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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/29/13

Surprising Studies Find DC Does What Wealthiest Want, Majority Opposes

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A new study, Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans, by Professors Benjamin I. Page, Jason Seawright and Larry M. Bartels sought to gauge the political and policy priorities of the wealthy, and how these concerns contrast with the concerns of the rest of us. Amazingly, the priorities of the 1% match up with the priorities of our political class, while the priorities and needs of the vast majorities of us are ignored.

The study questioned people with wealth that placed them in the top 1%. They were asked what they felt were the "very important problems" facing the country. The most common response was the budget deficit, with 87 percent believing this to be the most important problem. This contrasts with the rest of the population, with only 7% saying this is the country's most pressing problem. Of course jobs and the miserable state of the economy for people what are not in that 1% were cited by regular people as the most important problem.

The 1%'ers want "entitlement programs" like Social Security and healthcare cut while the American Majority want (and need) them expanded.

The 1%'ers opposed raising the minimum wage, government help for the unemployed, government spending to ensure that all children have access to good-quality public schools, expanding government programs to ensure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so, and investing more in worker retraining and education. The American Majority supports all of these programs.

The 1%'ers also opposed more regulation of large corporations, raising the Social Security "cap," using corporate taxes to raise revenue and taxing the rich to address inequality. The public supports these.

(Note -- both the 1%'ers and the rest felt that the country needs to spend more on repairing and modernizing the country's infrastructure.)

If the priorities of the wealthy seem to line up with the priorities of our DC elite, there is a reason. In an LA Times op-ed, The 1% aren't like the rest of us, Professors Page and Bartels explained,

"Over the last two years, President Obama and Congress have put the country on track to reduce projected federal budget deficits by nearly $4 trillion. Yet when that process began, in early 2011, only about 12% of Americans in Gallup polls cited federal debt as the nation's most important problem. Two to three times as many cited unemployment and jobs as the biggest challenge facing the country.

"So why did policymakers focus so intently on the deficit issue? One reason may be that the small minority that saw the deficit as the nation's priority had more clout than the majority that didn't.

This clout is further explained...

"Two-thirds of the respondents had contributed money (averaging $4,633) in the most recent presidential election, and fully one-fifth of them "bundled" contributions from others. About half recently initiated contact with a U.S. senator or representative, and nearly half (44%) of those contacts concerned matters of relatively narrow economic self-interest rather than broader national concerns. This kind of access to elected officials suggests an outsized influence in Washington."

Stacked Deck

A recent report by Demos' David Callahan, Stacked Deck: How the Dominance of Politics by the Affluent Undermines Economic Mobility in America, looks at a number of sources including the work by Page, Bartels and Seawright, as well as work done by Martin Gilens of Princeton and author of "Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America" and says, "Wealthy interests are keenly focused on concerns not shared by the rest of the American public." Callahan's report describes the super-rich as "supercitizens, with an outsized footprint in the public square."

Callahan focuses on what this is doing to "social mobility" and concludes that by catering only to the interests of the wealthy, "political and economic inequality are mutually reinforcing." In other words, we are locking people into their economic situation -- people at lower income levels are less able to "move up" and do better than the economic level they are born into.

Among Callahan's findings:

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