America – Oligarchy or Democracy?

Recently, former President Jimmy Carter said that he felt the United States had become an oligarchy.  That sentiment can’t be brushed off as the emotionalism of a liberal.  Well-respected institutions like Princeton University, as well as progressive organizations such as CommonDreams.org, have also put forth that idea.

The Princeton effort is particularly germane to this discussion.  In April 2014, two researchers, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, published a study that concluded that the United States had become an oligarchy, rather than continuing to be a democracy.  Merriam-Webster.com defines oligarchy as

a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people, and / or: the people that control a country, business, etc.

Gilens and Page investigated over 1,800 policy initiatives taken during the time frame 1981 to 2002 by the Federal government.  Here’s how they summed up their work.

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.

Gilens and Page make clear that this less-than-encouraging characteristic is nothing new.  Rather, it’s the cumulative effect of a trend stretching back to the 1980s. They summarize the trend this way.

Ordinary citizens might be observed to win [only] if [the] elites with whom they often agree ... prevail.

Not too long ago, in this space, I urged everyone reading my post to vote, in every election at every level of government.  The oligarchy vs. democracy conundrum is yet another reason to do so.

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Michele Petrovsky holds a Master's Degree in Computer Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She spent over two decades teaching in colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and currently publishes two blogs: Thoughts4Change and I Owe It All to J Thaddeus Toad. Petrovsky resides in Glen Mills, PA.


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