Is US Oligarchy or Democracy?

US is an oligarchy and not a democracy?

Posted on24 May 2014. Tags: accountability , Constitutional monarchy , Democracy , Economy , Equity of Justice , Lobbyists , Magna Carta , Northwestern , Occupy wallstreet , Oligarchy , Plutocracy , Pres Lincoln , Princeton University , Prof Benjamin Page , Prof Martin Gilens , Republic , transparency

How do we mitigate this situation, if true?

Introduction: This very worrying indication came from a recent study by two East Coast university professors as mentioned below.

The Princeton study: A recent study reported in April 2014 by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin Page say that the US government is more of an Oligarchy and not a democracy.

The study is known as “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” which analyzed extensive data of recent years between 1981 and 2002. It analyzed 1800 policy decisions during this time and  goes to show that the policies expressed preferences of affluent Americans and that desires of special interest groups are well taken care of and not that of an average citizen.

This study states that the US government does not represent the interests of the majority of citizens but those of the rich and powerful. This conclusion should come as a shock to many, who thinks that the US democracy is the best in leading the world as an example.

Some pundits go even further and say that the American Democracy has turned into Plutocracy, i.e., government controlled by wealthy groups. However, in oligarchy the controlling interest groups are either rich to begin with or become so because they are making the laws to benefit the groups. Hence both terms are almost interchangeable in practice and reality.

The study also reports some positive aspects of the US governance also. It states that, “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association” but goes on to warn that, “we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

What is oligarchy?: Oligarchy is a form of government in which power is vested in a dominant class and a small group exercises control over the general population.

Post colonization world: The recent happenings of Arab spring in Middle Eastern countries may be seen as second wave of demand of “freedom” after the independence obtained by many countries from British and European Colonizing powers in last century. The United States was lucky to have become independent 100 years before many other countries in late 1700s. It became a republic with a constitution.

American constitution: The constitution in essence promises the following important aspects:

  • Equality of all in the eyes of law
  • Protection of rights of individuals
  • Bill of rights assuring the right of speech, religion and association

Birth of many countries in recent past: In the past century many colonies have been made independent. In early 1900 there were less than 70 members of the League of Nations. In contrast, today, the United Nations (UNO) has over 190 member states. That is more than 120 countries have been born by independence or internal subdivision.

Ambiguity of terms: Such changes in the world has brought into use of terms like “Independence,” “Liberation,” “Self Determination,” “Freedom,” “Democracy” and “Republic”. These terms have a lot of overlap of meaning. We will use the word Democracy as an all compassing term.

Democracy and Republic: In recent past there has been a lot of demonstrations asking for democracy in countries where it is still autocratic or dictatorial regime. For the sake of clarity we should identify differences between democracy and republic in short. Both terms in spirit means that the public is the supreme power and that the government is “of the people, by the people and for the people”.

In republics there is a written constitution, which is supreme, even binding the government elected by majority votes through the intervention of judiciary, who interprets the constitution and safeguards the rights of all, including minorities. In democracy however, the majority government may create laws that may not protect the rights of the minority.

Short History of democracy: In olden days Romans and Greeks had  City States with rudimentary election to advise the kings in some decisions. In 1200s the King of England agreed to start being accountable to justice system under the document called Magna Carta. The democracy gradually marched from there on to its idealistic goal of equality of all citizens with freedom of speech and religion.

In the United Sates, after freedom was won from British in late 1700s, the founding fathers of the newly emerged nation wrote a constitution, which included all the ideals. The US history shows that the principles of equality were adopted rather gradually by several amendments in constitution. In some circumstances people had to fight for their rights through the judiciary or by protests. This is evident from the historical facts that the women were allowed to vote in early 1900s and though slavery was abolished President Lincoln, it took many decades to come in practice; even the discrimination of whites against blacks and laws of segregation were practiced until early decades of 1900s.

Despite a slow progress on the principle of equity in the US, it seems that in the past two centuries, the US has provided a good example of a forward marching democracy to reach its idealistic goal.

Communism: After WWII, one of the biggest worry of the American government was the communism from Russia and China, which is based on the thinking of Carl Marx. The Proletariats or persons of lowest class with no material asset were made to fight against Bourgeoisie, who were wealthy merchant class people. Communism greatly despised the free Western Capitalistic societies. However, in practice the communism has become a form of Oligarchy, in which a powerful class (not necessarily the rich) governs and has most influence.

The third world countries, who have won independence from the colonizing powers have mostly turned into Oligarchy or Plutocracy because of rampant corruption in those systems and bureaucratic red tapes.

Constitutional Monarchy: In past century many monarchs (kings) have given away their powers to the elected representatives of people. Those countries now have Constitutional monarchies. The monarchs have become symbolic heads of the nations, which are run as democracies with elected representatives making laws. All of them are mostly functioning very well. Only failure was in Afghanistan, where King Zahir Shah handed over power to elected parliament, which was removed by the powerful war lords. Most of such Constitutional monarchies tend to be socialistic states, looking after the interest of common men. The best example of such government is Great Britain, replicated in some of the British Commonwealth.

The USA as beacon of democracy for world: All countries in world and their  people have looked up to US model of democracy as an ideal one. People of many countries have directly or indirectly invited the US to assist in their effort to install democracy. Recent such examples are Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and even Iran. And if the result of Princeton study shows that the US is leaning towards Oligarchy, it is a serious blow on the American reputation as flag bearer of democracy.

Recent protest called “Occupy Wall Street” in 2011 is thought to be rooted in greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations and financial sector on government. Their slogan was “we are 99%” refers to the issues of income inequality and wealth distribution in the US between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. Can this be the initial signal of deep dissatisfaction amongst the people? We need to be do all that is necessary to mitigate such feeings.

Reforms needed in any democracy: The elements of democracy are mentioned below to maintain peace in world through democratic process. They are the musts for the democracy to thrive.

Leave a Reply


Recent Posts

Recent Comments


issues of america