papa... It don't wanna hear that. (Though thanks to MarkKraft for trying...) He's not the right kind of black guy, you see...

I worry about all this stuff...but Wolin pretends that this is all obviously true. Well...if you connect the dots in a certain way, you get lines that project out to the distopian end-point Wolin is insisting is already here...and that's bad enough. But I just don't see that IT'S OBVIOUS THAT WERE THERE ALREADY!!!111

Elections are non-events? 2000 was a non-event? 2004? The last two? Because the Obama team managed to win 2008 handily? Which did not seem inevitable a month before the election... I suspect this claim only has plausibility because we've become really good at predicting elections...which isn't at all what Wolin seems to mean by it...

Overall, it seems like kind of a mishmash of "see, we have totalitarianism!" "You might object that x, but that just means we have reverse totalitarianism!" "One might respond that y, but I can poo-poo that with a bit of rhetoric."

Anyway. I dunno, man. I'm interested, and I'm worried, and I'm willing to listen to this...but there is more than a little exaggeration and distortion here, and I'm skeptical.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:48 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Democracy works when there's empathy and wisdom

You're describing a fairy tale. Democracy works when there are strong structural minority protections.


These notions don't seem opposed? Both of those, and more! To me it seems Democracy "works" (I think "works better" is more apt) because of each, and also: it works better with an educated populace, it works better when wealth inequality is minimized, it definitely works better the fewer barriers there are to be eligible to vote (ideally none), etc etc.

And a cultural shift towards empathy and wisdom being more celebrated than selfishness and fear would do wonders to get more and better structural minority protections. These things all interact like that, none is a magic bullet but they all contribute. We had a strong structural minority protection get totally hamstrung in the Supreme Court just last week due in part to a lack of empathy and wisdom.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:02 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


These notions don't seem opposed?

They do to me. Those strong protections need to be in place specifically because this country, and all countries, are populated by the rapacious and the self-aborbed. Whatever one thinks of the Constitution, Madison was on the right track; you can't design a system that someone won't try to abuse and dominate. So design a system where those actors will be set against each other. Minority protections result from the inability of factions and institutions to fully defeat each other.

A system that depends on the polity at large having empathy or wisdom is doomed to failure. If you think that democracy only works when you have those virtues, then there never has been or will be a democracy. Such a system would be weak and brittle and open to authoritarian power plays, as Egypt is learning now. Democratic systems need to be designed with safeguards to protect the losers and to restrain the winners.

And a cultural shift towards empathy and wisdom being more celebrated than selfishness and fear

Those virtures have always been more celebrated. Every leader holds themself out as a paragon of some set of values.
posted by spaltavian at 8:47 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do we have a democracy?
the answer is I think we don't.


To paraphrase another:
That is because it was a Republic that was not kept.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:49 AM on July 3, 2013


That is because it was a Republic that was not kept.

As much as I unironically respect the Founding Fathers, the man who said that lived in a country that had slavery, didn't allow women to vote, didn't allow non-property owners to vote and had no regulations whatsoever preventing monopolies or worker's protections.

The Republic hasn't been "kept" so much as it's been expanded.
posted by spaltavian at 8:57 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Democracy works when there are strong structural minority protections.

A Republican form of government is supposed to protect VS the "mob rule" of a Democracy.

The 1st go of the US of A failed in under 30 years. The 2nd go was founded in a way to make sure that the holders of property had the ability to direct the government.

As someone was alleged to have said in the last decade: The Constitution is just a god damned piece of paper. On paper the founding idea of only property owners have the right to vote, so there is that improvement.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:05 AM on July 3, 2013


Those virtures have always been more celebrated. Every leader holds themself out as a paragon of some set of values.

I'd posit that this is at least largely a game of expectations among the elected and the electorate: the elected hold up those virtues largely in words without deeds to back them up, and so do the people, and everyone expects everyone else to act like it is what it says on the tin. The prevalence of "fuck you, I got mine", and the huge blind spot towards privilege (indeed, in many quarters, a celebrated willful ignorance of it) is real.

A system that depends on the polity at large having empathy or wisdom is doomed to failure. If you think that democracy only works when you have those virtues, then there never has been or will be a democracy. Such a system would be weak and brittle and open to authoritarian power plays, as Egypt is learning now. Democratic systems need to be designed with safeguards to protect the losers and to restrain the winners.

I'm specifically saying that it doesn't "only work when you have those virtues", I'm saying that it works better with them. And it works better with structural minority protections. They are both worth doing the work to strive for, as are all the other things I listed. The reason I specified "works better" instead of "works" is that all Democracy requires to "work" is that some people vote, and it's been that way since Athens. Democracy's a pretty big generalized idea. The good fight is over making it work better, and that's a game of making sure a ton of different parallel approaches keep moving toward their goals.

I really don't get how you can say structural minority protections and a push for cultural celebration of empathy and wisdom are concepts in opposition. You can think the latter is irrelevant, or a total waste of time, absolutely, but thinking it's opposed?
posted by jason_steakums at 9:10 AM on July 3, 2013


The Republic hasn't been "kept" so much as it's been expanded.

But did it ever pass thought a phase where it was an actual Democracy into whatever it is now such that the original statement of Do we have a democracy? ... I think we don't. is true?

jury system

For that to citizens need access to file directly with the jury. Used to be that way, then laws and traditions were changed across most of the land placing gatekeepers in the way that are used to prevent legitimate criminal complaints from ever getting to that jury to true bill/no bill the complaint.

Hell, one can't get the citizens to go down to a court and court watch to catch when there is a rigging of the Court system going on.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:14 AM on July 3, 2013


You can think the latter is irrelevant, or a total waste of time, absolutely, but thinking it's opposed?

The problem of having a Republic of Virture is that if you don't win, you are not virtuous, and therefore shouldn't be part of our Republic. Once you start going down the road of how people "should" be for the system to work, you've lost the game.

The Republic hasn't been "kept" so much as it's been expanded.

But did it ever pass thought a phase where it was an actual Democracy into whatever it is now such that the original statement of Do we have a democracy? ... I think we don't. is true?


I don't understand your question. I would say that as time goes on, America has generally become more democratic. If it was at say, an 18 in 1798, it's somewhere around a 42 today, though it may have fluctuated from that trend at times. This is not to say "democracy" is a single unified concept and that they move in lockstep, as they obviously don't. We're freer today in probably every respect than we were in 1900; but we're probably less economically free now than in 1960, while enjoying greater social freedom.

I think the way the orignal question is posed is simplistic. Democracy is a quality of government, not a form, and it can vary, waxing or waning.
posted by spaltavian at 9:24 AM on July 3, 2013


>Except, of course, that voter turnout since 2008 is the highest it's been since the '60s, and the very fact that we're having discussions like this on a pretty frequent level all across the internet seems to call into question the idea of an increasingly uninformed electorate.

Except, of course, that voter turnout has nothing to do with Wolin's conception of managed democracy. I suggest you read his more recent work.

>Intervenes in? Knows about? Pries into?!

Yep, the U.S. government has quite a storied history of state surveillance. In fact if one looks at the historical record one finds that there has never really been a time since WWII when the U.S. government wasn't abusing its surveillance abilities...but of course in the age of Obama that has all changed and there is nary an abuse. Nevermind that he eventually leaves office. That shouldn't concern anyone especially since we all know how good republicans are on this sort of thing.

>Also worth noting: Wolin's concept of "inverted totalitarianism" dictates that corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the United States, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. But even with the Citizens United ruling, that wasn't the case in this most recent presidential election. In fact, personal donations were the primary way of funding campaigns, to a greater degree than in the past.


Are you really going to claim that corporations have no undue influence when it comes to affecting Washington's policies? Let's entertain the hypothetical that no undue influence is afforded corporations by campaign donations. There are still many other avenues to influence policy, such as hiring ex-congresscritters to work in your lobbying firm. You know, the old Patomic two step.

>In short, his work stands as a warning about problems that could occur, but not ones that are dominant and all-pervading, as he suggested. It's a speculative warning, and not a bad one... but certainly not something that really indicates corporate rule and the end of democracy as we know it.

It seems that you are unfamiliar with most of his work and are kneejerk responding to the Moyer interview. So I am curious how you have come to this conclusion without actually, you know, reading his work. If I am wrong, and you have read his work, I would then be curious as to how you could get his ideas concerning inverted totalitarianism and managed democracy so utterly wrong.

>You can only be a negative, introspective pessimist with a victim complex for so long... the cool rebelliousness wears off rather quickly, when you realize that you've been not only a complete knob, but a completely ineffective, self-defeating knob as well.

Who are you addressing here? It wouldn't happen to be a strawman of your own construction would it?

>I'm interested, and I'm worried, and I'm willing to listen to this...but there is more than a little exaggeration and distortion here, and I'm skeptical.

Such as? The thing is Wolin has most of his bases covered. That being said if one actually took the time to read his book, Democracy Inc., one would find this passage:

I want to emphasize that I view my main construction, “inverted totalitarianims,” as tentative, hypothetical, although I am convinced that certain tendencies in our society point in a direction away from selfgovernment, the rule of law, egalitarianism, and thoughtful public discussion, and toward what I have called “managed democracy,” the smiley face of inverted totalitarianism.

For the moment Superpower is in retreat and inverted totalitarianism exists as a set of strong tendencies rather than as a fully realized actuality. The direction of these tendencies urges that we ask ourselves—and only democracy justifies using “we”—what inverted totalitarianism exacts from democracy and whether we want to exchange our birthrights for its mess of pottage.
(pg. xvi)

So as you can see he isn't arguing what most seem to be think he is actually arguing. One thing most people are ignoring, and which is a key component of Wolin's whole framework, is the concept of Superpower and all its attending barbarism. So yeah it's actually awesome that in some states homosexuals can now get married, but that doesn't really help the poor third world peasants we are terrorizing and murdering.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2013


The essay we need isn't the recent stuff, it's "Fugitive Democracy."

Yeah I actually looked high and low for this article online. It's a great piece, but unfortunately as others have noted paywalled to oblivion and back.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:59 AM on July 3, 2013


Yep, the U.S. government has quite a storied history of state surveillance. In fact if one looks at the historical record one finds that there has never really been a time since WWII when the U.S. government wasn't abusing its surveillance abilities...but of course in the age of Obama that has all changed and there is nary an abuse.

And that is why it is why there won't be any kind of criminal charges for lying under oath to Congress because there was no crime committed.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:07 AM on July 3, 2013


The problem of having a Republic of Virture is that if you don't win, you are not virtuous, and therefore shouldn't be part of our Republic. Once you start going down the road of how people "should" be for the system to work, you've lost the game.

Once again. It helps make democracy better if the culture celebrates empathy and wisdom over shittier ways of acting. And that is it, that is all that's being said. Nothing more. It helps. It is a good and worthwhile endeavor, one of many noble ways to direct your energies in the pursuit of a better society. It is important to a better society, and by extension a better democracy because the system grows out of the society. I have not said one single thing about a "Republic of Virtue", about the idea that if you're not virtuous you're not part of the Republic. Nobody in this thread has. I don't know who you're arguing with where you are, but they do not exist here. I am talking, specifically, about people being better to each other, about interpersonal interactions, about empathy and wisdom and respect and an understanding of privilege and how that helps a democracy (really any kind of society). I am not saying it's a requirement, nobody here is naive enough to think it can or should be enforced or enshrined in law. You are arguing against something that was never said by a person who does not exist.

In more detail, I'm talking about the notion Wolin brings up at the end of the interview, where he mentions that things "come down to how we treat each other in our ordinary range of relationships", because that's one of the only things each and every one of us has power over no matter how far the scales of power are tilted away from us. We can each affect change on the culture with our individual actions adding up, and that's important because culture has a seat at the table of power. It's a lot like individual votes adding up, really, but it can never be taken away and you're "voting" for a general tone in the culture at large, not for a person. This is a completely parallel thing to making sure that our system of democracy has fundamental protections built in, there is no possible way for one of those things to take away from the other. It's ludicrous to position them as opposites. They're both extremely important, they both make it work better than Democracy at its bare minimum, which is actually really shitty while still totally being Democracy.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:20 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except, of course, that voter turnout has nothing to do with Wolin's conception of managed democracy.

Then perhaps he shouldn't have brought it up in the essays you linked to.

It seems that you are unfamiliar with most of his work and are kneejerk responding to the Moyer interview.

...which is what you linked to. If reading the man's entire corpus is required to participate in discussion, why bother with the post?

I want to emphasize that I view my main construction, “inverted totalitarianims,” as tentative, hypothetical, although I am convinced that certain tendencies in our society point in a direction away from selfgovernment, the rule of law, egalitarianism, and thoughtful public discussion, and toward what I have called “managed democracy,” the smiley face of inverted totalitarianism.

This the same mealy-mouthed weaselness that Charles Murray uses -- I'm not at all saying that black people are stupid, oh mercy me no that would be racist. *follows 300 pages arguing black people are stupid*

Are you really going to claim that corporations have no undue influence when it comes to affecting Washington's policies?

His claim that "Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups" is almost certainly wrong.

First, there is solid evidence of reasonable representation in Congress. The relationship between a district's average conservatism and the positions taken by its representative is sharp and clear, for social-science data. The relationship between a district's presidential vote and their representative's positions is downright shocking. Likewise, there is a sharp and clear correspondence between district electoral behavior and their representative's voting patterns, though one that's moderated heavily by party. Similarly, there is sharp and clear correspondence between the ideological leanings of a state's population and the policies they receive (you can find this in Erikson, Wright, and MacIver's _Statehouse Democracy_). Lax and Phillips show that while there is a clear correspondence between statewide attitudes and state policy, states often get the actual yes/no policy decision wrong -- but more commonly in the direction of choosing policies that are too liberal.

Second, the idea that Congress is "corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery" is almost certainly wrong. There is much more evidence for the simple idea that interest groups donate to candidates they like than that they actually influence members' decisions. There's an extensive literature here that you can dig up in google-scholar.

On the basis of what's available from your links, I can only conclude that while Wolin is making a series of deeply empirical claims about the state of American politics, he is unfamiliar or unwilling to deal with the huge literatures that address his empirical claims.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:29 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Second, the idea that Congress is "corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery" is almost certainly wrong. There is much more evidence for the simple idea that interest groups donate to candidates they like than that they actually influence members' decisions. There's an extensive literature here that you can dig up in google-scholar.

I'd like to ask if you can provide a little evidence for your counterclaim. When you look at the construction of a vast surveillance apparatus or laws that benefit MPAA or RIAA — as a couple examples — it seems quite obvious that Congressional activities — and legislation, most importantly — are largely determined by fundraisers, access purchased by lobbyists, and donations to action committees.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:36 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


ROU, I agree that the recent stuff is off, and I've done some of this work disproving the simple corruption thesis myself (though you have to acknowledge that more complex models that take Arrow seriously have drawn serious empirical support) but his early and famous work is justly great and very accessible.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:41 AM on July 3, 2013


Second, the idea that Congress is "corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery" is almost certainly wrong. There is much more evidence for the simple idea that interest groups donate to candidates they like than that they actually influence members' decisions. There's an extensive literature here that you can dig up in google-scholar.

Personally, even if the donations don't influence the decisions - and even without having read the literature, I am receptive to the idea that donations don't matter as much as the fact that interest groups are active in getting themselves heard in a way that individuals mostly aren't and can't be - the flimsy, loophole-ridden safeguards against that kind of abuse are still a huge problem. And the fact that they have to buy access - not buying legislators directly, but the cost of putting together the machine that they need to be heard above the rest - is a big problem, too.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2013


I'd like to ask if you can provide a little evidence for your counterclaim.

The simplest would be Bronars and Lott, “Do Campaign Donations Alter How a Politician Votes-Or, Do Donors Support Candidates Who Value the Same Things That They Do,” JLE 1997. There are versions of dubious legality up the intarwebs.

(though you have to acknowledge that more complex models that take Arrow seriously have drawn serious empirical support)

Sure, but if you take Arrow seriously you have to pretty much throw the entire concept of representation away except as the occasional lucky break. If there's no expectation of arriving at a coherent collective preference, there's not really any there there to represent.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2013


Then perhaps he shouldn't have brought it up in the essays you linked to.

He doesn't bring it up in the context of managed democracy. So I don't know what you guys are on about.

...which is what you linked to.

Yes as an introduction to his thought.

If reading the man's entire corpus is required to participate in discussion, why bother with the post?

People can discuss whatever they want to discuss within the mods discretion. I do have a problem with someone watching that interview and reading a couple of popularized articles and then dismissing his ideas without actually engaging with the substantive content of them. If you want to criticize his ideas you kinda do have to actually know what his ideas are first. What I linked to is a good introduction, but really there's no meat on those bones.

This the same mealy-mouthed weaselness that Charles Murray uses -- I'm not at all saying that black people are stupid, oh mercy me no that would be racist. *follows 300 pages arguing black people are stupid*

Again it would seem that you would have to have read the book before making a statement like this. But hey if you want to judge the whole work based on the snippet I quoted, go ahead.

he is unfamiliar or unwilling to deal with the huge literatures that address his empirical claims.

Could you please mefimail me a reading list; or at least a list of authors and journals where I might start.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:21 PM on July 3, 2013


Sure, but if you take Arrow seriously you have to pretty much throw the entire concept of representation away except as the occasional lucky break. If there's no expectation of arriving at a coherent collective preference, there's not really any there there to represent.

Well, there are many ways of handling the problem Arrow worried about, but I'd take the Joseph Schumpeter/William Riker/Cass Sunstein versions pretty seriously. Just because a finding is disturbing doesn't mean it's false, and just because perfect popular control is impossible doesn't mean that some partial form of popular control cannot be managed. (pdf)
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:41 PM on July 3, 2013


[A couple comments removed, cut it out.]
posted by cortex at 2:54 PM on July 3, 2013


Aelfwine: can do but it'll take a bit to put together
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:07 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The simplest would be Bronars and Lott, “Do Campaign Donations Alter How a Politician Votes-Or, Do Donors Support Candidates Who Value the Same Things That They Do,” JLE 1997. There are versions of dubious legality up the intarwebs.

That's one paper. Is the money given to incumbents or challengers? And if the null hypothesis is that donations do not statistically alter legislation, then why do donors bother giving any money at all, if it has no effect? Why is there a constant push from progressives for campaign finance reform, and a stronger push back from SCOTUS (via PACs and other private entities) to eliminate restrictions on giving money to politicians? Your premise doesn't seem to hold up on closer inspection.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:07 PM on July 3, 2013


markkraft: "In fact, personal donations were the primary way of funding campaigns, to a greater degree than in the past."

Only because the corporate cash is being spent in secret now.
posted by wierdo at 3:36 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if the null hypothesis is that donations do not statistically alter legislation, then why do donors bother giving any money at all, if it has no effect?

That isn't the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is that the donations don't affect the way the Senator or Representative votes. The content of legislation would still differ depending on who is in Congress. Donating money would still be rational, since that do affect who gets elected. Donors are attempting to secure office for the people who agree with them. Is is a bribe to give you money if you already agree with me?

Why is there a constant push from progressives for campaign finance reform

Because moneyed interests have more money to give to the people who agree with them.
posted by spaltavian at 3:42 PM on July 3, 2013


spaltavian: "The idea that overall, America is less free than at another other time is absurd."

I think that deciding that more intrusive spying on a smaller scale impinges more on one's freedom than less intrusive spying basically universally is absurd. They both indicate that we are not really free to think what we want and speak what we want, especially when it is well known that even in the last decade peaceful groups have been subject to infiltration by government spies.

Seems to me that, at least in the area of freedom from unwarranted surveillance, we have become even less free, since we now have all the old shit plus the new shit. That's not to take away from the massive gains in civil rights we have enjoyed, but it seems like the appearance of rights is not the same thing as actually having rights, and more and more that's what it seems like we get. (that's probably the privilege talking, I'm sure that people who previously couldn't even vote don't think of their right to vote as a sham, a chance, after all, is better than nothing, even if it is not sufficient)
posted by wierdo at 3:48 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


[seriously folks, reload the thread, read the mod notes, don't make this all about your argument, take things to MeMail. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:48 PM on July 3, 2013


Just one thing on corporate capture: even if corporations spent absolutely no money on campaigns, you'd still expect them to be privileged in deliberations on relevant policies, because they're the primary employers and the indirect source of most tax revenues. This idea that "business privilege" is built into democracy or a commercial republic doesn't have to mean that corporations should also be allowed to contribute money to campaigns, but it puts an intersting spin on it.

There's a lot of evidence that money isn't really dispositive in elections: instead, donors give to frontrunners and chase winners, and politicians mostly vote and behave in ways that cement their position or don't offend their constituents, not merely at the behest of whoever pays them. So given the necessity of a business privilege for any democracy that also has a non-state economy, it may make more sense to say that campaign contributions are rents extracted by politicians and the political class for the access that businesses would probably have regardless.

In that sense, perhaps it's not that campaign contributions allow corporations to control elections, it's that campaign contributions allow politicians to personally profit from their (constituent-determined) policy-inputs into the economy.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:38 PM on July 3, 2013


it may make more sense to say that campaign contributions are rents extracted by politicians and the political class for the access that businesses would probably have regardless

So if businesses would have access, regardless, why do they bother to spend billions? Either the hypothesis is improperly described or is wrong, but this would seem to look like a paradox, otherwise. The simpler and probably correct explanation is that campaign funding through various channels does ultimately, effectively buy the votes needed to get desired legislation passed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:51 AM on July 4, 2013


So if businesses would have access, regardless, why do they bother to spend billions?

Businesses spend lots and lots of money on things irrationally. Marketing, management consultants, etc. At the upper levels of any major firm, there are dozens of people with big budgets that don't know what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong. Don't let anyone tell you the modern corporation runs at peak efficiency.

Others, like the Koch brothers, spend money for expressive reasons: they have deeply held beliefs and they want validation. But notice even in 2012 the Kochs wasted millions on SuperPACs. Rich people waste millions on all sorts of things: politics, art, wine, etc. When you're rich, you can afford to be irrational. (Which is one of the main arguments against rich people, if you ask me: see also, Steve Jobs and his alternative medicine cures.)

Even in Wisconsin: did the Kochs make Scott Walker, or did Walker game the Kochs?

A great, pre-Citizens United paper on how corporations actually gain influence is "How do Corporations Play Politics? The Fedex Story" by Jill Fisch.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:39 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


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