Wednesday, October 7, 2015

There is good reason to believe that the institutions of government are now hostage to special interests.

A generally interesting column by Thomas B. Edsall, as his columns usually are, How Did the Democrats Become Favorites of the Rich?

The general gist of the column is the convergence of both the Republican and the Democrat parties on to a model where they are much more dependent on the wealthy patron and donor, than in the past. True enough.

Edsall included a couple of graphs supporting this contention.

Click to enlarge.

My take-away from this is slightly different from Edsall's. Yes, there is a rising dependency on big donors. What I see is that in the 1980s, both parties depended on small donors for 60 or 70% of their financial support. In 2012, they both relied on small donors for only ~25% of their financial support. In other words, in the past thirty-two years, both parties have switched from being broad based parties dependent on the voter to parties which now answer to special interests for 75% of their financial support.

No wonder surveys show that only 15% of the electorate trust Government most the time (and only about 10% trust Congress). Only 6% regard the mainstream media as trustworthy.

There are two trends that get discussed with some regularity, the polarization of politics and secondarily, the disaffection with politics.

I view the polarization issue as unproven. Pundits treat it as a given that politics are more polarized today than in yesteryear but I am not convinced that that is true. In fact, I am pretty confident it is not true based on any reasonable empirical proxy for polarization. I think the second issue, disaffection with politics and lower trust in government, are actually the more important issues that need tackling. It is important to distinguish the two conditions because the solutions are dramatically different.

Polarization is resolvable through the art of politics, negotiation and compromise. It may not be easy but it is old hat. We know how to do this if we wish. Loss of faith in politics as a whole and loss of trust in the institutions of government are far more serious issues requiring much more dramatic changes.

The fact that the main political parties are now beholden to special interests to a far greater degree than in the past indicates to me that there is a very real basis for concern among the average voters and that addressing that will require much more principled decision-marking among the leaders of the major parties than either of them have shown in the recent past.

No comments:

Post a Comment