The Rich and the Rest

Recently, Paul Krugman considered the disconnect between Republican candidates who continue to attack Social Security and the overwhelming majorities of American citizens who support the program.

His explanation? It’s all about the big money.

Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut.

The study Krugman references is fascinating–and deeply troubling.

Titled “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” it confirms the old adage that “the rich are different from the rest of us.” A few sentences from the abstract are instructive.

We report the results of a pilot study of the political views and activities of the top 1 percent or so of US wealth-holders. We find that they are extremely active politically and that they are much more conservative than the American public as a whole with respect to important policies concerning taxation, economic regulation,and especially social welfare programs. Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealth-holders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct
from those of the general public. We suggest that these distinctive policy preferences may help account for why certain public policies in the United States appear to deviate from what the majority of US citizens wants the government to do. If this is so, it raises serious issues for democratic theory.
Cliff’s Notes version: the minuscule number of obscenely rich donors who are financing Americans elections are intent upon “buying” their preferred policies. It doesn’t matter what American voters want or think. (And thanks to gerrymandering, in most districts, those voters cannot show their displeasure by “throwing the bums out.”)
And that is, indeed, a “serious issue” for democracy.


  1. Thanks Prof. GREAT info. I think people KNOW that Bernie is on to something… and this is what he is on to. I can only hope…

  2. The wealthy employer must go ballistic when signing the check to the U.S. Treasury for the combined payroll withheld money even though half of it is contributed by the employee.
    For 2016, the maximum amount of annual earned income subject to the Social Security Tax is $118,500.
    The employee Social Security tax is 7.65 % matched by 7.65% to be paid by employer.
    Little wonder that shortsighted oligarchs want to dismantle Social Security entirely and succeed in retaining the income cap.
    Don’t forget the rich guy on the payroll will receive maximum monthly retirement income for the rest of his/her life whether needed or not but trashes the system anyway.

  3. patmcc,

    “I can only hope.”

    Make sure it’s the realistic hope of Paul Ricouer.

    Bernie Sanders is speaking in many ways “Truth to Power.” But he is also dividing the Democratic Party. And if he is nominated as the Democratic Party candidate, the Republican Party candidate, no matter how “God awful” he or she may be, will be a “shoe in” when the anti-Semitism is fully unloaded from the Religious Right/Radical Right hordes.

    According to the latest ADL Report, strong anti-Semitism is reaching 25% of the population. I’ve been tracking ADL activities for almost 50 years. That figure is grossly understated.

  4. Marv; when John Kennedy was campaigning for the presidential nomination and when he was running for president, I kept reading and hearing that this country would never elect a Catholic president. I doubt Oswald’s reason behind the assassination was religious in nature. And; had he not been assassinated, Robert Kennedy would have been another Catholic running for the presidency and I believe would have won.

    I have been watching for anti-Semitism throughout his campaign and have yet to see it mentioned. Who is using this against him and where is it being posted? No one I have spoken to has mentioned his religion; more concerned with their misunderstanding regarding Socialism.

  5. I don’t believe any longer that there is an honest worldview called “conservative”. Those who believe themselves to be so defined come in two flavors.

    One flavor are the wealthy desperate to get wealthier not because they need more stuff but because they want to beat more of their neighbors and they want to gather more power – more ability to impose their wants on others.

    The second flavor are those trained by the first flavor through mass media brainwashing. They are essentially but unwittingly bought votes.

    Watching the Republican circus last night confirmed that the celebrities on parade are not on reality TV but following all the same Koch Bros script promising what can’t be delivered but rather is a camouflaged turning over of the country to aristocracy.

    It takes one minute of simple math to figure out that there is no combination of rebuilding the military, ignoring health care and climate change, tax cuts and debt reduction that is mathematically possible.

    It’s Cheney on steroids.

    The question is only how many Americans will do the math?

  6. The wealthy have always been able to “manage” their environment, but the factors you and Paul Krugman identify shows that they have also been successful and manipulating our government so it is just a ghost of a democracy. This is the message that Bernie Sanders is clearly enunciating in his campaign for president. What with the citizens united SCOTUS decision, the playing field has been tilted even more toward the wealthy. It is high time we “average” citizens vote for change.

  7. Just a brief comment – I believe the 1% have already destroyed the democratic government that we used to have.

  8. JoAnn,

    “I have been watching for anti-Semitism throughout this campaign and have yet to see it mentioned. Who is using this against him (Bernie Sanders) and where is it being posted?”

    The “Tsunami” of anti-Semitism is being held back for the right time. It’s not posted. Read my post at It should be completed by tomorrow.

    Back in 2004, I discussed this scenario PERSONALLY with Edward Tufte, a professor at Yale, who was the first to explain why the Challenger disaster occurred. According to The New York Times, he is the father of graphic representation. With the facts that I gave him, I asked for his opinion whether or not “Tsunami” was appropriate to describe the anti-Semitic build-up I was describing. His response was, “Don’t worry it’s appropriate.” That was 12 years ago.

    I’m sure you’ll understand what’s really happening when the Killing the Messenger website is completed.

  9. JoAnn,

    “I kept reading and hearing that this country would never elect a Catholic president.”

    There was no organized resistance in 1960 like the TEA PARTY. It’s a “third force” like the Nazi Party in Germany. It isn’t being engaged. An electorate can’t stop it. There has to be a COUNTERVAILING FORCE like there was at the beginning in Germany.

    You can’t observe a tsunami build up without adequate warning devices. It is invisible until it reaches the shore (or destination).

  10. Every day many of us come here as Sheila serves up a new problem and we inform, guess, agree, disagree and speculate on solutions – both entertaining and useful in my book.

    But, as in life in general, priorities must also be part of any equation for progress in solving problems. Not all problems are equal.

    When I think of priorities it’s clear that we the people are facing several existential threats – climate change, foreign government instability, holy wars, overpopulation, educational deficits, discrimination, etc. but taming those shrews requires first and foremost a capable, competent, democratic, Constitutional government here. I can’t imagine global progress on hardly anything if we lose that.

    However there is now great tension between that objective and other agendas. Not everyone wants capable, competent, democratic, Constitutional government here. Typically those positions stem from distrust of equality. People can’t imagine people who are different from them having equal say in things.

    However that’s fundamental to freedom and freedom is fundamental to progress.

    We aren’t going to be able on anything but the very long term to change people who see themselves as superior and entitled. But we don’t have to. We just need to out vote them.

    So here and now that’s the highest priority for continued progress and freedom. The triumph of truth.

  11. Can’t elect a Jew or Democratic Socialist, especially when a candidate is both. Kennedy was elected. Strike one against the naysayer. Obama was elected. Strike two. 2016 – if Hillary is elected Strike 3! If Bernie is elected Strikes 3 &4!!!! Dems win either way.

  12. Pete,

    “………We just need to out vote them. So here and now that’s the highest priority for continued progress and freedom. The triumph of truth.

    I agree 100%. And you better make “DAMN SURE ” that you can be triumphant with your candidate. If not, you might have lost before you even started.

  13. Marv, you pinpointed exactly my current dilemma.

    Who between Bernie and Hillary is most certain to defeat any of the Repugs and accomplish the most of the liberal agenda over the next 8 years. The world depends on it.

    I think that the Democratic primary is the best way to determine that.

  14. The Democratic primary campaign is revealing the candidate’s positions on the real problems facing us.

    The Republican primary campaign is scaring and angering the minions with make believe problems that herd voters in to the desired slaughterhouse chute.

  15. Pete,

    “Marv, you’ve pinpointed exactly my current dilemma.”

    Your dilemma has to do with FREE SPEECH. We don’t have it without serious retaliation. Consequently, it will be virtually impossible to make a sensible decision.

    Recently, you mentioned that Bill Moyers was a friend. No public figure has been more courageous and candid than Bill Moyers. And he tried as much as anyone can do to warn us. I believe it was in 1988, that The Dallas Times Herald ran a full-page column by Bill Moyers on the Religious Right.

    Moyers is from Texas. He’s from a Baptist background. He knows it all. In the column, he labeled the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention a fascist. He went into the whole rotten situation. That’s almost 30 years ago.

    Then, as it always does, the retaliation came. This time, it was in the form of a lead article in The New Republic Magazine attacking his integrity. They didn’t give him a chance to rebut, so he had to pay a large sum of money to argue his case through a “center page” advertisement in the magazine. Ever heard of anything like that before? Do we really have a democracy? Is there anything left? Moyers got the message: “speak out AGAIN like you did in Dallas and you can forget your career.”

    He made the right choice. The country needed him like we needed Walter Cronkite. It’s no coincidence that they were both from Texas.

  16. I don’t doubt that financial donations can sway the results of an election, any election whether National, State, or Local; however, for the sake of informed discussion, I prefer clear and concise definitions of the nebulous and relative terms such as ‘the rich’, ‘the wealthy’, ‘the 1 percent’, and ‘the obscenely rich donors’.

    What is the dollar amount assigned for inclusion in each of these categories? How much money does one need to be considered rich, wealthy, in the 1 percent, or in the category of the obscenely rich? These things are never quantified; they are undefined emotional hot buttons. There are some good folks who believe ‘rich’ and ‘wealthy’ describe the man on their street who happens to live in the largest house.

  17. There was a very strong anti Catholic surge against Kennedy. Remember the Franklin quarters? And that sentiment would have defeated him if not for his father and the Mob. The push back was also not coordinated. Against Bernie, it will be and Jew hate is nastier than Catholic hate, by far.

    Still, neither is as deep as Black hate and he did it. Here’s the skinny: We’ve had non-ending war and shrinking of the middle class for the last 35 years. It will continue no matter whom we elect in the general election. We lose battles in primaries. Let’s go for it!

  18. BSH, in my mind wealth is necessary but not sufficient to define the oligarchy. It’s necessary because it empowers their need to impose their beliefs.

    However there are many wealthy who are not oligarchs because they recognize and accept the value of freedom that comes from democracy.

    So the oligarchy are those who have the resources to manipulate the public and the need to impose what’s best for them on we, the people.

    “Oligarchs” is probably more discriptive of the group but to me it’s a term that will go ever many heads.

    As an example Bill Gates is undeniably wealthy and would like to invest his money in an improved world but not presumably to establish power and control over it. The other side of the coin are the Koch’s who have less wealth but invest it in personal power to get what they need to become even wealthier.

  19. @Earl, I believe you’re looking for problems that do not exist. JFK was voted in on a tide of youthful enthusiasm, a wave of young voters who were not swayed by a candidate’s particular faith. In a similar fashion, Sanders has caught the wave of young voters who don’t give doodly squat about a candidate’s faith or religion.

  20. As a practical matter, all they can do is reduce SS benefits for those who don’t yet get them. Any congress that actually reduces SS payments to the folks who currently get them will be shown the door.

    Tea Partiers want benefits cut, as long as they’re not THEIR benefits.

  21. Earl; thank you, I can’t believe I lost sight of the racial issue during the 2008 and 2012 elections. It went underground once he was elected but we have all seen the results with our current inactive Congress who only have time and interest in attempting more than 60 times to repeal the ACA.

    Here is what I see in this 2016 primary; Republicans will cross the line to get Hillary on the ballot so they can continue their inactive format, replacing covert racism with their already active war on women. I will vote for her if she is the nominee but am backing Bernie all the way. I knew nothing about Martin O’Malley till watching the debates and am very impressed with him. Would like to see him on the ballot as running mate with Bernie. Two strong humanitarian leaders who are aware of and understand conditions plaguing middle-class America, the underpaid and the need for social services for the growing class of poor. They are well aware of the stranglehold the wealthy 1% have on this country and that it needs to end.

  22. Ron, the Republican platform of rebuilding the military, ignoring health care and climate change, and granting tax cuts and debt reduction requires theft from someone. It’s simple math. What Cheney demonstrated so clearly though is it can be the future that gets stolen from through the simple expedient of debt. So that’s the big lie in the GOP platform.

  23. The script that the Kochs wrote for the Republican contenders ignores health care in this country because with their money nearly 20% of GDP spent there is not a problem at all. They can just buy the best as long as it’s available.

    The Koch script doesn’t ignore ACA though because of the probability that ACA like Medicare will start making our health care costs more in line with our global competitors.

    Bernie and Hillary know that progress making health care affordable for everyone is still a stretch goal and frankly Kochs they don’t give a damn about you.

    So progress addressing health care costs in a market in which competition is unknown because of insurance isolating the sellers from the buyers is a must do. No choice at all.

    It’s necessary medicine for we the people. Stay out of our business Kochs!

  24. Pete, in thinking of the ‘war on women’, there are countless indignities that women suffer, and of these indignities, there is perhaps no greater than being married to the smartest man in the room.

  25. And don’t forget the personal interest our state senators, like those who helped pass the Paris Hilton legislation that made inheritance tax free–then made it effective Jan 1 in case their rich memaw died before July…….

  26. If Bernie Sanders became the Democratic nominee for President and more voters learned he is Jewish, the anti-Semites would become more active and vocal. Right now, he is not seen as the likely nominee AND more importantly, most voters are unaware of his Jewish roots. There ARE active KKK and Aryan Nation groups who will come out of the woodwork if Sanders becomes the nominee. I wish it weren’t true, but we still have miles to go before we arrive at the destination of real tolerance and acceptance.

Comments are closed.