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The destructiveness of identity politcs (building on the Gilens and Page study)

Dani Rodrik (Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton) on "How the Rich Rule":

The implication is clear: when the elites’ interests differ from those of the rest of society, it is their views that count – almost exclusively. (As Gilens and Page explain, we should think of the preferences of the top 10% as a proxy for the views of the truly wealthy, say, the top 1% – the genuine elite.)

Gilens and Page report similar results for organized interest groups, which wield a powerful influence on policy formation. As they point out, “it makes very little difference what the general public thinks” once interest-group alignments and the preferences of affluent Americans are taken into account.

These disheartening results raise an important question: How do politicians who are unresponsive to the interests of the vast majority of their constituents get elected and, more important, re-elected, while doing the bidding mostly of the wealthiest individuals?

Yes, that's a good question!

Part of the explanation may be that most voters have a poor understanding of how the political system works and how it is tilted in favor of the economic elite. As Gilens and Page emphasize, their evidence does not imply that government policy makes the average citizen worse off. Ordinary citizens often do get what they want, by virtue of the fact that their preferences frequently are similar to those of the elite. This correlation of the two groups’ preferences may make it difficult for voters to discern politicians’ bias.

But another, more pernicious, part of the answer may lie in the strategies to which political leaders resort in order to get elected. A politician who represents the interests primarily of economic elites has to find other means of appealing to the masses. Such an alternative is provided by the politics of nationalism, sectarianism, and identity – a politics based on cultural values and symbolism rather than bread-and-butter interests. When politics is waged on these grounds, elections are won by those who are most successful at “priming” our latent cultural and psychological markers, not those who best represent our interests.

Obama being a classic, classic case. Obama has become "the more effecitive evil" exactly by using this strategy.

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Submitted by lambert on

Not one big voice, but millions of small ones. That is exactly it. Now, how to get to that point....