Friday, May 20, 2016

We can look forward to its continued citation regardless of its evisceration

From Remember that study saying America is an oligarchy? 3 rebuttals say it's wrong. by Dylan Matthews.
In 2014, a slew of headlines seemed to confirm what many had long suspected — that the rich were actually the ones in control and the rest of us chumps were just along for the ride:

"Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy"; "Princeton Study: US No Longer An Actual Democracy"; "Study: You Have 'Near-Zero' Impact on US Policy"; "Study: Politicians listen to rich people, not you"; "Rich people rule!"

All of these stories were about a study by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, modestly titled, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens."

Their conclusion was explosive: "Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."
I believe rent-seeking and regulatory capture are pernicious problems that undermine our republican democracy and that the wealthy, in general, are the primary beneficiaries of such activities. But that is not what Gillens and Page were claiming. They were not claiming that the rich are gaming the system but that the rich are determining electoral outcomes. Without conducting an analysis, that seemed an improbable claim to support. There were just too many counter-examples.

I saw this study when it came out but did not engage with it on the grounds that the dramatic claims would likely not be supported by the data. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and my suspicion was that this would not pass that test. And so, it seems, that has proven to be the case.

Read the whole article for the ins-and-outs but the evidence against the original analysis and conclusions is reasonably comprehensive and damning. That won't mean that this study is dispatched to the outer realms of cognitive pollution where it belongs. The original study fit too neatly with several entrenched ideologies. Consequently, we can look forward to its continued citation regardless of its evisceration.

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