The Schelling Point for being on the Discord server (see sidebar) is Wednesdays at 10 PM EST

Plutocracy Isn’t About Money

Two political science articles I read recently have surprisingly dissonant conclusions.

Gilens and Page’s study “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” is very interesting. You may have spotted it in the news media under any of a host of diverse titles:

The New Yorker: Is America An Oligarchy?

BBC: Study: US Is An Oligarchy, Not A Democracy.

RT: Oligarchy, Not Democracy.

Business Insider: Major Study Finds That The US Is An Oligarchy.

And my favorite, Daily Kos: Too Important For Clever Titles: Scientific Study Says We Are An Oligarchy

(the word “oligarchy” appears in the study only once, at the bottom of page six, as a reference to an alternative theory the authors do not endorse)

But RAMPANT MEDIA PLAGIARISM aside, it’s not a bad summary. The study tries to determine what factors predict whether or not a policy gets implemented in the United States. They compare popular support to elite support, where “elites” are the wealthiest ten percent, and find that elite support is a stronger predictor. I believe the way they put it is that once you know whether elites support a policy, learning whether or not the general public supports it improves your model’s ability to predict whether or not it gets passed only an tiny amount, even though elite opinion and popular opinion are often quite different.

Also recently, Rationalist Conspiracy had a good post on Money Doesn’t Matter In Politics. A lot of anecdotes, but also links to some convincing studies, like the one that shows how “in Congressional races where candidates spent about $250K (1990 dollars), every $100K spent got another 0.3% of the vote, a tiny amount.”

To Alyssa’s list I would add Ansolabehere, Figueiredo and Snyder’s: Why Is There So Little Money In Politics?, recently spotted on Marginal Revolution. The summary (which does not include the word “oligarchy”):

“We show that only one in four studies from the previous literature support the popular notion that contributions buy legislators’ votes. We illustrate that when one controls for unobserved constituent and legislator effects, there is little relationship between money and legislator votes. Thus, the question is not why there is so little money in politics, but rather why organized interests give at all.”

I call these “dissonant” because the simplest explanation for the Gilens and Page finding is that the economic elite are buying elections. But the Ansolabehere et al result says they couldn’t even if they tried. If we take both of these studies at face value, how can we reconcile them?

I can think of a few hypotheses:

1. Legislators vote based on their personal opinions. Most legislators are elite, therefore their opinions correlate with the opinions of other elites.

2. Elites control the media, the universities, et cetera. They affect legislators indirectly, by affecting the entire culture (but how would they do this without influencing commoners? Maybe this is a subset of [1], in that elites consume elite-produced media?)

3. Legislators would like to think they are elite, and so they vote with elite opinion in the hopes of looking cool and getting elites to like them.

4. Money does not buy elections, but legislators think it does, so they try to satisfy the people with the money in order to win elections.

5. Money does not buy elections, but money can fund think tanks and lobbyists who can persuade legislators through non-election-buying means. This doesn’t take the form of promising financial support or during elections, it just comes from talking and befriending and advising and convincing them. The studies showing money doesn’t affect campaigns miss this effect. Ansolabehere seems to like this one, pointing out that interest groups spend ten times as much as lobbying as on direct campaign contributions. But even here there are economic arguments against. They estimate that one hour of a legislator’s time costs $10,000. This is a high number, but if talking to legislators seriously affected legislation it would be an amazing steal.

6. Elites vote more and are more politically active in terms of volunteering, letter-writing, etc. Legislators try to cultivate their affection to win elections, but it has nothing to do with money. But this effect doesn’t seem strong enough to make up for the small number of elites.

7. The connection between elites and successful policies is a coincidence – not in the sense that the study found a nonsignificant finding, but in the sense that elite opinion and legislative success are both biased in the same direction for different reasons. For example, maybe elites tend to lean conservative, and the conservative party in government is much better organized and able to push more legislation through. Gallup finds there is not a big difference between elites and commoners in terms of basic party labeling. But this study (which does define “elite” somewhat differently) shows that elites are predictably less supportive of welfare and redistribution programs than commoners are (I am enraged that this study doesn’t give good comparative data on social issues). If those programs tend to fail for some reason, that could help produce some of these effects.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Plutocracy Isn’t About Money

  1. nydwracu says:

    Does the Ansolabehere et al. study focus on areas of legislation relevant to the donor organizations? Doesn’t look like it, but all I did was skim the MR post.

    But if donating confers power/influence and sufficiently large donor organizations are largely aligned in interest, significant influence apparent through that methodology wouldn’t be expected, would it? That is: if the capitalist class successfully buys 98% of seats in Congress so that 98% of Congressmen vote in accordance with the interests of that class 98% of the time, my guess is that correlation wouldn’t show up, though I haven’t done any calculation there so I could be wrong. If I’m right, a better way to look at it would be to look at corporate donations to the other 2%—do winning economically-far-left candidates get significantly less support from capitalists than other winning candidates?

    Another possibility is that their interests are at odds with each other and cancel out, but I doubt that.

    2. Elites control the media, the universities, et cetera. They affect legislators indirectly, by affecting the entire culture (but how would they do this without influencing commoners? Maybe this is a subset of [1], in that elites consume elite-produced media?)

    This is pretty much the Cathedral hypothesis, as I’m sure you realize. That seems like the simplest explanation to me, but then again, it would. Moldbug explains the relatively unreconstructed nature of American commoners with WW2: America just hasn’t had the pervasive, decades-long re-education campaigns (which are openly admitted as such!) that Europe had.

    Another (not mutually exclusive, but actually complementary) explanation is what I would call the cocktail-party effect if that name weren’t already taken: differing from consensus opinion is considered impolite, so if you differ too strongly, you won’t get invited to the cocktail parties. This is usually used to explain the leftward drift of conservatives and libertarians who make it to DC, but it implies that elite consensus opinion already exists—so it has to be explained why there is such a thing as elite consensus opinion in the first place. Which both Marx and Moldbug can.

    • AJD says:

      differing from consensus opinion is considered impolite, so if you differ too strongly, you won’t get invited to the cocktail parties. This is usually used to explain the leftward drift of conservatives and libertarians who make it to DC

      It is? I’ve generally seen that used to explain the isolation and ineffectiveness of progressives and liberals who make it to DC.

  2. ozymandias says:

    With (2) remember that both university educations and serious political media (as opposed to say celebrity gossip) are consumed by a relatively small, disproportionately elite percentage of the population.

    It’s possible that elites are funding lobbyists up to the point of diminishing returns– they pay for the number of $10,000/hour lobbyists that get the legislation they like passed and no more. If it takes a hundred lobbyist-hours to get the legislation you want passed, it would be silly to pay for a thousand.

    • lmm says:

      But given that there’s a finite supply of legislators, wouldn’t we expect them to raise the prices for an hour of their time as high as the market will bear?

  3. Hainish says:

    Interesting post. I will quibble that it uses the term “vote” in two different ways, which may lead to confusion.

  4. Mordanicus says:

    The presented hypotheses are interesting, though H7 seems to me as a kind of zero hypothesis. It would be interesting to do a similar research on the effect of elite/popular support and policy implementation to other countries and earlier periodes. If similar patterns are found in other countries and/or eras, we might reject H7.

  5. roystgnr says:

    I think you missed a hypothesis.

    Instead of a quiz of political opinions, give a multiple choice calculus test. You’ll find that textbook answers correlate more closely with the top decile’s answer distribution than with the median distribution. This is not because monied interests have taken control of Big Textbook. Hopefully in this case the explanation is more obvious?

    Politics isn’t so straightforward because it mixes normative in with positive questions, but the positive questions may still skew the results. If instead of calculus we tested microeconomics, for example…

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Elites are smarter/more competant or economics elites are very bright at issues concerning money? That is a possible answer- it depends on what the issues they measured are and how much politicans are influenced by intelligent arguments (to be fair, politicians tend to be high IQ and be well educated so they are probably receptive to such arguments; either they recognize good arguments or the elites know the right packaging to sell things because of shared backround).

  6. Anthony says:

    The *really* interesting result isn’t that the elites are more successful than the non-elites at getting their way politically, but that the “mass elite” is more successful in getting their way than either mass interest groups or business interest groups.

    Lots of people are posting this in a way which says “and isn’t this terrible”, without realizing that while if legislation more fully reflected the will of the majority, their favored economic policies would be closer to realization, so, too would many socially-conservative positions. If legislation reflected the will of the majority, same-sex marriage would be illegal, abortion would be at least as restricted as in most of Europe, and we’d probably have a *lot* more stop’n’frisk.

    • Andrew says:

      You’re confusing constitutional protection of minorities — which is handed down by the courts, not the electorate — with legislation. Literally every one of your examples is a constitutional issue where the courts are overriding popular legislation. You’re also talking about state law issues, and even municipal police department policies, where the study in question was talking about the national legislature.

      Abortion isn’t legal in the USA because a Congress representative of the elites passed legislation legalizing it. Abortion is legal in the USA because the Supreme Court ruled that it was an unconstitutional violation of the individual right to privacy to ban it.

      Gay marriage, though it has been instituted by legislation in a handful of states, has been instituted by the courts far more often (roughly a 5:1 ratio I think). Incidentally, I don’t believe you’re correct to suggest that in the few states where it has been legalized by legislation, that the 10% highest income group was particularly supportive of that, while the bottom 90% was not. The issue is largely divided along age, not class, lines. Young people are less likely to be in the top 10% by income, though.

      As far as stop and frisk: that is not even legislation. That’s a policy of the NYPD. That’s New York City PD, by the way — not even New York State. So this is an internal policy of a single municipal police department (albeit a huge one): we are so far away from the federal legislature here that the irrelevance is blatant. And again the challenges to it are not legislative, but constitutional: stop-and-frisk was never ratified by any legislature, and it was not abolished (when it was abolished) by a legislature.

      On top of all that, I think you’re wrong on the facts to suggest that stop-and-frisk is more supported by the top 10% than the bottom 90%. That doesn’t make sense. The top 10% are not being stopped-and-frisked at all. It is largely the black community of NYC that has come out against it as a public voice, and that is not an elite community.

  7. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    This is why I love this blog. The claims of the study are that the desires of the elite are a better predictor of actual policy than the desires of the population.

    Almost everyone reads this and sees “The evil elites are controlling the country!”. But the correct response is to generate hypotheses and figure out which ones are still plausible given the data.

  8. Michael Keenan says:

    I recommend Ezra Klein’s account of two books on lobbying. Lobbying can be viewed as a legislative subsidy:

    “As Lessig writes, the typical lobbyist today plays an important, even crucial, part in the political system. In addition to providing campaign contributions and employment prospects to outgoing elected officials and their staffs, he or she provides legislative expertise. Political scientists call this “the legislative subsidy” model of lobbying, and it poses a serious challenge to the view that lobbyists are little more than parasites.”

    Lobbying is “a matching grant of costly policy information, political intelligence, and labor to the enterprises of strategically selected legislators. The proximate objective of this strategy is not to change legislators’ minds but to assist natural allies in achieving their own, coincident objectives. Their budget constraint thus relaxed by lobbyists’ assistance, already likeminded legislators act as if they were working on behalf of the group when in fact they are working on behalf of themselves.”

    So, lobbyists make it cheaper to create law that favors their industries. As usual, when something is cheaper, people buy more of it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I find that pretty plausible, and it suggests if we want to decrease the power of money in politics we should hire extremely competent and experienced advisers for every legislator.

      This is an unfortunate policy – in that it would cost peanuts (even if these people wanted a $250,000 salary each, we could cover all of the Senate, House, and the Cabinet for only like $150 million, which means we could solve corruption for the price of a single fighter jet – but it would be really hard to pass (the public would think “Congress wants to spend $150 million dollars buying themselves overpriced aides instead of learning how to legislate”)

      • suntzuanime says:

        Isn’t the Cabinet supposed to be that sort of advisors? Cabinet jobs may be politicized, but I bet the job of Official Advisor to the Senator would become so too.

        And you wouldn’t need just one expert, you’d need experts in every major field (like a cabinet for each legislator and each cabinet member). And you’d still have trouble with the minor fields (you can’t hire every representative a Secretary of Popcorn, so the popcorn industry will be able to out-expert your experts).

        • Douglas Knight says:

          It seems that Klein’s claim predicts that legislation written by the president is less influenced by lobbyists than legislation written by congress. This seems plausibly testable. Perhaps Klein even addresses it. However, lobbyists do meet with the president and cabinet, not just with congress.

        • Fnord says:

          Assuming that we’re replacing the services of the lobbying industry with publicly employed experts, presumably the necessary budgets is in the same ballpark as the current size of the lobbying industry.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Compare to the Congressional Budget Office, 235 people for $45 million, which exists because Congress doesn’t trust the OMB ($90 million), because it is controlled by the executive branch. So Congress is quite happy with an organization of that ballpark size. However, 1 per congresscritter (a real word, unlike “congressor”) is arbitrary. Why not 100, in the ballpark of the existing number of lobbyists? And how do you manage them? Would it be better or worse than the status quo for them to be civil servants of the executive branch, exactly what Congress doesn’t trust in the OMB? (unless you want the congresscritters to individual supervise their own consultants, as suggested by counting per congresscritter, but then there is tremendous duplication of knowledge and maybe you need much more than 100 per)

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t see how that model serves the function it is claimed to serve.

      Think about it concretely. Suppose you’re a billionaire and you want to lower your own taxes. So, instead of giving money to some socialist to try to bribe them into reversing course, you give money to the guy who already thinks billionaires are the best people in the world, to make him more effective.

      Somehow that proves lobbyists play “an important, even crucial, part in the political system”??

  9. David Barry says:

    Gilens finds that interest groups wield a pretty substantial impact on legislative outcomes — a big lobby group on one side of an issue is worth a decent majority of elite public opinion. (I’m working off my memory of Gilens’ book here, no numbers sorry!) It isn’t necessarily the same as influencing legislators’ votes on the floor of Congress, since a successful lobbying effort against a particular policy proposal will see it not getting voted on at all, and the lobby groups tend to have more success at blocking reforms than instituting them. That would go some of the way towards reconciling the two studies.

  10. Francesco says:

    Before anyone tries to restore democracy, will someone please provide an argument that elite control over policy is a bad thing?

    • Hainish says:

      Depends on who you define as “the elite.”

      Dp you mean the very brightest, most competent people, or do you mean those whose elite status is due simply to their wealth?

      • Zathille says:

        But even then, both characteristics may coincide and be correlated. It is not impossible for one to be extremely wealthy but not competent or be extremely competent but not necessarily as wealthy, but both characteristics may reinforce one another.

        Of course, it could be argued that competence in gaining wealth is not necessarily the same as the one required to run the affairs of a state, or perhaps just not sufficient.

        • Hainish says:

          True, they may correlate. (My reason for asking was to better discern Francesco’s intended meaning, rather than to imply that these are distinct categories.)

      • peterdjones says:

        If you’re talking about thetop 10 or 20 percent, competence has a lot too with it. If the 1% ,not.

      • Francesco says:

        Since I’m commenting to Scott’s post by “elite” I mean the same that he means in the post (search the word “elite” in the post).
        My interpretation of it is that he means what we in Europe call the “upper class”. This doesn’t necessarily equate to wealth where I live. An university professors at a prestigious university isn’t necessarily rich. However, maybe it does equate to wealth in the US. It is also common knowledge that America doesn’t have social classes like we do in Europe. Which might not be true.
        What inspired me was Anthony’s comment which is a few comments above. He says that if policies were determined by the majority of the people instead of the elite, our countries would move much to the right socially. Personally I’m not a social leftist, but most people here are, so I wonder if they realize that their cherished social progress depends upon majorities not being able to determine policy by themselves. That’s one reason that I invited people here to think it through whether it’s good or bad that elites rather than majorities get to make policy. There are other reasons too, such as my doubts whether people with an average IQ of 100 and no understanding of economics or anything that matters can possibly be trusted with power.

        • Anonymous says:

          Scott explicitly said he was talking only about money. How about you use your search function?

        • Francesco says:

          to Anonymous: you’re right, I paid too much attention to the last part of his post and in the meanwhile I forgot about the beginning of it, and got swayed by such statements as “most legislators are elite” which don’t sound like they refer to income.

          Anyhow I hope that people here address the question of whether it’s bad that the elite get to make policy and if it is, why.

    • peterdjones says:

      Restore what? Democracy has always had a streak of implicit meritocracy. Couldn’t work without it.

      • Andrew says:

        Yes. For example, the slaves were illiterate! Clearly unsuited for self-government, on the merits.

        • peterdjones says:

          That’s explicit meritocracy, which always looks obnoxious. By implicit meritocracy I mean having clever civil servants, technocrats , think tanks and such working quiet in the background.

        • Francesco says:

          To Andrew: there’s nothing absurd in denying a class of citizen the right to vote on the basis of literacy. Not necessarily my recommended policy but not absurd either. It’s also doesn’t imply that slaves should be slaves. One can be freed from slavery without being enfranchised to vote.

          • Andrew says:

            “To Andrew: there’s nothing absurd in denying a class of citizen the right to vote on the basis of literacy.”

            I think your view of how society functions must be very limited, one-dimensional or “first-order”…

            The slaves could not read because they were not _allowed_ to read — and this is an analogy for “merit” in general. If those without “merit” are not allowed to rule, then those who rule have incentive will deny the possibility of “merit” to the great mass of people.

            If we want a society where every person is literate — where every person is given the circumstances in which to realize their full human potential, to thrive — then we cannot limit the franchise (either in form or substance) to an elite. The elite will never allow the masses to thrive when preventing this would sustain their own power.

        • peterdjones says:

          @Andrew. Being rendered illiterate by deliberate policy is not at all typical of how meritocracy works. It is not the case that those who lack merit are only those who have been de died access to resources.Mertocratic systems are actually inefficient when only a subset of the population gets a chance prove themselves. What you are talking about is some kind of oligarchy or aristocracy disguised as meritocracy. That has happened…believe me,I know… .buit is not typical or essential.

          • Andrew says:

            I think you are quite, quite wrong. Absurdly so. At least, if you think that the USA is a “meritocracy,” then you are very wrong.

            It’s true that blacks are no longer actively prevented from learning to read, but it’s also true that the standards of education have gone way up.

            The USA meritocracy creates radically different circumstances in education for elites vs. non-elites. The number one thing that you can buy for your children in this meritocracy is merit. Things could be made more equal by abolishing private schools; instead, the elite supports “voucher” programs that would subsidize elite private schools. Things could be made more equal by abolishing SAT prep, or by making it equally available to all; the elite spends millions on SAT prep every year. Things could be made more equal by busing students from poor school districts to rich school districts — and vice-versa — and by adding low-income housing to areas with high property values. But the elite creates suburban enclaves of high property value for its own children to grow up in.

            And all of the inequalities of education are really only a drop in the bucket compared to the inequalities of income which, themselves, result in inequalities of “merit” in myriad ways. The stress of poverty actually has large measurable effects on cognition (and they’re not good), but the elites do not seek to relieve poverty in order to maximize the cognitive achievement of the poor. There are people growing up without basic stability, who as an inevitable result cannot achieve the same levels of “merit” as those who do have this stability. We can be quite certain of this (1) because in societies where there is more political redress of inequality, there is more equality of “merit” as measured in educational achievement, and (2) because it is obvious, when looking at concrete realities, how certain people live within circumstances where they can acquire certain kinds of meritorious achievement, and others do not. And regarding both of these points, we can also see quite clearly where the elites place themselves in political conflicts: on the side of maintaining inequality of merit.

            The elite wants to perpetuate its status for its children. They want a way of life where elite status is passed down through generations, _not_ a way of life where every person is equally likely to achieve elite status. They do everything they can to make this possible, and they succeed. They do _not_ want to give the same opportunities to _other_ children who will compete against their own children. This is a basic dynamic of USA society — and of every society, although some more than others. It is the fundamental feedback loop by which elite classes reproduce themselves through generations.

        • peterdjones says:

          @francesco
          Systematic selective disenfranchisement may not quite be absurd, but does not have a great history. Those who have been denied the ballot box tend to turn to the bomb…says this proud citizen of the united ,kingdom ….and northern Ireland.

          It may not be absurd to deny education to a section of the population, but it is pretty inefficient. You don’t know how many minds you are wasting

        • nydwracu says:

          I wish I could find the book where this is mentioned, but within a few decades of the writing of the Constitution, Aaron Burr figured out a way to expand the franchise in order to benefit his political faction.

          If there’s franchise, it will be expanded: one faction or another, one powerful enough to get the franchise expanded, will realize that the expansion benefits them. And, as with most government benefits—at least in the States—it’s a lot easier to expand it than to reduce it.

          This is easily verified, and it probably generalizes: strategies to benefit a faction by doing things to expand the franchise look like expanding the franchise, whereas strategies to benefit a faction by doing things to reduce the franchise look like gerrymandering, making it harder to get to the polls, or whatever it is that Fidesz did in Hungary.

          Fidesz had a supermajority! They had enough power to rewrite the Hungarian constitution! They did rewrite the Hungarian constitution! And yet they didn’t reduce the franchise.

        • peterdjones says:

          @Andrew

          You have said that the US is a meritocracy and also that it isn’t.

          You have pointed out that there is market in tokens of merit, qualifications, etc, supporting the claim that the US is a meritocracy.

          You have also pointed out that the market is rigged, and it is possible to buy tokens of merit, so that they do not objectively represent real merit, supporting the claim that the US is not a meritocracy.

          May I suggest the synthesis that the US is not a fair or effective meritocracy.

          Edit: but this is still fairly orthogonal to the original point. For every jackass of an elected pol, there are dozens of smart advisors, civil servants and lobbyists. So meritocracy. But imperfect.

          • Andrew says:

            Peter, no, I did not say that the USA is a meritocracy, and nor did I say that the USA is not a meritocracy. I just said that _if_ you consider the USA a meritocracy, then your description of how a meritocracy works is very wrong (because it is a very wrong description of the USA).

            And I emphasize that I am not talking about “tokens of merit.” I am talking about actual merit. I realize that educational achievement is not necessarily identical with merit, but I am using it as a rather standard metric of certain kinds of relevant merit. But please note that when I say educational achievement I _don’t_ mean things like college _degrees_ — which are indeed “tokens” — instead I mean things like “reading level,” IQ, numeracy, literacy, vocabulary, and so on.

            In the history of real-life barbaric practices, there was once something called “hobbling.” That verb can mean to limp, or to walk in a way indicating an injury — but it also referred, at one time, to the practice of intentionally inflicting a permanently debilitating injury on someone that would cause them to “hobble,” in the first sense, for the rest of their life. This was intended as a punishment to discourage slaves from running away; but it also served to physically prevent run-away slaves from even being capable of running away again.

            This is horrible, and yet the general USA society is organized around a less-barbaric version of the same practice: people are kept uninformed, intellectually passive, half-educated, in order to be kept out of power. Or rather: in order to keep the people who are in power where they are. As part of the effort to compete, effort is made to hamper the competition. There are two explicit models of education in this society: one is designed to enable autonomous people to rule; the other is designed (explicitly) to train servants to take their place obeying the autonomous rulers. Undeniably, it makes self-interested sense for the class of elites to do this. And yet also it is rather unspeakable, for obvious reasons: it is too selfish to admit to, and so it is never admitted to, and (as it is the powerful doing it) we are expected not to speak of it to force the powerful to admit it — indeed to be complicit in the “coverup.”

            That is what I make of your post: you are aiding in the cover-up of the hobbling of the masses by the elite, by denying that it even exists. By speaking instead about “tokens.”

            Unfortunately I cannot, in this space, provide a full story. But here’s a good link, which can be followed to find other links: http://www.demos.org/blog/7/28/13/poverty-poison

        • francesco says:

          To peterdjones:

          You said: “Those who have been denied the ballot box tend to turn to the bomb”… I don’t believe in a huge connection between the two things. My country (Italy) professed democratic ideals ever since its unification in the mid-19th century and instituted universal male suffrage before WW1, but this didn’t prevent the widespread political violence which put the fascists in power, and even in the cold war era we’ve had communist bombs and political killings everywhere. Breivik had the right to vote, Gandhi didn’t.

          You say “It may not be absurd to deny education to a section of the population, but it is pretty inefficient.” If denial of education follow from disenfranchisement, then why is it that historically there has been universal education long before universal suffrage? Doesn’t that suggest that the elite actually do care about the poor?
          In my country university education is largely state-managed and free. I’m pretty sure it’s the elite who want it that way, not the poor, who are a lot less concerned with how the university works.

          That aside, selective education, contrary to being “pretty inefficient”, is extremely efficient. Not everybody has what it takes to become a scientists and our societies would spare enormous resources if they acknowledged this. Not just because we’d need less teachers and use better the ones we have, but also thanks to the productive work of young people who no longer would waste years learning nothing.

          It is true that the more selective education is, the more the lower classes will be cut out of it, and to a superficial observer this might look bad and not truly meritocratic. But such an observer would ignore that intelligence is largely heritable and that there simply might be less of it in the lower classes (and to those who would ask me to prove with scientific evidence the last statement, let me ask: where is your scientific evidence that genes for intelligence are equally distributed among the social classes?)

    • Konkvistador says:

      1. What we have is terrible and isn’t a democracy
      2. Actual Democracy is one of the few things worse

      • peterdjones says:

        Funny how this terrible system is able to attract unwelcome numbers of immigrants.

        • Francesco says:

          They come because America is rich, not because it’s democratic.
          Western Europe and its offshots such as north America have been the richest part of the world since well before democracy.
          India is a democracy and few want to migrate there.

        • peterdjones says:

          Ok. The system is terrible at something other than making money and attracting immigrants. What?

        • Zathille says:

          I think the point here is that making money is orthogonal to the system at best, and that it is that which attracts people rather than anything else.

      • Multiheaded says:

        1. What “you” have is decent by comparison and isn’t a democracy.
        2. Actual Democracy is a very delicate equilibrium to stabilize and fine-tune (perhaps achievable in open-source communities like wikipedia?) and should not under any circumstances be understood crudely, as an object-level one man, one vote on everything policy. It’s a whole environment which needs several meta levels to exist, and can’t be bootstrapped rapidly, only grown.
        3) Historically, “democracy” has often and successfully been wielded by rightists. Read this.

    • Desertopa says:

      As far as arguments, I’d suggest that, rather than trying to influence the political process to better serve the public good, elites (like most social groups) are more likely to influence the political process to serve their own self interests. There are, pretty obviously, a lot more non-elites than elites, so to the extent that elite interests do not overlap with general interests, policies specifically favoring elites will tend to help fewer people than policies which do not specifically favor elites.

      This isn’t exactly the best formed answer, but I don’t think that “elite vs. non-elite rule” is that well-formed a proposition.

  11. Even before we get to the question of why, we should notice the logical consequence of the two prepositions “Money doesn’t influence elections” and “Money influences policy,” namely “Elections don’t influence policy.”

    My favored mechanism is a combination of #2 and #5.

  12. CaptainBooshi says:

    I would say that #4 has to play a huge part in it. If legislators didn’t think money was extremely important, why would they spend so much time fundraising? I remember reading this year that the average legislator will spend at least 25%, maybe as much as 50%, of their time just fundraising for the next election, starting the day they enter office. There are a few who never do it, but there are also a few who do almost nothing else.

    • Paul Torek says:

      Exactly. #4 isn’t a hypothesis (except maybe for the part about campaign spending not working), it’s an established fact. Assuming the political scientists are right, why do so many politicians believe that campaign spending IS effective? I suggest: because they rub elbows with campaign managers so much, and campaign managers believe it. Which provides indirect evidence for #5 (direct-contact persuasion) and #1 (legislators are themselves elite). I include #1 because “your class” and “who you rub elbows with” are closely related.

      Why do campaign managers believe that ad buys work? You might think their jobs depend on it, but not really: grass-roots work provides plenty of reason for campaign managers to exist.

  13. Eli says:

    In my opinion, options 1, 5, and 6 are the best-supported.

    6, you linked some data yourself.

    5 is what Krugman has called the “Very Serious People” theory of politics. Money, in this way of looking at things, doesn’t purchase specific elections but does gradually shift the Overton Window within which electoral debates are fought, by picking and choosing which opinions get the chance to be espoused by policy professionals.

    1 is actually supported by Peter Carnes’ paper (http://people.duke.edu/~nwc8/Carnes_LSQ_Revised_Submission.pdf), which he later made into a book. When people from working-class backgrounds actually get elected to Congress, they really do support more pro-worker policies, even when controlling for campaign spending! The problem is that the system makes it so damn hard for someone without a white-collar professional background and a preexisting network of money to get in at all.

  14. Michal Polák says:

    Imagine a multi-year study on the effectiveness of Pepsi vs Coke advertising which concluded that “every $100K spent got another 0.3% of the market, a tiny amount”. Would the correct conclusion be that money spent on advertising doesn’t matter? I wonder how that conclusion would appear to a No-Name Soft Drink Company.

    Not having read the papers in question, I may be barking up the wrong tree. But just from the information given in the post itself, it appears that there is a very simple way of reconciling the Economic Elite Domination theory (Gilens and Page) and the “money doesn’t matter” research. Namely, while the former is looking at differences between the elite and popular opinion, the latter is examining the effects of differences within the elite opinion. Granted that there may well be “declining marginal efficiency” of money in elections, so that the difference in spending between two elite candidates makes little difference to election outcomes. However, the point is that due to the money constraint, most non-elite candidates will not even make it as far as the candidacy itself; and even if some do, they will simply never amass the sort of money that would turn them into ‘serious’ contenders. So you basically get the Pepsi vs Coke elections; even if the No-Name Soft Drink formally takes part, it is basically irrelevant to the outcome. In a blind test, it might turn out to be the most popular flavour. But it will never be given a chance to compete on a level playing field. Hence: the elite opinion does need to be determined in the intra-elite competition, and there, the impact of the respective amounts of money may be quite small. But whatever the elite opinion turns out to be, it will (very nearly always) trump popular opinion when the two are different – just as Gilens and Page are trying to demonstrate.

    P. S. I see that in the last sentence, Eli above makes a similar point.

  15. James James says:

    “1. Legislators vote based on their personal opinions. Most legislators are elite,
    therefore their opinions correlate with the opinions of other elites.”

    A subset of this hypothesis is: Policies supported by elites are good ideas. Legislators vote for good ideas. The masses have bad ideas.

    While I am aware that plenty of bad ideas become law, I have in mind Caplan’s “Myth of the Rational Voter” regarding the masses and their bad ideas.

    • Multiheaded says:

      A subset of this hypothesis is: Policies supported by elites are good ideas. Legislators vote for good ideas. The masses have bad ideas.

      It’s nice to see that even opponents of democracy support welfare, immigration and controls on free speech.

      (Yeah, I’m aware that most libertarians are pro-immigration and some near-reactionaries are ok with welfare, but I’m talking more about the overall beigeist consensus.)

  16. Mary says:

    Possibility:

    Congress has so succeeded through campaign finance deformation in protecting their incumbency that they are free to vote in a way that will win them plaudits from the cool kids.

  17. Andrew says:

    Peter, no, I did not say that the USA is a meritocracy, and nor did I say that the USA is not a meritocracy. I just said that _if_ you consider the USA a meritocracy, then your description of how a meritocracy works is very wrong (because it is a very wrong description of the USA).

    And I emphasize that I am not talking about “tokens of merit.” I am talking about actual merit. I realize that educational achievement is not necessarily identical with merit, but I am using it as a rather standard metric of certain kinds of relevant merit. But please note that when I say educational achievement I _don’t_ mean things like college _degrees_ — which are indeed “tokens” — instead I mean things like “reading level,” IQ, numeracy, literacy, vocabulary, and so on.

    In the history of real-life barbaric practices, there was once something called “hobbling.” That verb can mean to limp, or to walk in a way indicating an injury — but it also referred, at one time, to the practice of intentionally inflicting a permanently debilitating injury on someone that would cause them to “hobble,” in the first sense, for the rest of their life. This was intended as a punishment to discourage slaves from running away; but it also served to physically prevent run-away slaves from even being capable of running away again.

    This is horrible, and yet the general USA society is organized around a less-barbaric version of the same practice: people are kept uninformed, intellectually passive, half-educated, in order to be kept out of power. Or rather: in order to keep the people who are in power where they are. As part of the effort to compete, effort is made to hamper the competition. There are two explicit models of education in this society: one is designed to enable autonomous people to rule; the other is designed (explicitly) to train servants to take their place obeying the autonomous rulers. Undeniably, it makes self-interested sense for the class of elites to do this. And yet also it is rather unspeakable, for obvious reasons: it is too selfish to admit to, and so it is never admitted to, and (as it is the powerful doing it) we are expected not to speak of it to force the powerful to admit it — indeed to be complicit in the “coverup.”

    That is what I make of your post: you are aiding in the cover-up of the hobbling of the masses by the elite, by denying that it even exists. By speaking instead about “tokens.”

    Unfortunately I cannot, in this space, provide a full story. But here’s a good link, which can be followed to find other links: http://www.demos.org/blog/7/28/13/poverty-poison

  18. Pingback: This week in the Slacktiverse, April 26th, 2014 | The Slacktiverse