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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

Science Proves We Are Oligarchy

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Over the past two days I’ve read about a recently released report by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page in two different progressive blogs: Common Dreams and The Math Babe. The report is a detailed statistical analysis of the role citizens play in the decision making in our country and concludes that we are not living in a democracy but rather in an oligarchy. Gilens and Page are not advocates of any political party, they are academics: Gilens works at Princeton and Page is from Northwestern. Their study will appear in the Fall 2014 edition of Perspectives in Politics, a scholarly journal of the American Political Science Association. Their findings are sobering.

Eric Zuess, the Common Dreams blogger concludes his post with this paragraph:

The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.

Cathy O’Neill, the Mathbabe, concludes her lengthy and detailed post supporting for the statistical models and findings with the authors’ conclusion:

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.

With fewer people controlling ever increasing shares of the media and with more and more money required to run for office it is increasingly difficult for the voices of people like Gilens and Page to be heard and increasingly difficult to change the status quo politically… which means making changes to schooling will require the support of the oligarchs who, to date, seem to view public education as a vehicle for increasing their wealth. Tough sledding ahead!

Privatization = More Inequality

April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A post in the  Angry Bear blog, described as a “Slightly left of center economic commentary on news, politics and the economy”, describes how the emergence of Private Public Partnerships (P3) contribute to inequality by rewarding the oligarchs who can afford to make the private investments and effectively penalizing the consumers who pay increased fees for formerly public services. The article uses Chilean highways and Chicago parking meters as a means of explaining how the oligarchs profit and consumers are bilked. After reading the post, I left the following comment: 

The P3 idea is emerging in public education to ill effect… and accountability based on standardized testing is accelerating the trend. Affluent communities whose test scores are high to begin with are spending more and their students are retaining the broad curriculum offerings and solid teachers. Urban schools serving children raised in poverty get low test scores and are then replaced by for-profit charters whose focus is on the topics tested, whose operations are less costly, and whose profits are returned to shareholders instead of being used to expand social services needed by the students.

Politicians in both parties hail P3 as a means of bringing business practices into the private sector, getting work done more quickly and efficiently, and avoiding the need to raise taxes. What politicians don’t tell voters is the back-end costs for these P3s are more expensive, corrosive to democracy, and contribute to inequality.

The Oligarch’s Way

April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

An article in today’s NYTimes describes how former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg intends to spend $50,000,000 to take on the NRA over the issue of gun control. In brief, he intends to create a national umbrella organization along the lines of MADD and fight for legislation that increases regulations regarding the sale and use of weapons on a State-by-State basis as well as at the federal level. The article noted that he intended to also rate candidates of both parties the way the NRA does, hoping to increase awareness of candidates who are either wishy-washy or opposed to gun control.

The article caused me to think about the oligarchy we are living in today where extraordinarily wealthy individuals like Michael Bloomberg can spend huge sums of money to get elected, to influence the political dialogue, and– thereby— advance their own personal agendas without waiting for grassroots support to generate a new way of thinking. While I am in agreement with Michael Bloomberg’s thinking most of the time (e.g. on this issue, on his ideas about commuter taxes, his desire to attack obesity through legislation, on his environmental positions), I am unsettled by the reality that if I accept Bloomberg’s right to invest huge sums in political issues I agree with, I must also accept the right of the Koch brothers to invest huge sums of money in political issues I disagree with… and recognize that in both cases they are using their money to advance their personal agendas by either buying political influence or buying media time to influence the public’s thinking about issues through the use of polarizing advertisements. Gun advocates will likely feel the same knot in their stomach when Bloomberg’s advocacy group speaks as I feel when I read an advertisement touting the jobs that Keystone XL will bring to the midwest.

Bloomberg’s twelve years as mayor shows how oligarchs would rule if they bought their way into office. Wherever and whenever possible they would push for control over personnel compensation and operations and implement the business practices that helped them accumulate wealth. In NYC Bloomberg did this to good effect in most aspects of the cities operations: voters supported his ability to make the city operate efficiently and safely. But part of operating like a business is ignoring the voices of dissent and side-stepping democratic procedures. Major corporations do not seek public approval for plant closings: they look at the bottom line and make decisions on a cost-benefit basis. In  the minds of many businessmen and entrepreneurs democracy slows things down at best or completely blocks progress at worst. In their minds it is better to improve the bottom line and move ahead than take the time to build a consensus on where to head and how to get there.

The perfect example of how one oligarch handled public education is to look at Bloomberg’s record in NYC. To avoid any public debate over his ideas on how to improve public education, Bloomberg sought and gained legislative approval to have the final word on the operation of the school district. Once he gained that authority, he systematically implemented a plan that whereby the school administration devised their own accountability system that identified “failing schools” that were replaced by unregulated for-profit charters funded by his fellow oligarchs, who the media hailed as “school reform” advocates. These schools used facilities bought and paid for by taxes without paying rent, operating without legacy costs and with new, lower paid, non-union teachers. The school system’s accountability system showed how well these “reforms” were working and the public was generally pleased with the direction the Mayor headed based on the information they read in the media. The oligarch/mayor seemed to be bring cost-effectiveness to the school system and had stood up to the unions in doing so. In his last term in office, though, NYC witnessed the underside of the rule of the oligarchs. First,an independent analysis of NYC’s student performance indicated that the increased test scores were a mirage. They were the result of setting ever lower cut scores as opposed to  having students achieve ever higher test scores. The mayor attempted to replace the outgoing Superintendent with an unqualified publishing CEO who resigned after making several gaffes, and parents of students whose neighborhood schools were closed on the basis of test scores began rallying in opposition to the mayor’s way of doing business.

But here’s a conundrum: what if a wealthy oligarch wanted to use his or her wealth to get elected to mayor of a major metropolitan area and, once in control, implemented the kind of schooling that I agreed with: one that abandoned age-based grade levels; replaced the rigid PreK-12 curriculum with personalized learning plans; replaced time-limited instruction with mastery learning; provided wraparound services for children raised in poverty; and converted schools into community resource centers? And what if the mayor wanted to do this despite opposition from community school boards, social service agencies and unions… because such a program WOULD result in resistance from many quarters.

The bottom line in all of this is the need for our elected officials to take action to eliminate the oligarchs before they control and influence all of our actions and thoughts. This would mean imposing for more progressive taxes, imposing higher estate taxes, and limiting the spending on political campaigns and activities. We can’t depend on the oligarchs being high-minded… because they are by their very nature business minded and anti-democratic and resistant to regulations. If we want to retain our democracy, slow paced though it is, we need to take back our opportunity to control public discourse and public control of services we fund.