You probably heard about a recent study that the media interpreted as showing evidence that the United States is sort of an oligarchy.
Cue ominous music.
The authors of the study in question didn’t use the word oligarchy because the study doesn’t support that conclusion. But the media sounded the oligarchy sirens anyway because that’s how one creates news where there is none.
MSNBC, a skilled manufacturer of artificial news, led with this headline: “U.S. more oligarchy than democracy, study suggests.”
The first bit of context that MSNBC and others in the news removed from the story is that the United States isn’t, and never was, a democracy. The founders of the country created a republic that is designed to be more like an oligarchy than a democracy. The founders surely assumed that rich, educated landowners would be the ones getting elected, for the most part, and they preferred that. A poor(ish) person could get elected but the odds were low.
So the headline could have been “Study shows that the U.S. government is working exactly as the founders hoped.”
The next bit of context omitted from the story is the compared-to-what. Has anyone studied how well off the poor and middle class are under our current system compared to how they would be under a pure democracy? How would we know if the alternative is better or worse? No modern country has ever tried a pure democracy.
Clearly the wealthy have more clout in creating legislation and so they tilt laws in their favor. But are those oligarchy-favoring laws 2% of the total laws on the books or 98%? And if the answer is 2%, are those few laws the ones that matter the most in some way? And how much better or worse would the country be if we were less of an oligarchy/republic and more of a pure democracy with laws created by folks who, on average, had trouble getting through high school?
I’m not defending oligarchies, or even republics. I just want some data that is useful for forming an opinion. But all I get is the news media saying rainfall is bad for your hair while ignoring the context that we’re in a drought.
In a perfect world, the most well-informed and intelligent among us would be leading the government and creating unselfish legislation. But human nature makes that option literally impossible. So why compare our current government to one that is impossible? We might as well compare our government to the system at Hogwarts in which the best wizard is in charge. That’s just as impossible as a fair government run by elites.
As citizens, our only protection from the abuse of government power is the skill and objectivity of the watchdog press. How’s that working out so far?
Co-founder of CalendarTree
I’m one step closer to getting my much deserved Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences