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TBR News November 25, 2019

Nov 24 2019

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. November 25, 2019:“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.
Commentary for November 25:” “‘Cui bono’ is a Latin phrase meaning ‘who benefits?’
In the matter of the accusations at a high level that President Trump has worked, does work, for the Russians, the application of this phrase is quite important.
• Who benefits from Trump’s economically restrictive tariffs?
• Who benefits from Trump’s undeclared war on Latin Americans?
• Who benefits from Trump’s harassment of China?
• Who benefits from Trump’s divisive attacks on sections of the American public such as the black community and the latino?
• Who benefits from Trump’s very ill-advised and illogical actions in the Middle East?
American interests, economic and social?
No, they not only do not benefit but they are seriously injured and impaired.
Who, then, benefits from these actions?
Simple logic and an application of Occam ’s Razor show with great clarity that only one entity benefits from Trumps belligerent actions and that is Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The recent allegations that Trump worked for the Russians; had been gotten at by them earlier on is the only clear and logical answer to the question ‘cui bono.’
And for the leader of a country to deliberately work against the interests of his country for another is an act of treason and should be treated accordingly.
Addendum: Some prankster has been putting leaflets around in the White House. I understand Trump is so mad about this that he wants the FBI to find the culprit and hang him in chains. What is this terrible sign? “President Trump’s New Space Program! Circling Uranus looking for Klingons”

The Table of Contents
• Trump and the Russians: Facts, not Fictions
• Trump impeachment: Republicans’ top five falsehoods
• Trump’s impeachment shows US officials at their best and his allies at their worst
• The American Oligarchs
• The Season of Evil

Trump and the Russians: Facts, not Fictions

• President Trump was jobbed into his office with the full cooperation of Russian intelligence.
• They own Wikileaks entirely and released the damning, and authentic, “Podesta papers” concurrent with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. This did damage to her campaign and was a major contributory factor to her narrow defeat and Trump’s election.
• Trump is not an honest man by any stretch of imagination.
• Trump has constantly engaged in bribing and manipulations and does this through second parties such as Cohen his former lawyer or Manafort, his campaign manager during the election.
• Trump and his entourage have made a number of trips to Russia (I have a listing of all of these along with Russian personages he was in contact with), seeking financing and permission to build luxury hotels in that country
• Trump’s actions, as President, are deliberate efforts to alienate both the putative allies of the US such as Germany, France, Canada and, to a lesser degree, Mexico.
• Trump has deliberately launched pointless, and destructive, attacks against Mexican and Muslim immigrants, as well as Canadian and German imports. All this has done is to create a highly negative image of his persona primarily and secondarily, the global image of the United States.
• Trump’s tariffs, and threats of tariffs, have engendered counter-tariffs that will, when implemented, create serious economic problems for American businessmen and, eventually, the public.
• Trump’s foolish support of the Israeli far right has done, and is doing, serious damage to the US image in the Middle East. It should be noted that Russian influence in the Shiite areas of the Middle East, is growing. Also note that Iran, and parts of Iraq, both Shiite, have extensive oil reserves and that Saudi Arabia, a Sunni state, once America’s primary source of badly-need oil, is running dry.
• Ergo, the Middle East areas where Russia is having growing influence have oil and if Russia sets itself up as major oil merchandizing source, this will give them tremendous economic leverage vis a vis the United States which is the world’s largest consumer of oil and its by products.
• By alienating America’s allies and disrupting that country’s social structure, Trump benefits only Russia and its interests.
• The concept of Trump taking bribes from the Russians (or the PRC) is completely understandable if one applies the concept of Occam’s Razor to the tumult and disruption he is deliberately causing both domestically and in foreign areas.
• If he is caught at this, and I understand the FBI was deeply interested in his Russian connections long before he ran for President, either we will have to deal with another Dallas or Trump will suffer a fatal heart attack.Vice-President Pence, a Christian fanatic, would then have to be told to mind his manners or suffer similar terminal problems.
• Trump is aware of the FBI investigation, aware of what they can find, and probably have already uncovered, so he fired the head of the FBI and even now, according to a very reliable source, is determined to replace the FBI with the cooperative CIA (their former head, Pompeo, is now Secretary of State) as the sole foreign and domestic intelligence agency. He, and his handlers, want to nip any FBI revelations in the bud so that Trump can continue on his course of castrating the United States as a global power.
• It is quite evident that Trump is unbalanced to a dangerous degree and that even his senior staff view him as both dangerous and totally unpredictable. The problem that arises from the strong and growing opposition to Trump is the polarization of the voter base in the United States and if it becomes a wide-spread belief that the president of the US is an agent of a foreign power, it would be the worst scandal in American history

Trump impeachment: Republicans’ top five falsehoods
Despite damning evidence from dramatic hearings, the GOP seems determined to reject the evidence of its eyes and ears
November 24, 2019
by Tom McCarthy
The Guardian
The morning after public impeachment hearings came to an apparent close, the biggest names in conservative punditry were happy to call the ballgame.
At the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan declared that the case against Donald Trump had “been so clearly made you wonder what exactly the Senate will be left doing”
“On the substance,” wrote Rich Lowry over at the National Review, “Democrats have won.”
But the color of the sky was different on Capitol Hill, where elected Republicans insisted Democrats had produced no evidence of wrongdoing and Trump had been summarily vindicated.
“I’ve just focused on the facts and it is clear as every day that goes by [sic] that Democrats’ case for impeachment is crumbling,” the New York representative Elise Stefanik, who participated in the hearings, told Fox News on Thursday night.
How can inhabitants of the same ideological ecosystem disagree so sharply? It appears that getting into the bunker with Trump, as the politicians have, requires embracing falsehoods too plain or painful for the pundits to bear.
Here is a list of major falsehoods in the air – or in the recycled air of the bunker, at least:
1 Trump is an anti-corruption champion
Republicans argue that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and the gas company Burisma out of a concern about corruption in Ukraine. But that seems to be the single example, in his presidency and from his life, of Trump wanting to fight corruption.
Indeed, from the casino business to New York real estate to national politics, Trump has thrived where corruption thrives. He does not have a problem with corrupt regimes – he openly admires them. He also has a long track record of personal corruption, from running a fraudulent university and charity organization to keeping separate tax records for creditors and the Internal Revenue Service, to installing family members in key government posts, to profiting off the presidency, including through a hotel he has now put on the market. He also tried to steer a contract to host the G7 summit to his own resort. And he is an habitual liar.
2 The witnesses are a cabal
Republicans argue that the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry are “anonymous and unelected bureaucrats” and “Never Trumpers” who were angered to be sidelined under an unconventional president. But the witnesses, whose names were printed on the placards they testified behind, were mostly Trump appointees with long track records in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
It is Trump’s own people who are coming forward, at risk to their careers and under threats to their safety, to say what happened (if, admittedly, not everyone was willing to face those risks). And while certain witnesses, such as the former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and former national security council adviser Fiona Hill, did find themselves shut out by the Ukraine scheme, two of the witnesses, the diplomats Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker, were spearheading the scheme, according to testimony, with Sondland eager to take credit and Volker less so.
3 The Ukraine scheme was a foreign policy
Republicans argue that the 25 July phone call with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and other diplomatic activity at which the witnesses recoiled simply represented a legitimate new direction in foreign policy under Trump. But that exaggerates the motivations and scope of Trump’s narrow interest – investigating Biden and an elections conspiracy theory – in an apparent effort to bring what Trump was doing under the umbrella of his immense presidential powers. Do those powers include the ability to task diplomats to help him win the next election? What’s the difference between that and “l’état, c’est moi”?
Hill drew the distinction plainly, calling the Ukraine scheme “a domestic political errand”, not “national security foreign policy”, and saying: “Those two things had just diverged.”
4 Trump saying ‘no quid pro quo’ is exculpatory
Republicans including the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, argue that because Trump said the words “no quid pro quo” on the phone to Sondland, the Ukraine scheme did not exist. But misconduct cannot be undone by saying “there was no misconduct”.
Also relevant: this particular statement from Trump came late in the game, on 7 September, after diplomats and Rudy Giuliani had been working for at least five months to consummate the scheme, after Trump asked Zelenskiy directly for a “favor” – and after it became known that a whistleblower complaint was hanging over the president’s head.
5 No evidence of a Ukraine scheme
Republicans argue that the hearings produced no evidence that Trump ever conditioned a White House meeting or military aid for Ukraine on an announcement of investigations he wanted. But evidence presented in the hearings of such a scheme was substantial, and internally consistent.
The evidence included public statements by Giuliani, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson; text messages and emails provided by Sondland; testimony by Hill: “It became very clear the White House meeting itself was being predicated on other issues, namely investigations and the questions about the election interference in 2016”; testimony by state department aide David Holmes: “Of course the president is pressing for a Biden investigation before he’ll do these things the Ukrainians want … everyone by that point agreed. It was obvious what the president was pressing for”; testimony by Sondland: “Was there a quid pro quo? … The answer is yes”; and, of course, the summary of the 25 July call as released by the White House.
6 The whistleblower is missing
Republicans argue that the impeachment inquiry was fatally flawed because the intelligence committee chairman, Adam Schiff, refused to call as a witness the whistleblower whose August complaint set off the impeachment proceedings. Schiff in turn has accused Republicans of trying to intimidate or harm the whistleblower as payback for the complaint, and as a resort to character assassination, given their inability to argue the substance.
In any case, the Democrats did not rely on the whistleblower complaint, instead summoning witnesses and obtaining (a few) documents that happened to comport with the complaint while indicating a much greater scope of misconduct and adding a lot of detail.

Trump’s impeachment shows US officials at their best and his allies at their worst
Fiona Hill, Alexander Vindman, Marie Yovanovitch and more stand against the rot in the White House. They must be saluted
November 24, 2019
by Robert Reich
The Guardian
As a candidate in 2015, Donald Trump said he would surround himself “only with the best and most serious people”.
Not quite.
On 15 November, Trump’s longtime friend and confidant Roger Stone was found guilty of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He faces a maximum of 50 years in prison.
Stone will be only the most recent in a long line of Trump cronies to go to jail.
Late last year, Trump’s personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen was convicted of multiple crimes including campaign finance violations in connection with hush-money payments to a porn star. He is now behind bars.
Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is also in prison. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, will be sentenced in December. Former foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous has already served time.
This list doesn’t even include the Star Wars cantina dredged up by Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, including Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both of whom were recently arrested on campaign finance charges.
Not to mention Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, whose released emails reveal the warped mind of a racist nationalist.
Trump has surrounded himself not with the best and most serious but with the worst and most dangerous: thugs, liars and white supremacists.
And yet in recent weeks, others in the Trump administration have shown themselves to be among the best and most honorable public servants in America, though Trump doesn’t see them that way.
I’m talking about the career officials who have come before the House intelligence committee and, with dignity and restraint, confirmed Trump’s abuses of power.
Lt Col Alexander Vindman explained that he reported Trump’s 25 July phone call seeking Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s help in digging up dirt on Biden “out of a sense of duty”, because it was “improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent”.
National Security Council officer Fiona Hill, after referring to her “legal and moral obligation” to appear before Congress, detailed how Trump’s team carried out a “domestic political errand” that helped Russia, and warned that Republicans play into Russia’s hands by denying its role in the 2016 election. Russia is “right now” seeking to interfere in 2020, she said, and “we are running out of time to stop them”.
Former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch spoke of “a crisis in the state department as the policy process is visibly unraveling”. Foreign service officers Jennifer Williams and George Kent and acting Ukraine ambassador William B Taylor sounded similar alarms.
All these men and women have distinguished records of public service. Some are highly decorated military officers. In coming forth, they have shown remarkable courage and patriotism.
Yet, true to form, Trump and his lackeys attack them.
During Yovanovitch’s testimony, Trump tweeted that “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad”, blaming her for a civil war in Somalia that started before she was posted there.
When Vindman testified, the White House tweeted that his former boss had concerns about his judgment.
Republican senator Ron Johnson said Vindman “fits the profile” of “bureaucrats” who have “never accepted President Trump as legitimate”. Fox News accused him of having “dual loyalties” and committing “espionage” because he fled what is now Ukraine with his family, when he was three years old.
Even before she appeared, Trump called Williams a “Never Trumper” who should work out a “better presidential attack!” She had barely left the hearing room when the White House issued a statement challenging her credibility.
The contrast could not be starker. On one side are dedicated public servants seeking to protect America. On the other side are Trump and his thugs, seeking to protect Trump.
Those who put loyalty to Trump above their duty to the United States are contemptible. Even if they don’t end up in prison like other Trump toadies, they have dishonored themselves and the nation.
But those who have devoted their lives to this country and are now risking everything by telling the truth are among America’s best. They deserve our deepest gratitude.
To me, Vindman’s opening statement said it all.
“Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America, in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry – I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. He is also a columnist for Guardian US

The American Oligarchs
November 25, 2019
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. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
Four Theoretical Traditions
Each of the four theoretical traditions we are addressing has produced a body of literature much too vast to review in detail here. We can only allude to a few central pieces of work in each tradition. And we must acknowledge that a particular scholar’s work does not always fall neatly into a single category. Some scholars work across – or independently of – our theoretical categories, embracing multiple influences and complex processes of policy making. Here we focus on ideal types of theory, for the purpose of outlining certain distinctive predictions that those types of theory tend to make. Given the nature of our data, we focus on the societal sources of influence that these theories posit, rather than on the mechanisms of influence that they discuss.
Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.
Theories of majoritarian electoral democracy, as positive or empirical theories, attribute U.S. government policies chiefly to the collective will of average citizens, who are seen as empowered by democratic elections. Such thinking goes back at least to Tocqueville, who (during the Jacksonian era) saw American majorities as “omnipotent” – particularly at the state level – and worried about “tyranny of the majority.” It is encapsulated in Abraham Lincoln’s reference to government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and was labeled by Robert Dahl “populistic democracy.” An important modern incarnation of this tradition is found in rational choice theories of electoral democracy, in which vote-seeking parties or candidates in a two-party system tend to converge at the mid-point of citizens’ policy preferences. If preferences are jointly singlepeaked so that they can be arrayed along a single dimension, the “median voter theorem” – posited verbally by Harold Hotelling, proved by Duncan Black, and popularized by Anthony Downs in his Economic Theory of Democracy – states that two vote-seeking parties will both take the same position, at the center of the distribution of voters’ most-preferred positions.
Under the relevant assumptions, public policy that fits the preferences of the median voter is not only the empirically-predicted equilibrium result of two-party electoral competition; as the “Condorcet winner” it also has the normative property of being the “most democratic” policy, in the sense that it would be preferred to any alternative policy in head-to-head majority-rule voting by all citizens.
Subsequent “chaos” results by social choice theorists, starting with Kenneth Arrow, have indicated that the median voter prediction follows logically only for unidimensional politics. If citizens’ preference orderings are not unidimensional and are sufficiently diverse, majority rulehence also two-party electoral competition – might not lead to any equilibrium outcome at all.
It is important to note, however, that what might theoretically happen will not necessarily ever happen in practice. Real-world outcomes depend upon how institutions are organized and how preferences are actually configured.
Despite the “chaos” results, and despite many criticisms of the median-voter theorem as simplistic and empirically inapplicable or wrong, a good many scholars – probably more economists than political scientists among them – still cling to the idea that the policy preferences of the median voter tend to drive policy outputs from the U.S. political system. A fair amount of empirical evidence has been adduced – by Alan Monroe; Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro; Robert Erikson, Michael MacKuen, and James Stimson (authors of the very influential Macro Polity); and others – that seems to support the notion that the median voter determines the results of much or most policy making. This evidence indicates that U.S. federal government policy is consistent with majority preferences roughly two-thirds of the time; that public policy changes in the same direction as collective preferences a similar two thirds of the time; that the liberalism or conservatism of citizens is closely associated with the liberalism or conservatism of policy across states; and that fluctuations in the liberal or conservative “mood of the public are strongly associated with changes in the liberalism or conservatism of policy in all three branches of government.
The fly in the ointment is that none of this evidence allows for, or explicitly assesses, the impact of such variables as the preferences of wealthy individuals, or the preferences and actions of organized interest groups, which may independently influence public policy while perhaps being positively associated with public opinion – thereby producing a spurious statistical relationship between opinion and policy.
Recent research by Larry Bartels and by one of the present authors (Gilens), which
explicitly brings the preferences of “affluent” Americans into the analysis along with the preferences of those lower in the income distribution, indicates that the apparent connectionbetween public policy and the preferences of the average citizen may indeed be largely or entirely spurious.
The “electoral reward and punishment” version of democratic control through elections – in which voters retrospectively judge how well the results of government policy have satisfied their basic interests and values, and politicians enact policies in anticipation of judgments that they expect will later be made by what V.O. Key, Jr., called “latent” public opinion – might be thought to offer a different prediction: that policy will tend to satisfy citizens’ underlying needs and values, rather than corresponding with their current policy preferences.8 We cannot test this prediction because we do not have – and cannot easily imagine how to obtain – good data on individuals’ deep, underlying interests or values, as opposed to their expressed policy preferences. But the evidence that collective policy preferences are generally rather stable over time suggests that expressed collective policy preferences may not often diverge markedly from subsequently manifested “latent” preferences. They may do so only under special circumstances, such as economic recessions or disastrous wars. If so, the electoral-reward-and-punishment type of democratic theory, too, predicts that most of the time public policy will respond to the current policy preferences of the average citizen.
Economic Elite Domination.
A quite different theoretical tradition argues that U.S. policy making is dominated by individuals who have substantial economic resources, i.e. high levels of income and/or wealth – including, but not limited to, ownership of business firms.
Not all “elite theories” share this focus. Some emphasize social status or institutional
position – such as the occupancy of key managerial roles in corporations, or top-level positions in political parties, in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of government, or in the highest ranks of the military. Some elite theories postulate an amalgam of elites, defined by combinations of social status, economic resources, and institutional positions, who achieve a degree of unity through common backgrounds, coinciding interests, and social interactions.
For example, C. Wright Mills’ important book, The Power Elite, offers a rather nuanced account of how U.S. social, economic, political, and military elites have historically alternated in different configurations of dominance. Mills noted that his elites derived in substantial proportions from the upper classes, including the very rich and corporate executives, but their elite status was not defined by their wealth.10 Our focus here is on theories that emphasize the policy-making importance of economic elites.
Analyses of U.S. politics centered on economic elites go back at least to Charles Beard who maintained that a chief aim of the framers of the U.S. Constitution was to protect private property, favoring the economic interests of wealthy merchants and plantation owners rather than the interests of the then-majority small farmers, laborers, and craft workers. A landmark work in this tradition is G. William Domhoff’s detailed account of how elites (working through foundations, think-tanks, and an “opinion-shaping apparatus,” as well as through the lobbyists and politicians they finance) may dominate key issues in U.S. policy making despite the existence of democratic elections. Philip A. Burch has exhaustively chronicled the economic backgrounds of federal government officials through American history. Thomas Ferguson’s analysis of the political importance of “major investors” might be seen as a theory of economic elites. Most recently, Jeffrey Winters has posited a comparative theory of “Oligarchy,” in which the wealthiest citizens – even in a “civil oligarchy” like the United States – dominate policy concerning crucial issues of wealth- and income-protection.Our third and fourth theoretical traditions posit that public policy generally reflects the outcome of struggle among organized interest groups and business firms.
Majoritarian Pluralism.
The roots of what we can characterize as theories of “majoritarian” interest group pluralism go back to James Madison’s Federalist Paper #10, which analyzed politics in terms of “factions” — a somewhat fuzzy concept that apparently encompassed political parties and even popular majorities, as well as what we would today consider organized interest groups, business firms, and industrial sectors. Madison argued that struggles among the diverse factions that would be found in an extensive republic would lead to policies more or less representative of the needs and interests of the citizenry as a whole – or at least would tend to defeat “tyrannical” policies, including the much-feared issuance of inflationary paper money that might cater to local majority factions of farmer-debtors but be costly to merchant creditors.
In the twentieth century, Arthur Bentley’s The Process of Government and then David Truman’s monumental The Governmental Process put groups at the center of political analysis, laying out a detailed picture of how organized interest groups might get their way. Truman offered a comprehensive and still-interesting catalogue of lobbying techniques and other methods of group influence. He also added an ingenious gloss to Madison that tends to increase both the plausibility and the normative appeal of majoritarian interest group pluralism: the assertion that all interests have at least a minimum of influence in group-dominated policy making, because policy makers must (in order to avoid subsequent punishment) heed all “potential” groups that would form if their interests were trampled upon.
Robert Dahl’s analysis of New Haven city politics was Madisonian or Truman-like in its insistence that many (all?) diverse interests were represented, though Dahl focused as much on active members of the general public as on organized groups. Dahl’s analyses of American politics in terms of “polyarchy” or “pluralist democracy” also come close to our ideal type of majoritarian pluralist theory, since they imply that the wants or needs of the average citizen tend to be reasonably well served by the outcomes of interest group struggle. Several contemporary analysts of interest group politics likewise appear to accept (atleast implicitly) a picture of group struggle that results in more or less majoritarian results.
A major challenge to majoritarian pluralist theories, however, is posed by Mancur
Olson’s argument that collective action by large, dispersed sets of individuals with individually small but collectively large interests tends to be prevented by the “free rider” problem. Barring special circumstances (selective incentives, byproducts, coercion), individuals who would benefit from collective action may have no incentive to personally form or join an organized group. If everyone thinks this way and lets George do it, the job is not likely to get done. This reasoning suggests that Truman’s “potential groups” may in fact be unlikely to form, even if millions ofpeoples’ interests are neglected or harmed by government. Aware of the collective action problem, officials may feel free to ignore much of the population and act against the interests of the average citizen.
Biased Pluralism.
Olson’s argument points toward an important variant line of thinkingwithin the pluralist tradition: theories of “biased” pluralism, which posit struggles among an unrepresentative universe of interest groups – characterized by E.E. Schattschneider as a heavenly chorus with an “upper-class accent,” and more recently dubbed by Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry Brady an “unheavenly chorus.” Theories of biased pluralism generally argue that both the thrust of interest group conflict and the public policies that result tend to tilt toward the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.
Schattschneider suggested that policy outcomes vary with the “scope of conflict”: for
example, that business-oriented interest groups tend to prevail over ordinary citizens when the scope is narrow and visibility is low. Grant McConnell added the idea that the actual “constituencies” of policy implementers can consist of powerful groups. George Stigler (articulating what some economists have scorned as “Chicago Marxism”) analyzed the politics of regulation in terms of biased pluralism: the capture of regulators by the regulated. Charles Lindblom outlined a number of ways – including the “privileged position” of business – in which business firms and their associations influence public policy. Thomas Ferguson has posited an “investment theory” of politics in which “major investors” – especially representatives of particular industrial sectors – fund political parties in order to get policies that suit their economic interests. Fred Block’s “neo-Polanyian” analysis emphasizes groups. Jacob Hacker’s and Paul Pierson’s analysis of “winner-take-all-politics,” which emphasizes the power of the finance industry, can be seen as a recent contribution to the literature of biased pluralism.
Marxist and neo-Marxist theories of the capitalist state hold that economic classes – and particularly the bourgeoisie, the owners of the means of production — dominate policy making and cause the state to serve their material interests. As the Communist Manifesto put it, “The bourgeoisie has…conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” We cannot precisely test the predictions of such theories, because we lack good measures of policy preferences by economic class. (In Marxist theory, neither income nor wealth accurately signals class position.) We can note, however, that certain “instrumentalist” Marxist theories, including the important version put forth by Ralph Miliband, make predictions resembling those of theories of Biased Pluralism: that interest groups and corporations representing “large scale business” tend to prevail As to empirical evidence concerning interest groups, it is well established that organized groups regularly lobby and fraternize with public officials; move through revolving doors between public and private employment; provide self-serving information to officials; draft legislation; and spend a great deal of money on election campaigns. Moreover, in harmony with theories of biased pluralism, the evidence clearly indicates that most U.S. interest groups and lobbyists represent business firms or professionals. Relatively few represent the poor or even the economic interests of ordinary workers, particularly now that the U.S. labor movement has become so weak.
But do interest groups actually influence policy? Numerous case studies have detailed
instances in which all but the most dedicated skeptic is likely to perceive interest group influence at work. A leading classic remains Schattschneider’s analysis of the 1928 enactment of the Smoot-Hawley tariff, an astounding orgy of pork-barrel politics. Still, many quantitatively oriented political scientists seem to ignore or dismiss such non-quantitative evidence. There have also been some efforts (particularly during the Cold War era, when unflattering depictions of U.S. politics may have been thought unpatriotic) to demonstrate that interest groups have no influence on policy at all. Raymond Bauer, Ithiel Pool, and Lewis Anthony Dexter argued that business had little or no effect on the renewal of reciprocal trade authority. Lester Milbrath, having conducted interviews with lobbyists and members of Congress, rated lobbyists’ influence as very low. More recently, Fred McChesney has made the ingenious argument that campaign contributions from interest groups may not represent quid pro quo bribery attempts by groups, but instead result from extortion by politicians who threaten to harm the groups’ interests.
Very few studies have offered quantitative evidence concerning the impact of interest groups based on a number of different public policies. Important exceptions include the work of Mark Smith and that of Frank Baumgartner, Jeffrey Berry, Marie Hojnacki, David Kimball, and Beth Leech. Mark Smith examined 2,364 “business unity” issues – over a period of four decades – on which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (arguably a reasonable proxy for business groups as a whole, on this particular set of issues where most businesses agreed) took a public stand for or against. He then calculated six measures of the Chamber’s annual rate of “success” at getting the action or inaction it favored from Congress. The Chamber’s average success rate in terms of proportion of bills enacted or defeated appears to have been fairly high,but Smith did not argue that such success necessarily demonstrates influence. (A batting-average approach to influence would have to assume that stand-taking is unrelated to expectations of success. Further, in order to gauge business’s independent impact and avoid spurious results, data on stands taken by other actors would need to be included as well.) Instead, Smith devoted most of his effort to analyzing the over-time correlates of high or low success, such as variations in the public “mood” and in the partisan composition of Congress.
Frank Baumgartner and his colleagues, in their meticulous examination of 98 cases of congressional policy making in which interest groups were active, investigated whether the magnitude of group resources that were deployed was related to outcomes across those cases. In their multivariate analyses, Baumgartner et al. found a modest tendency for policy outcomes to favor the side that enjoyed greater resources (PAC contributions, lobbying expenditures, membership size, etc.).
Prior to the availability of the data set that we analyze here, no one we are aware of has succeeded at assessing interest group influence over a comprehensive set of issues, while taking into account the impact of either the public at large or economic elites – let alone analyzing all three types of potential influences simultaneously.
Testing Theoretical Predictions
What makes possible an empirical effort of this sort is the existence of a unique data set, compiled over many years by one of us (Gilens) for a different but related purpose: for estimating the influence upon public policy of “affluent” citizens, poor citizens, and those in the middle of the income distribution.
Gilens and a small army of research assistants gathered data on a large, diverse set of policy cases: 1,779 instances between 1981 and 2002 in which a national survey of the general public asked a favor/oppose question about a proposed policy change. A total of 1,923 cases met four criteria: dichotomous pro/con responses, specificity about policy, relevance to federal government decisions, and categorical rather than conditional phrasing. Of those 1,923 original cases, 1,779 cases also met the criteria of providing income breakdowns for respondents, not involving a Constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court ruling (which might entail a quite different policy making process), and involving a clear, as opposed to partial or ambiguous, actual presence or absence of policy change. These 1,779 cases do not constitute a sample from the universe of all possible policy alternatives (this is hardly conceivable), but we see them as particularly relevant to assessing the public’s influence on policy. The included policies are norestricted to the narrow Washington “policy agenda.” At the same time – since they were seen as worth asking poll questions about – they tend to concern matters of relatively high salience, about which it is plausible that average citizens may have real opinions and may exert some political influence.
For each case, Gilens used the original survey data to assess responses by income level.
In order to cope with varying income categories across surveys, he employed a quadratic logistic regression technique to estimate the opinions of respondents at the 10th income percentile (quite poor), the 50th percentile (median), and the 90th percentile (fairly affluent).
Here we use these policy preference data to measure – imperfectly, but, we believe,
satisfactorily – two independent variables posited as major influences upon policy making in the theoretical traditions discussed above. Policy preferences at the 50th income percentile – that is, the preferences of the medianincome survey respondent – work quite well as measures of the preferences of the average citizen (or, more precisely, the median non-institutionalized adult American), which are central to theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy. In all cases in which the relationship between income and preferences is monotonic, and in all cases in which there is no systematic relationship at all between the two, the preferences of the median-income respondent are identical to those of the median-preference respondent. In the remaining cases the two are very close to each other.
We believe that the preferences of “affluent” Americans at the 90th income percentile can usefully be taken as proxies for the opinions of wealthy or very-high-income Americans, and can be used to test the central predictions of Economic Elite theories. To be sure, people at the 90th income percentile are neither very rich nor very elite; in 2012 dollars, Gilens’ “affluent” respondents received only about $146,000 in annual household income. To the extent that their policy preferences differ from those of average-income citizens, however, we would argue that there are likely to be similar but bigger differences between average-income citizens and the truly wealthy.
Some evidence for this proposition comes from the 2011 Cooperative Congressional
Election Study.
Based on 13 policy preference questions asked on this survey, the preferences of the top 2% of income earners (a group that might be thought “truly wealthy”) are much more highly correlated with the preferences of the top 10% of earners than with the preferences of the average survey respondent (r=.91 vs. .69). Thus, the views of our moderately high-income “affluent” respondents appear to capture useful information about the views of the truly wealthy.
In any case, the imprecision that results from use of our “affluent” proxy is likely to
produce underestimates of the impact of economic elites on policy making. If we find
substantial effects upon policy even when using this imperfect measure, therefore, it will be reasonable to infer that the impact upon policy of truly wealthy citizens is still greater.
In order to measure interest group preferences and actions, we would ideally like to use an index of the sort that Baumgartner and his colleagues developed for their ninety-eight policy issues: an index assessing the total resources brought to bear by all major interest groups that took one side or the other on each of our 1,779 issues. But it is not feasible to construct such an index for all our cases; this would require roughly twenty times as much work as did the major effort made by the Baumgartner research team on their cases. Fortunately, however, Baumgartner et al. found that a simple proxy for their index – the number of reputedly “powerful” interest groups (from among groups appearing over the years in Fortune magazine’s “Power 25” lists) that favored a given policy change, minus the number that opposed it – correlated quite substantially in their cases with the full interest group index (r=0.73).
Gilens, using a modified version of this simple count of the number of “powerful”
interest groups favoring (minus those opposing) each proposed policy change, developed a measure of Net Interest Group Alignment. To the set of groups on the “Power 25” lists (which seemed to neglect certain major business interests) he added ten key industries that had reported the highest lobbying expenditures. (For the final list of included industries and interest groups, see Appendix 1.) For each of the 1,779 instances of proposed policy change, Gilens and his assistants drew upon multiple sources to code all engaged interest groups as “strongly favorable,” “somewhat favorable,” “somewhat unfavorable,” or “strongly unfavorable” to the change. He then combined the numbers of groups on each side of a given issue, weighting “somewhat” favorable or somewhat unfavorable positions at half the magnitude of “strongly” favorable or strongly unfavorable positions. In order to allow for the likelihood of diminishing returns as the net number of groups on a given side increases (an increase from 10 to 11 groups likely matters less than a jump from 1 to 2 does), he took the logarithms of the number of pro groups and the number of con groups before subtracting. Thus:
Net Interest Group Alignment = ln(# Strongly Favor + [0.5 * # Somewhat Favor] + 1) – ln(# Strongly Oppose + [0.5 * # Somewhat Oppose] + 1).
Below we also report results for comparable group alignment indices that were computed separately for the mass-based and for the business-oriented sets of groups listed in Appendix 1.
Our dependent variable is a measure of whether or not the policy change proposed in
each survey question was actually adopted, within four years after the question was asked. (It turns out that most of the action occurred within two years). Of course there was nothing easy about measuring the presence or absence of policy change for each of 1,779 different cases; Gilens and his research assistants spent many hours poring over news accounts, government data, Congressional Quarterly publications, academic papers and the like.
In order to test among our theoretical traditions, we begin by considering all organized interest groups together, not distinguishing between mass-based and business-oriented groups.
Within a single statistical model, we estimate the independent impact upon our dependent variable (policy change) of each of three independent variables: the average citizen’s policy preferences (preferences at the 50th income percentile); the policy preferences of economic elites (measured by policy preferences at the 90th income percentile); and the stands of interest groups (the Net Interest Group Alignment Index).
Later, in order to distinguish clearly between Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased
Pluralism, we will use two separate measures of net interest group alignment, one involving only mass-based interest groups and the other limited to business and professional groups. The main hypotheses of interest, summarized in Table 1, follow fairly straightforwardly from our discussion of our four ideal types of theory.
In their pure form, theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy (for example, rational models of electoral competition that include no societal actors other than average citizens), predict that the influence upon policy of average citizens is positive, significant, and substantial, while the influence of other actors is not.
Theories of Economic Elite Domination predict positive, significant, and substantial
influence upon policy by economic elites. Most such theories allow for some (though not much) independent influence by average citizens, e.g. on non-economic, social issues. Many also allow for some independent influence by business interest groups – and therefore probably by interest groups taken as a whole – though their emphasis is on wealthy individuals. In general, theories of interest group pluralism predict that only organized interest groups will have positive, significant, and substantial effects upon public policy. Influence proceeds from groups, not from wealthy (or other) individuals. Depending upon the type of pluralist theory, average citizens may or may not be well represented through organized groups, but they do not have a great deal of independent influence on their own.
Theories of Majoritarian Pluralism predict that the stands of organized interest groups, all taken together, rather faithfully represent (that is, are positively and substantially correlated with) the preferences of average citizens. But since most political influence proceeds through groups, a multivariate analysis that includes both interest group alignments and citizens’ preferences should show far more independent influence by the groups than the citizens. Truman’s idea of “potential groups” does, however, leave room for some direct influence by average citizens.
Theories of Biased Pluralism, too, see organized interest groups as having much moreinfluence than average citizens or individual economic elites. But they predict that businessoriented groups play the major role.
Recognizing the complexity of the political world, we must also acknowledge the
possibility that more than one of these theoretical traditions has some truth to it:
that several – even all – of our sets of actors may have substantial, positive, independent influence on public policy. And we must consider the null hypothesis that none of these theoretical traditions correctly describes even part of what goes on in American politics,
Influence upon Policy of Average Citizens, Economic Elites, and Interest Groups
Before we proceed further, it is important to note that even if one of our predictor
variables is found (when controlling for the others) to have no independent impact on policy at all, it does not follow that the actors whose preferences are reflected by that variable – average citizens, economic elites, or organized interest groups of one sort or another – always “lose” in policy decisions. Policy making is not necessarily a zero-sum game among these actors. When one set of actors wins, others may win as well, if their preferences are positively correlated with each other.
It turns out, in fact, that the preferences of average citizens are positively and fairly
highly correlated, across issues, with the preferences of economic elites. Rather often, average citizens and affluent citizens (our proxy for economic elites) want the same things from government. This bivariate correlation affects how we should interpret our later multivariate findings in terms of “winners” and “losers.” It also suggests a reason why serious scholars might keep adhering to both the Majoritarian Electoral Democracy and the Economic Elite Domination theoretical traditions, even if one of them may be dead wrong in terms of causal impact. Ordinary citizens, for example, might often be observed to “win” (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.
But net interest group stands are not substantially correlated with the preferences of average citizens. Taking all interest groups together, the index of net interest group alignment correlates only a non-significant .04 with average citizens’ preferences! This casts grave doubt on David Truman’s and others’ argument that organized interest groups tend to do a good job of representing the population as a whole. Indeed, even the net alignments of the groups we have categorized as “mass-based” correlate with average citizens’ preferences only at the very modest (though statistically significant) level of .12. Some particular U.S. membership organizations – especially the AARP and labor unions – do tend to favor the same policies as average citizens. But other membership groups take stands that are unrelated (pro-life and pro-choice groups) or negatively related (gun owners) to what the average American wants. Some membership groups may reflect the views of corporate backers or their most affluent constituents. Others focus on issues on which the public is fairly evenly divided. Whatever the reasons, all mass-based groups taken together simply do not add up, in aggregate, to good representatives of the citizenry as a whole. Business-oriented groups do even worse, with a modest negative over-all correlation of -.10. Nor do we find an association between the preferences of economic elites and the alignments of either mass-based or business oriented groups. The latter finding, which surprised us, may reflect profit-making motives among businesses as contrasted with broader ideological views among elite individuals. For example, economic elites tend to prefer lower levels of government spending on practically everything, while business groups and specific industries frequently lobby for spending in areas from which they stand to gain. Thus pharmaceutical, hospital, insurance, and medical organizations have lobbied for more spending on health care; defense contractors for weapons systems; the American Farm Bureau for agricultural subsidies, and so on.
Initial tests of influences on policy making. Just as previous literature suggests, each of three broad theoretical traditions – Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and interest group pluralism – seems to gain support. When taken separately, each independent variable – the preferences of average citizens, the preferences of economic elites, and the net alignments of organized interest groups – is strongly, positively, and quite significantly related to policy change. Little wonder that each theoretical tradition has its strong adherents.
But the picture changes markedly when all three independent variables are included in the multivariate Model 4 and tested against each other. The estimated impact of average
citizens’ preferences drops precipitously, to a non-significant, near-zero level. Clearly the median citizen or “median voter” at the heart of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy does not do well when put up against economic elites and organized interest groups. The chief predictions of pure theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy can be decisively rejected. Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.
By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significantindependent impact on policy. This does not mean that theories of Economic Elite Domination are wholly upheld, since our results indicate that individual elites must share their policy influence with organized interest groups. Still, economic elites stand out as quite influential – more so than any other set of actors studied here – in the making of U.S. public policy. Similarly, organized interest groups (all taken together, for now) are found to have substantial independent influence on policy. Again, the predictions of pure theories of interest group pluralism are not wholly upheld, since organized interest groups must share influence with economically elite individuals. But interest group alignments are estimated to have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy.
These results suggest that reality is best captured by mixed theories in which both
individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.
The rather low explanatory power of all three independent variables taken together may partly result from the limitations of our proxy measures, particularly with respect to economic elites (since our “affluent” proxy is admittedly imperfect) and perhaps with respect to interest groups (since only a small fraction of politically active groups are included in our measure). Again, the implication of these limitations in our data is that interest groups and economic elites actually wield more policy influence than our estimates indicate. But it is also possible that there may exist important explanatory factors outside the three theoretical traditions addressed in this analysis. Or there may be a great deal of idiosyncrasy in policy outputs, or variation across kinds of issues, that would be difficult for any general model to capture. With our present data we cannot tell.
The precise magnitudes of the coefficients are difficult to interpret because of our logit transformation of independent variables. A helpful way to assess the relative influence of each set of actors is to compare how the predicted probability of policy change alters when moving from one point to another on their distributions of policy dispositions, while holding other actors’ preferences constant at their neutral points (50 percent favorable for average citizens and for economic elites, and a net interest group alignment score of 0.)
Clearly, when one holds constant net interest group alignments and the preferences of affluent Americans, it makes very little difference what the general public thinks. The
probability of policy change is nearly the same (around 0.3) whether a tiny minority or a large majority of average citizens favor a proposed policy change
By contrast – again with other actors held constant – a proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favor) is adopted only about 18 percent of the time, while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favor) is adopted about 45 percent of the time. Similarly, when support for policy change is low among interest groups (with five groups strongly opposed and none in favor) the probability of that policy change occurring is only .16, but the probability rises to .47 when interest groups are strongly favorable
When both interest groups and affluent Americans oppose a policy it has an even lower likelihood of being adopted (these proposed policies consist primarily of tax increases.) At the other extreme, high levels of support among both interest groups and affluent Americans increases the probability of adopting a policy change, but a strong status quo bias remains evident. Policies with strong support (as defined above) among both groups are only adopted about 56 percent of the time (strongly favored policies in our data set that failed include proposed cuts in taxes, increases in tax exemptions, increased educational spending for K-12, college support, and proposals during the Clinton administration to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare).
Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.
What are we to make of findings that seem to go,against volumes of persuasive theorizing and much quantitative research, by asserting that the average citizen or the “median voter” has little or no independent influence on public policy? As noted, our evidence does not indicate that in U.S. policy making the average citizen always loses out. Since the preferences of ordinary citizens tend to be positively correlated with the preferences of economic elites, ordinary citizens often win the policies they want, even if they are more or less coincidental beneficiaries rather than causes of the victory. There is not necessarily any contradiction at all between our findings and past bivariate findings of a roughly two-thirds correspondence between actual policy and the wishes of the general public, or of a close correspondence between the liberal/conservative “mood” of the public and changes in policy making. Our main point concerns causal inference: if interpreted in terms of actual causal impact, the prior findings appear to be largely or wholly spurious.
Further, the issues about which economic elites and ordinary citizens disagree reflect
important matters, including many aspects of trade restrictions, tax policy, corporate regulation, abortion, and school prayer, so that the resulting political losses by ordinary citizens are not trivial. Moreover, we must remember that in our analyses the preferences of the affluent are serving as proxies for those of truly wealthy Americans, who may well have more political clout than the affluent, and who tend to have policy preferences that differ more markedly from those of the average citizens. Thus even rather slight measured differences between preferences of the affluent and the median citizen may signal situations in which economic elites want something quite different from most Americans and generally get their way.
A final point: even in a bivariate, descriptive sense, our evidence indicates that the
responsiveness of the U.S. political system when the general public wants government action is severely limited. Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system – federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism – together with further impediments due to anti-majoritarian congressional rules and procedures, the system has a substantial status quo bias. Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo, opposing a given policy change, they are likely to get their way; but when a majority – even a very large majority – of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants. In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time. In any case, normative advocates of populistic democracy may not be enthusiastic about democracy by coincidence, in which ordinary citizens get what they want from government only when they happen to agree with elites or interest groups that are really calling the shots. When push comes to shove, actual influence matters.
Economic Elites. Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis,
even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater. What we cannot do with these data is distinguish definitively among different versions of elite theories. We cannot be sure whether we are capturing the political influence of the wealthiest Americans (the top 1% of wealth-holders? the top 1/10th of 1%?), or, conceivably, the less affluent but more numerous citizens around the 90th income percentile whose preferences are directly gauged by our measure.
In any case, we need to reiterate that our data concern economic elites. Income and
wealth tend to be positively correlated with other dimensions of elite status, such as high social standing and the occupancy of high-level institutional positions, but they are not the same thing.
We cannot say anything directly about the non-economic aspects of certain elite theories, especially those that emphasize actors who may not be highly paid, such as public officials and political party activists.
Organized Interest Groups. Our findings of substantial influence by interest groups is particularly striking because little or no previous research has been able to estimate the extent of group influence while controlling for the preferences of other key non-governmental actors. Our evidence clearly indicates that – controlling for the influence of both the average citizen and economic elites – organized interest groups have a very substantial independent impact upon public policy. Theories of interest group pluralism gain a strong measure of empirical support. Here, too, the imperfections of our measure of interest group alignment (though probably less severe than in the case of economically elite individuals) suggest, a fortiori, that the actual influence of organized groups may be even greater than we have found. If we had data on theactivity of the thousands of groups not included in our net interest group alignment measure, we might find many cases in which a group (perhaps unopposed by any other groups) got its way.
This might be particularly true of narrow issues like special tax breaks or subsidies aimed at just one or two business firms, which are underrepresented in our set of relatively high-salience policies. (Our data set includes only policies thought to be important enough for a national opinion survey to ask a question about it.)
An important feature of interest group influence is that it is often deployed against
proposed policy changes. On the 1,357 proposed policy changes for which at least one interest group was coded as favoring or opposing change, in only 36% of the cases did most groups favor change, while in 55% of the cases most groups opposed change. (The remaining cases involved equal numbers for and against.)
Distinguishing between Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism. Can we say
anything further about whether processes of interest group influence more closely resemble Truman-like, broadly representative Majoritarian Pluralism, or Schattschneider-style “Biased” Pluralism, in which business interests, professional associations, and corporations play the dominant part?
We have already reported several findings that cast serious doubt upon Majoritarian
If the net results of interest group struggle were to help average citizens get their way – with organized groups perhaps representing citizens more effectively than politically inattentive Americans could do for themselves – we would expect that the net alignment of interest groups would be positively and strongly correlated with the policy preferences of the average citizen. But we know they are not in fact significantly correlated at all. Interest group alignments are almost totally unrelated to the preferences of average citizens.
Moreover, there is no indication that officials’ anticipation of reactions from “potential groups” brings policies in line with what citizens want. Empirical support for Majoritarian Pluralism looks very shaky, indeed. We also know that the composition of the U.S. interest group universe is heavily tilted toward corporations and business and professional associations. This fact certainly points toward Biased rather than Majoritarian Pluralism.
To go a step further, theories of Majoritarian Pluralism predict relatively more
independent influence upon policy by mass-based interest groups than do theories of Biased Pluralism. It may be useful, therefore, to distinguish between mass-based and business-oriented interest groups and to investigate how much policy influence each group actually has.
Accordingly, we computed separate net-interest-group-alignment indices for businessoriented and for mass-based groups (see Appendix 1 for lists of each) and included both of them in a new multivariate analysis, along with the preferences of average citizens and economic elites – dropping our previous measure of the net alignment of all interest groups.
Clearly the predictions of Biased Pluralism theories fare substantially better than those of Majoritarian Pluralism theories. The influence coefficients for both mass-based and business-oriented interest groups are positive and highly significant statistically, but the coefficient for business groups is nearly twice as large as that for the mass groups. Moreover, when we restricted this same analysis to the smaller set of issues upon which both types of groups took positions – that is, when we considered only cases in which business-based and mass-based interest groups were directly engaged with each other – the contrast between the estimated impact of the two types of groups was even greater.
The advantage of business-oriented groups in shaping policy outcomes reflects their
numerical advantage within the interest group universe in Washington, and also the infrequency with which business groups are found simultaneously on both sides of a proposed policy change. Both these factors (numerical dominance and relative cohesion) play a part in the much stronger correlation of the overall interest group alignment index with business groups than with mass-oriented. The importance of business groups’ numerical advantage is also revealed when we rescale our measures of business and mass-oriented interest group alignments to reflect the differing number of groups in each of these categories. Using this rescaled measure, a parallel analysis to that in table 4 shows that on a group-for-group basis the average individual business group and the average mass-oriented group appears to be about equally influential. The greater total influence of business groups in our analysis results chiefly from the fact that more of them are generally engaged on each issue (roughly twice as many, on average), not that a single business-oriented group has more clout on average than a single massbased group.
Taken as a whole, then, our evidence strongly indicates that theories of Biased Pluralism are more descriptive of political reality than are theories of Majoritarian Pluralism. It is simply not the case that a host of diverse, broadly based interest groups take policy stands – and bring about actual policies – that reflect what the general public wants. Interest groups as a whole donot seek the same policies as average citizens do. “Potential groups” do not fill the gap. Relatively few mass-based interest groups are active, they do not (in the aggregate) represent the public very well, and they have less collective impact on policy than do business-oriented groups – whose stands tend to be negatively related to the preferences of average citizens. These business groups are far more numerous and active; they spend much more money; and they tend to get their way.
When the alignments of business-oriented and mass-based interest groups are included separately in a multivariate model, average citizens’ preferences continue to have essentially zero estimated impact upon policy change, while economic elites are still estimated to have a very large, positive, independent impact.
Each of our four theoretical traditions (Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic
Elite Domination, Majoritarian Interest Group Pluralism, and Biased Pluralism) emphasizes different sets of actors as critical in determining U.S. policy outcomes, and each tradition has engendered a large empirical literature that seems to show a particular set of actors to be highly influential. Yet nearly all the empirical evidence has been essentially bivariate. Until very recently it has not been possible to test these theories against each other in a systematic, quantitative fashion.
By directly pitting the predictions of ideal-type theories against each other within a single statistical model (using a unique data set that includes imperfect but useful measures of the key independent variables for nearly two thousand policy issues), we have been able to produce some striking findings. One is the nearly total failure of “median voter” and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
The failure of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy is all the more striking
because it goes against the likely effects of the limitations of our data. The preferences of ordinary citizens were measured more directly than our other independent variables, yet they are estimated to have the least effect.
Nor do organized interest groups substitute for direct citizen influence, by embodying
citizens’ will and ensuring that their wishes prevail in the fashion postulated by theories of Majoritarian Pluralism. Interest groups do have substantial independent impacts on policy, and a few groups (particularly labor unions) represent average citizens’ views reasonably well. But the interest group system as a whole does not. Over-all, net interest group alignments are not significantly related to the preferences of average citizens. The net alignments of the most influential, business- oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes. So existing interest groups do not serve effectively as transmission belts for the wishes of the populace as a whole. “Potential groups” do not take up the slack, either, since average citizens’preferences have little or no independent impact on policy after existing groups’ stands are controlled for.
Furthermore, the preferences of economic elites (as measured by our proxy, the
preferences of “affluent” citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do. To be sure, this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically elite citizens who wield the actual influence.
Of course our findings speak most directly to the “first face” of power: the ability of
actors to shape policy outcomes on contested issues. But they also reflect – to some degree, at least – the “second face” of power: the ability to shape the agenda of issues that policy makers consider. The set of policy alternatives that we analyze is considerably broader than the set discussed seriously by policy makers or brought to a vote in Congress, and our alternatives are (on average) more popular among the general public than among interest groups. Thus the fate of these policies can reflect policy makers’ refusing to consider them rather than considering but rejecting them. (From our data we cannot distinguish between the two.) Our results speak less clearly to the “third face” of power: the ability of elites to shape the public’s preferences. We know that interest groups and policy makers themselves often devote considerable effort to shaping opinion. If they are successful, this might help explain the high correlation we find between elite and mass preferences. But it cannot have greatly inflated our estimate of average citizens’ influence on policy making, which is near zero.
What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute
troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.
But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens
generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect. Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status.
Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one’s own interests or a determination to work for the common good.
All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own
interests than any feasible alternative.
Leaving aside the difficult issue of divergent interests and motives, we would urge that the superior wisdom of economic elites or organized interest groups should not simply be assumed. It should be put to empirical test. New empirical research will be needed to pin down precisely who knows how much, and what, about which public policies.
Our findings also point toward the need to learn more about exactly which economielites (the “merely affluent”? the top 1%? the top 0.01%?) have how much impact upon public policy, and to what ends they wield their influence. Similar questions arise about the precise extent of influence of particular sets of organized interest groups. And we need to know more about the policy preferences and the political influence of various actors not considered here, including political party activists, government officials, and other non-economic elites. We hope that our work will encourage further exploration of these issues.
Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of
majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened

Appendix 1.
Business- and Mass-Based Interest Groups Included in Net Group Alignment Indices
Business and professional groups
American Bankers Association
American Council of Life Insurance
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Hospital Association
American Medical Association
Association of Trial Lawyers
Automobile companies
Chamber of Commerce
Computer software and hardware
Credit Union National Association
Defense contractors
Electric companies
Health Insurance Association
Independent Insurance Agents of America
Motion Picture Association of America
National Association of Broadcasters
National Association of Home Builders
National Association of Manufacturers
National Association of Realtors
National Beer Wholesalers Association
National Federation of Independent Business
National Restaurant Association
Oil Companies
Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers
Recording Industry Association
Securities and investment companies
Telephone companies
Tobacco companies
Mass-based groups
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
American Israel Public Affairs Committee
American Legion
Christian Coalition
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
National Rifle Association
National Right to Life Committee
United Auto Workers union
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.
Not coded as either business or mass-based
National Education Association (includes a mass base of teachers but also university professors)
National Governors’ Association (affected by interest groups rather than acting as an independent group)
Universities (unclear status as businesses or nonprofits)

The Season of Evil
by Gregory Douglas

This is in essence a work of fiction, but the usual disclaimers notwithstanding, many of the horrific incidents related herein are based entirely on factual occurrences.
None of the characters or the events in this telling are invented and at the same time, none are real. And certainly, none of the participants could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be either noble, self-sacrificing, honest, pure of motive or in any way socially acceptable to anything other than a hungry crocodile, a professional politician or a tax collector.
In fact, the main characters are complex, very often unpleasant, destructive and occasionally, very entertaining.
To those who would say that the majority of humanity has nothing in common with the characters depicted herein, the response is that mirrors only depict the ugly, evil and deformed things that peer into them
There are no heroes here, only different shapes and degrees of villains and if there is a moral to this tale it might well be found in a sentence by Jonathan Swift, a brilliant and misanthropic Irish cleric who wrote in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels,”
“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most odious race of little pernicious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Swift was often unkind in his observations but certainly not inaccurate.

Frienze, Italy
July 2018-August 2019

Chapter 8
Chuck was accustomed to rising early and propelling himself into the boredom of the day by consuming three cups of strong coffee. Today, because there was no job to go to, he slept in an extra hour and had only one cup of coffee.
Picking up the daily ‘Times’ from in front of his apartment door, he sat in a sagging armchair and turned on the television.
The newspapers gave a badly garbled version of the Brentwood incident, stating that the police and FBI were still searching for the Iranian terrorists who had been seen by at least a dozen reliable witnesses, fleeing the scene in a black sedan.
Since Chuck’s car was a dull maroon, he paid no attention to the news accounts, which he put down to the usual seeking after inaccurate sensationalism. There was also solemn talk about at least six Iranians who were believed to be hiding somewhere in Los Angeles along with a huge accumulation of stolen jewelry. There was speculation by a retired State Department specialist that the robbery was to finance some explosive outrage in the United States and a feeble-minded Congressman got up on the floor of the House to demand that all Iranians be expelled to Mexico, which was then experiencing a smoldering revolution that was not conducive to the tourist trade.
The printed news was cold coffee compared with the latest development blaring over the television set. He was so entertained that he woke up the sleeping watch repairman.
“No, Lars, watch the boob tube! My God, how funny!”
What he found funny was the breathless, well-filmed report, showing a house in a lower middle class neighborhood belching flame and thick columns of black smoke.
“Look at that Lars! The cops have located the Arabs and are now barbecuing them. Well-done for Achmed and medium-rare for Ali. Look at that, will you? There must be five hundred police cars in the street!.”
They watched for a few minutes as the roof finally fell in with a great shower of glowing sparks. This was followed by a photomontage of six black-haired, swarthy Mediterranean types with thick eyebrows and thicker mustaches. These were identified as members of some obscure Middle Eastern Arab group known to be in the Los Angeles area and positively identified by witnesses as the men who had robbed the Winrod shop.
Since the real thieves were basically white Wasps, they found this extremely entertaining.
The next segment of the doomsday reportage was a lengthy story about the desecration of the Winrod home complete with extensive footage of the sodden shambles of the house interior. Both Chuck and the erstwhile Lars-cum-Eric took especial interest in viewing the scene of their rampage after the passage of several weeks and many thousands of gallons of heavily chlorinated water.
There was an added bonus when a view of a local hospital accompanied the sad news that Art had expired the night before in the intensive care ward as the result of a massive heart attack. What happened to Estelle was not discussed other than to comment that she was indisposed and not available for comment. In fact, Estelle was heavily sedated in the same hospital but before descending into beneficial oblivion had claimed that she believed that it certainly was Arab terrorists who had robbed her and ruined their lives because, although she and Art were not Jewish, they did have a shop in Brentwood which was almost exclusively Jewish and no doubt the Arabs felt that they were carrying their jihad to America. And as an added bonus, she positively identified two of the suspect’s photographs as suspicious characters who had come into her shop just days before she had gone on vacation and asked about purchasing gold necklaces.
As the surrounding police units and the belatedly-arrived fire department (which the police initially neglected to call in order to allow the building to burn completely down, disposing of the occupants and thereby saving the county the expense of long, political trials) moved amongst the smoking ruins, the television program began a new story about a house in the South Central Latino ghetto that had exploded when the very late Mrs. Gomez set off ten bug aerosol bombs in her kitchen to kill the roaches that swarmed over every surface. This intended Holocaust had been interrupted when the highly volatile fumes came into contact with the open flame of the water heater pilot light and, very quickly and dramatically sent the cockroach assassin to visit with Baby Jesus in a number of pieces.
When the county pathologist had the opportunity of examining the charred remains of the cremated Arabs, he discovered a number of Catholic medals on most of the bodies and on portions of their uncharred anatomy, tattoos of the Virgin of Guadeloupe and various Spanish incantations such as ‘Maxine, mi vida’ neither of which one would expect to find on Moslem Arabs.
In fact, the absolutely reliable witnesses had seen six illegal Mexican workers going in and out of a rented house and identified the mustachioed Latinos as the wanted Arabs. Since there were no firearms in the charcoaled house, the police had to take a number out of their evidence room, char them with a blowtorch and have them ready to show to the media for the six o’clock evening news. No mention was made of the actual ethnic origins of the deceased to the media who had other fish to fry and, like law enforcement, believed in institutional maintenance which precluded the admission of errors of any kind.
Lars found the television accounts fascinating.
“They did find them after all. Do you think the jewelry got melted?’
Lars believed everything he saw on television, regardless of personal knowledge to the contrary.
“Jesus, what a boob you are! We are the ones, Lars, we are the ones, not the Arabs. Are you crazy?”
Lars waved at the flickering television.
“But there were witnesses, Chuck. I’ll bet that the Arabs came in just after we left, don’t you think?”
“No, Lars, there were no Arabs. I told the cops in Brentwood that there were Arabs and they are too stupid to know the difference. I wonder if they’ll ever admit they made a mistake. Probably not. They burned down at least two houses and killed everyone inside so I really don’t think there will be any truth-telling here. Terrible about poor Art, isn’t it? Shall we go to the funeral?”
Lars was still staring at the television, watching the fire department trying to put out the fires caused by the Gomez incident.
“I don’t want to go to Art’s funeral, Chuck. I never really liked him, you know and I don’t think you did either. I had no idea how much damage that water could do. The house looked like it had been at the bottom of a lake for five years. I remember my Grandfather’s basement flooded once when the pipes broke in winter and everything down there looked just like Art’s place. It was terrible. All the labels came off my Grandma’s preserves and no one knew what was in the jars and the cat drowned and we didn’t find it until about two weeks later stuck up in the ceiling beams. I almost feel sorry for Art and Estelle but they were such bad people.”
Chuck turned off the set when the next story about perennial corruption in Washington began. Unlike the national legislators, Chuck was an amateur and to him the acquisition of a million dollars in bribes in less than a month had no place in his ambitions.
They spent the rest of the day watching old video tapes and eating the aging food from the battered refrigerator. Later in the afternoon, when the apartment’s working occupants began to fill up the courtyards below with the cacophony of their CD players punctuated with shrieks of false joy and the thunder of overweight bodies cannonballing into the murky pools, Chuck fished around in one of the chipped plastic drawers of his rickety desk until he found a California road map.
“I think,” he said as he spread it out on the floor, “that we ought to give some very serious consideration to getting out of this part of the state and turning our loot into cold cash.”
He looked at the map for several minutes.
“I don’t think we ought to stay around here much longer. I have a fence up in San Francisco that wouldn’t care if I dragged in a corpse with gold teeth as long as there was enough gold to justify the mess on the carpet. We can head up there just as soon as I’ve finished here. You don’t have anything over at your place that you really need to bring, do you?”
“I don’t think so. I have all my family pictures in my wallet and I just have the tapes we got at Art’s place. I don’t want to lose those, Chuck.”
“We can get more, Lars, many more. And even better ones. Why in San Francisco, they have adult video shops that would really amaze you. Lots of fun viewing for you. But that’s after we dump the nice things.”
“How much do you think we can get, Chuck?”
“Normally, my fence would pay me about ten percent of the retail price but since I took the time to get these,” he hefted a thick file of computer printouts, “I can get more. Probably thirty percent or maybe a little more.”
“What are those?”
“This is the inventory file on all the items and I also found the computer disk with the information on it. In other words, I have the only records that could prove that our collection of nice things are hot. You see, it is worth the trouble to be through, Lars. Try to remember that.”
“I really don’t plan to do that again. Besides, the police might know all about us and if I tried to get another job in a jewelry store, wouldn’t they find out?”
Chuck tossed the heavy file onto the floor and examined a semi-empty can of soft drink.
“They might, but I doubt it. Let’s see where we probably stand. We now know for sure that Arabs robbed the place and all got killed. Art and his wife are not functioning right now, I have the inventories and just to be sure, I got into the files and took out all the personnel records. Remember the pile of papers I put into the bag and how you complained about it? Well, learn to watch the master at work. By the way, it’s going to be dark in a little while and I am going to go out and make very sure someone else gets the blame for the looting. While I’m out, I’ll get some more food for us so why don’t you just sit where you are and watch television for a couple of hours until I get back.”
“Can’t I go with you? I don’t much like this place.”
“Do you think I do? A couple of hours should do it if I’m lucky.”
And wearing an athletic warm-up suit, a pair of sport shoes and a knit cap, Chuck walked out of the apartment into the steaming dusk, carrying in one hand a zippered blue bag stuffed full of boxes and cases bearing the logo of their former employers, intermixed with some gaudy samples of faux costume jewelry.


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