Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Citizens to blame for oligarchy

Government of the people, by the people and for the people, has perished from this earth.
According to a recent study performed jointly by Princeton and Northwestern Universities, the United States of America is an oligarchy. Somewhere over the course of its storied history, it has strayed from the ideals of democracy and egalitarianism upon which it was founded, and fell into the hands of an elite plutocracy; a small but powerful minority of special interest groups who have secured an enormous advantage over the average citizen in influencing public policy.
The study analyzed around 1,800 policies adopted by U.S. politicians between 1982 and 2002 and found that policies favored by special interest groups such as corporate lobbyists are more likely to be written into law then those favored by “mass interest groups” such as social welfare organizations.
Some of us may be shocked by the notion that the United States of America, the ‘seat of democracy,’ could fall so quietly and easily into the hands of a handful of plutocrats. Others, myself included, are not surprised.
There is a concept in political science called the iron law of oligarchy. The theory is that efforts by democracies to eliminate the policymaking power of elites are futile. All governments, no matter how friendly to the citizen, are at their deepest level inevitably oligarchic. Elements such as group psychology and the logistical difficulty of allowing every single citizen to meet, debate and vote on every policy action taken make true democracy impossible. We have to settle for the next best thing: a few dedicated oligarchs who make decisions for us.
Just because I’m not surprised that this would happen to the United States doesn’t mean I’m not appalled. Even if an oligarchy is necessary, it doesn’t have to be a self-interested one. Governments are perfectly capable of acting in the interests of its citizens; we have seen this throughout history.
This ideal oligarchy, while theoretically more feasible than absolute democracy, is not at all what we are seeing in the United States today. While our oligarchs should not be let off without a slap on the hand for abusing their power, though, just as much of the blame rests with you and me.
The basic idea of the social contract is that government derives its ruling power based a set of mutual obligations upheld by both the sovereign and the citizen. An abuse of power occurs if either party fails to uphold these obligations. One of the most important obligations of the citizens is political awareness. Citizens are to use their awareness, in tandem with their freedom of expression, to act as a fourth branch of government; another fail-safe in our meticulous system of checks and balances. We have a responsibility to watch our elected representatives carefully, and to punish them accordingly whenever they do anything they shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, political awareness seems to be inversely proportional to the availability of information.
The solution to our scenario is simple: the next time an election comes around, spend half an hour skimming the Wikipedia pages of the candidates. Ideologies are easily deduced and voting records can be procured with minimal effort. Sometimes the text of entire bills is available through a quick web search. Once we are sufficiently aware of our political surroundings, we can begin to manipulate them in our favor.
In fact, the reason special interest groups are able to manipulate the political landscape so easily is because they are so aware of it. If we want to compete, we will have to level the playing field.

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Citizens to blame for oligarchy