Pay to Play

Economic inequality—the gap between rich and poor—should concern policymakers for many reasons: humanitarian concern for the everyday challenges faced by the working poor; the cost of social supports needed to fill the gap between what people earn and what they need in order to live; and the substantial drag on the economy from weak demand (when people lack discretionary income, they cannot buy many goods and services). And of course, social scientists have long recognized that unequal societies are unstable societies.

Those concerns are widely acknowledged. Less recognized is the harm done to democratic systems when large numbers of Americans live in or on the edge of poverty. Those people lack what political scientists call voice.

Democratic theory begins with the concept of membership, the right–and duty– of (competent adult) members of a society to participate equally in the citizenship responsibilities of the nation.

The most prominent responsibility, of course, is voting, and even before the current Republican efforts to make voting much more difficult for poor and minority citizens, turnout in poorer precincts was low. There are any number of reasons why people preoccupied with making it through the week—paying rent and putting food on the table—have little time or energy left for civic duties. In many states, including my own Indiana, polling places are inconvenient and they close early, making it very difficult for people who work long hours, or who may not have ready access to transportation, to cast a ballot.

If participation at the polls is skewed toward more affluent Americans, giving the comfortable more voice, other mechanisms to influence public policy are even more unevenly distributed.

Poor Americans do not send lobbyists to the halls of Congress or to their local statehouses. They rarely write letters to the editor (assuming that quaint effort to enter the public conversation still matters). When legislators hold hearings on issues that will affect middle class families and the working poor, they are unlikely to face citizens from those constituencies who have come to testify.

Poor citizens are also highly unlikely to make political contributions. (For that matter, according to Open Secrets, only a tiny proportion of the public—fewer than 1%–makes political contributions of $200 or more.)

Even the most conscientious policymakers can only act upon information they receive, and even when there is no quid pro quo, it is human nature to at least listen to people who have contributed to your campaign or your political party.

The result of disproportionate participation and information asymmetry is disproportionate legislative attention to the concerns and desires of those who can and do participate.

It isn’t just legislative inaction. Poor neighborhoods notoriously receive less attention from municipal agencies; streets in such neighborhoods are the last to be plowed or paved, parks and other public amenities are more likely to be neglected, since more empowered residents know how to make their needs known, and have the time and wherewithal to communicate with local government.

Lack of voice translates into a marginalized civic status– poor Americans lack the means to influence the system, or to change policies that operate to keep them marginalized.

In a variety of ways, they are second-class citizens–holders of “class B” memberships in the American polity. It’s something we need to fix, but the remedy is by no means obvious.


  1. Nancy; THANK YOU! Your well stated observations of truth regarding Martina Levi are greatly appreciated. And you managed to do so without using insulting language and the arrogant attitude she displays. You spoke for me and, I’m sure for many others on this blog. THANK YOU!

  2. Here’s what William’s rant is about.

    From Forbes, that bastion of economic justice and equality.

    “The Equitable Sharing Program allows local authorities to get around state rules and pursue federal forfeiture laws. In many states, this means the authorities have much wider latitude because federal laws can be so much broader. This circumvents many states that have begun instituting sweeping restrictions to their own asset forfeiture laws – a case of the federal government prioritizing their own policy rather than letting states decide.”

    They see the value of having the laws governing this variable by state as it’s much easier to buy state government vs federal government. Well I don’t know about easier but certainly cheaper.

    “Asset forfeiture laws disproportionately affect vulnerable poor and and minority populations.”

    Yea, that certainly makes sense when you consider their extensive assets.

  3. BSH,

    “Nancy, stop clutching your Pearls……”

    I don’t believe Nancy if clutching any Pearls. Like JoAnn, she’s a very strong woman. As I remember you joined with Pete the other day in his efforts to avoid trouble. BSH, trouble is here whether you deny it or not. That’s not to say that I don’t see you as a very strong woman.

  4. Marv, sounds like we agree. The country needs to vote for Clinton/Kaine in order to save itself.

    If we do that soundly enough we also trash the Entitlement Party and all of their influence.

    I’m just focusing on what we have to DO, instead of get frightened and angry about.

    Frightened and angry are Trumpence entertainment media tactics way beneath most Americans IMO.

  5. Pete,

    “Marv, sound like we agree. The country needs to vote for Clinton/Kaine in order to save itself.”

    It’s going to take more than that.

  6. Marvin,

    What could have been a stellar group of older people based upon a common experiential background appears to have morphed into a small group of ‘old timers’ attempting to make themselves relevant, yet again, in a new and a different world.

  7. Marv is right,GWB did bring a fascistic nature to this country. Knowing this to be true,I must ask why Obama and his administration have willfully chosen to continue those very same fascistic policies. Clinton and Kaine will continue these policies (moving more to the right) and those describing themselves as abhorring fascism will embrace their brand’s form of fascism. We are a nation of consumers. Brand Loyalty is our religion. We decry inequality until we’re reminded it was our tribe that willfully brought forth such inequality. Then we inconspicuously shove it under the rug. All is well until the next dramatic agenda needs some lip service attended to it.

    And that is how fascistic forms of governance develop and propagate.

    Pay to Play. That’s the Clinton Foundation’s credo. Inequality has risen within the last two terms of this administration. It will rise even faster with a Clinton and Kaine administration. How do I know? Clinton has the approval of the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers. Their policies thru their funded think tanks have brought upon us this great chasm of inequality. Democrats are going to vote for the candidate approved by Koch. Whodathunk it!

    It’s a strange world. Money talks.As long as money talks,it will have its lion’s share of the attention from our representatives. The Constitution doesn’t matter anymore. The Powell Manifesto is all that matters.

  8. After watching, reading, and listening to the 2016 primaries it should be obvious we need some type of Federal Legislation to regulate the voting process. For instance if you were a voter in NY your primary was in April 2016, but the deadline for switching parties was Oct. 9, 2015. Registered Democrats and Republicans are the only ones eligible to vote in their party’s primaries, with no crossing of party lines permitted. So if you were a registered Republican and felt the Bern on Christmas day 2015, too bad you could not vote for Bernie.

    Arizona had other problems Thanks to a decision by Maricopa County county election officials to slash the number of polling places from 200 to 60, some voters waited up to five hours to cast a ballot. Some polling places ran out of ballots. The Arizona Republic found that most counties in the state provided, on average, a polling place for every 2,500 eligible voters per polling site. In Maricopa County, which has a large Latino and Native American population, it was one site per every 21,000 voters.

  9. I come here to learn from the rest of you…I am voting for Hillary…am I excited about it…not really. Sanders spoke more to my plight…income inequality, high cost of college (Im currently paying on $55,000 in school loans which by the time you add on interest and years it will equate to $95,000 according to the Federal loan peeps). He was pro- equality for my LGBTQ friends when it was not popular to be so…he spoke to me the disenfranchised and seem to see things as what I do and so many of my much younger peeps. This is not to say that Hillary is not qualified at all….now from just my observations Trump and Sanders were speaking the same language in the sense of the disenfranchised voter who sees the system as rigged towards those with influence, those who have access to influence and those with money. Us regular, working stiffs who feel nobody is paying any attention…I mean analysts will say the middle income folks are disappearing, but nothing seems to get done. Sanders spoke to me…but Trump is speaking to those same boat voters. I don’t want a dictator and I know that their is no magic wand but alot of people really do think that the President has all this power and has a magic wand. I don’t know how many times I have to explain that it is the senators and representatives who create laws; but most people seem to think that the President has true power like a dictator.

    I find myself nodding alot when I hear Michael Moore speak especially the other day when he was on Bill Maher…

  10. “She” is baiting you, folks, and you’re taking the bait. Don’t lower yourselves.

  11. When I was solving problems for a living we always started with a plan. What we had to do first, then second, then third. Sometimes we didn’t know what third was going to be before we did first, but first was a start, we’d figure out the rest later.

    I encouraged folks here the other day to start thinking in terms of priorities for after we had elected a government that represents we the people instead of the entitled. We can’t do everything at once. I said that to me the most risk was around climate change so that would be my priority.

    I’ve never found that fear and anger accomplished much. In fact they are distractions that paralyze action.

    I personally am going to stick to my plan. Perhaps others think that the Trumpence entertainment media approach works better. Fine, have at it.

    The one thing that makes no sense to me is staring intently into what’s already happened when we’re going forward.

  12. William says “Clinton has the approval of the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers.”

    Apparently he’s the only one who knows this because Dr Google never heard of it.

    That doesn’t mean that the good Dr isn’t paying attention.

    He did know this. How the Koch’s are giving up on buying federal government to presumedly start hunkering down for the expected legal battle between the fossil fuel industry and we the people over their lying eyes.

    Now that Clinton/Kaine’s reputation will be earned by them and not spewed by Roger Ailes, and Trumpence stand on their own as the Entitlement not the hijacked Republican Party, and Constitutional Democracy will be pitched by both Obama’s, Warren, Sanders, Schumer, Bloomberg, Pelosi, as well as Hillary and Tim, the tone of the conversation will change; as it should according to plan.

  13. BSH – if you are going to use metaphors like “clutching your pearls”, you should make sure that you understand what they mean before throwing them at others. I have not shown any shock whatsoever about anything being said here (which is what your metaphor is about). What I DO know is that when a bully shows up I will watch bullying only for a little while and then I am compelled to step up and defend those who are being bullied.

  14. Marv,

    re your comment “At this moment in our short history, the forthcoming presidential election won’t decide anything. It is just another form of escape from the HARD truth that we’re no longer a democracy at the root of our political system. Who are we kidding other than ourselves? It sure isn’t the rest of the world.

    I completely agree with you! If Clinton is elected it will just be a matter of 4 more years of (probably) nothing improving for the people who used to be part of the middle class or for those that are barely clinging to the middle class. If Trump is elected he will finish the job of completely destroying the middle class, will end social nets for the poor and will elevate even further the money and power of the uber-wealthy.

  15. Thank you for pointing out, in yet another way, the importance of the gap between the rich and poor in America. At least Clinton knows that we have a widening gap and a disappearing middle class. Trump has no policy statements related to poverty or opportunity. He seems to be aware of the instability of unequal communities as evidenced by his fear mongering during the convention but he doesn’t address it.

    I feel strongly that rolling back the deregulation that has allowed so much corporate consolidation would be a good first step. Also realigning the tax code, which we did successfully in 1986 but then quietly allowed lobbyists and their pet representatives to insert wording into bills that cancelled the good work that was done.

    What does seem impossible is getting big money out of congress. Observing the attempts to limit campaign finance both in California and the United States, makes me think that all have backfired. Unless there is no donated money in congressional races, only the 1% and corporations will have a say in politics.

  16. William 1 good comments and you to Nancy @ 5:05. Interesting article:

    With the exception of cultural issues the line between the Republican Party and Establishment Democratic Party does not exist. Camden Fine, the head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said Clinton’s stance on regulating large Wall Street banks is pure politicking.

    “She’s doing that because of Bernie. If Hillary is elected president of the United States, it’s gonna be $500 billion, and that’s fine,” Fine said in an interview with Morning Consult, referring to a policy proposed by Senate Republicans to loosen Dodd-Frank regulations.

    “She’s gonna all of a sudden become Mrs. Wall Street if she’s elected. So it’s all Bernie theatrics right now. She’s a Clinton, for God’s sake. What do you expect?” October 14, 2015

  17. Mary Beth:” At least Clinton knows that we have a widening gap and a disappearing middle class. Trump has no policy statements related to poverty or opportunity. ”

    What exactly are her plans to alleviate this widening gap? And,if the gap is widening,what does that say about the current Democratic leadership?

    Mary Beth:”I feel strongly that rolling back the deregulation that has allowed so much corporate consolidation would be a good first step. Also realigning the tax code, which we did successfully in 1986 but then quietly allowed lobbyists and their pet representatives to insert wording into bills that cancelled the good work that was done.”

    Who was responsible for this rollback? Was Bill Clinton a part of the cadre? If so,didn’t HRC say she would put her husband in control of the economy,no?

    Also,how can one decry the influence of big money in politics and support the candidate beholden to big money/donors? Especially those of the TBTF banking and Wall St. industries.

  18. William, how nice of you to read my post and respond.

    Although I don’t totally agree with Hillary on her policies (I lean Bernie Sanders,) she does have some. She would like to give tax cuts to everyone making under 250,000/yr. In my opinion the cut off point is too high. She also has proposed programs that support working parents and a minimum wage of $12.

    I think the current Democratic leadership (and much of the centrist Republicans) did its damnedest to try to bargain with the recalcitrant Republicans. I think a large part of the problem was running the country while black.

    And finally, your last statement is exactly why I feel that we need to get money out of politics. Hillary has written up a plan for dealing with TBTF corporations. She also sponsored legislation in the Senate to eliminate the Carried Interest Income loophole that so many in finance are using to avoid taxes; the Republicans voted it down.

    I know that deregulation began under Ronald Regan and of course all the big money was and is still behind it. I am not aware of how much Clinton ran with it. I would have to read up on it. He could not have known about what Bush II would do or Citizens United.

    I also am not aware of who Hillary is putting in charge of Economic policy, I am also aware that she is ultimately in charge. However he did a good job of reducing the deficit.

  19. Nobody seems to have an opinion on what the next four years will be like if HRC doesn’t get elected.

  20. Pete, I wrote what I think will happen if Trump is elected in my 5:05 pm comment to Marv. I will be voting for Hillary and I hope that she can and will accomplish more to start rebuilding the middle class than the Republican controlled congress has allowed Obama to do.

  21. Pete,no one really knows. That’s fact,not opinion. He’s a wildcard.

    As far as a Clinton Presidency,we have her record as a Senator,First Lady and SoS. So far,it doesn’t bode well for the 99%. Clinton is a war monger,pretends to care for the interests of the hoi polloi ,yet always invariably protects the interests of the big monied donors and their lobbyists. Can you say Honduras,Haiti and Ukraine? Hillary,Nuland and the Kagan clan are just twitching for a war with Russia. Plus,she will continue the Bush/Obama administrations wrongheaded and warmongering policies.

    With a Clinton Presidency,we will all be Haitians.

    The Democratic Party had a good candidate. They shit on him and purposely turned away his supporters–at least half of the Democrat constituency. Hows that working out? If that’s indicative of a Clinton strategy ,think of how alienating and just downright stupid her presidency will be. She’ll probably make more mistakes –like Iraq. Golly gee,Iraq was just a mistake,ya know? Nevermind her past efforts in support of the private prison complex. Remember when she made the statement how “black thugs must be brought to heel?” I guess her pick for VP and his support for Project Exile is another dog whistle to garner support from….Here it comes….REPUBLICANS!!

    Now that Wikileaks have released the DNC e-mails,we now know that genuine progressives have no choice but to refute the party and ignore the Democrat apparatchiks. I’ll vote for Jill Stein or stay home.

  22. Pete,

    I’m 100% with Nancy on both her 5:05 and 8:06 comments. I wish things were more positive. Our biggest threat is the Tea Party Movement, not Trump. They will be a major factor whether Trump wins or loses.

  23. Couldn’t disagree more Marv. The Tea Party are has beens. They’ve already been defeated.

    He’s a clear, present and future danger. William claims that because his only accomplishment in life has been to not lose his father’s money he’s a “wildcard”. He’s not. He’s said that his intention is to be a dictator. I take him at his word although as the most prolific liar among current politicians perhaps he’s lying about that too.

    Both of the Clintons are among the most honest politicians today. It seems that many of the posters here take Roger Ailes opinion about that over Politifact’s. Why, I’ll never know.

    My mission has always been to find and hold the middle of the road. We’re finally defeating the right wing extremists but looks like left wing extremists will be the next battle.

  24. One of the things that defeated the Tea Party is the almost total failure of right wing politics in practice. I can’t think of a successful thing that they’ve accomplished since Reagan and he was at best a toss up. People haven’t forgotten 2008 yet. They will over time but the blood is still too fresh. Besides the McConnell/Boehner/Ryan debacle in Congress is a daily reminder. Obama has fixed most of what conservatives broke single handedly and despite having no functional Congress and Roger Ailes’ continuous and monumental media flatulence.

    To all of that factor in the carnage in Cleveland.

    Nobody has any expectations any more of the Republican Party. Everybody is fully aware of the transition to the Entitlement Party.

    Over the next decade that whole mess will finally die off. The Democratic Party will split into centric and left extreme.

    Then we’ll learn again that it’s extremism that does work.

  25. Pete:”Both of the Clintons are among the most honest politicians today.”

    I hope Correct The Record gives you the coozie as promised for your works. You should receive something for writing such inanity.

    Word for the day: Subbotnick.

    The only good thing that would come from a Hillary presidency is it might keep Bill from frequenting the Lolita Express.

  26. Marv, there’s an old reliable tool for prioritization that recommends two axis; one of importance of opportunity or consequences; the other for urgency.

    I don’t see any possibility of America surviving in any recognizable form a Trumpence Presidency. Not even one term.

    That decision is a hair over 3 months away.

    That puts it in my most urgent, most important spot.

    Will there be other important urgent things after? Not if we blow that one.

  27. Pete,

    I think everyone sees the danger of Donald Trump. However, some of us see a danger in Hillary Clinton to which you continually disregard along with the dynamics of the Tea Party Movement.

    The French made the same mistake when they voted in Leon Blum to head the Popular Front in the mid 30’s. All he ever accomplished was being a lightening rod for the Extreme Right as he was faced with massive general strikes by the opposition which eventually ran him out of office. And the French fascists walked in.

    You want an easy answer. I can understand. But, there isn’t an easy one. However, there is a hard one…..facing up to the Tea Party Movement which you want to avoid at all costs.

  28. Marv, the first choice that we have to make is Clinton/Kaine or Trumpence. A black and white decision that will be made in 3 months.

    My opinion of Clinton/Kaine doesn’t matter or even enter into the decision at all, it’s all based on the facts of Trumpence.

    If we don’t get that one right IMO it’s game over. Constitutional Democracy is done. No further action will be possible. You’ve lost, I’ve lost, we all have.

    If we get that one right then we can talk extensively about the priority and urgency of other things to do.

    It’s like a house fire. You don’t stop to wonder what caused it. You save the lives of yourself and the other occupants. You do first things first because if you don’t the second and third things don’t matter.

    I think what we disagree about is the need to save Constitutional Democracy as the only tool up to solving everything else and the threat that Trumpence represents to it.

    “I alone can fix it” means that he doesn’t need or want your and my help or opinions or effort. He will tell us what he requires of us or else.

    It’s an old story.

  29. Pete,

    As you say, you’re for the “middle of the road.” I’ve liked it there too. Unfortunately, it’s disappeared. Hopefully, it can come back in some form. But not without much long and hard work which there’s a good chance we don’t have the ability to do.

  30. I’m not going to give up unless or until Trumpence locks me up. Or worse.

    I saw the fate of the protester at what he sees as his coronation.

  31. Pete,

    Let me make myself clear. I agree with everything you say about the danger of a Trumpence victory. I agree with you 100%. However, I see the Tea Party as the more important target. That’s where Tump gets his fuel. Without it he’s nothing.

    On the other hand, with the Tea Party Movement still a viable force, we lose either way as I said before.

    William said it best….Trump is nothing but a wildcard. He’s nothing without the Tea Party.

  32. Marv. I’m with you. What do you believe we need to push Clinton/Kaine to DO in the first 100 days to start the defeat of the Tea Party?

    We have ISIS on the run although they are trying to sack our will through terrorism. Can we get the Tea Party on the run too?

  33. Pete,

    There will have to be two SEPARATE campaigns in order to defeat Trumpence:

    Campaign #1-to elect Hillary Clinton President

    Campaign #2-to neutralize the Tea Party Movement

    Both campaigns have to be successful. As you have pointed out, time is short.

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