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"Are we an oligarchy? " Topic

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487 hits since 5 Feb 2016
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kallman05 Feb 2016 8:05 a.m. PST

I was not sure where else to post this but I am sure it will bring about the usual high standards of debate found here on TMP. (cough) Yes…well regardless all of the posted links below should be sober reading and some will simply go…well, duh! Still I think overall the findings are more or less spot on and in my employment I see the results and I am witness to the negative effect it is having on American society.





The actual article that has caused all the comments.

PDF link

Terrement Supporting Member of TMP05 Feb 2016 8:33 a.m. PST

Everything hinges on what "on our current political-economic trajectory" means. So what might we take that phrase to mean?

Excellent food for thought. A small but important distinction is that the US has never been a democracy, but rather a constitutional republic.

As such, to a certain extent, we have elected people who are supposed to represent us, their constituents, in the making of policy. The extent to which they actually do that these days is questionable. In addition, I have heard the term "post-constitutional republic" in that we have both an executive and judicial branch who make laws, which is not within their enumerated powers and a congress that is more than happy to abdicate their position as the legislature and allow this to go unchecked. The politicians depend on funding from external sources, so whether it is the Soros's or Koch's or Gates directly – or the groups that they establish / support / fund I think it is pretty clear that they buy the politicians with their donations at least to a certain extent.

The few times that this changes is when "we the people" make our voices heard sufficiently loud in sufficient numbers to change the decisions being made – the GWB immigration attempt – agree with it or not – was on a path for execution and implementation until the phone lines to congress were melted by folks in opposition.

So although I don't intend to dissect the articles and pull out specifics over which to have a debate of our and my (harumph!) usual high standards (cough, cough) I think that in the main I agree with what is being stated in the articles.

See you in the DH, as the discussion has the inevitable consequence of needing to address politics which I have just done, in order to cover the topic completely – even though I am not taking a political position (which I do have and about which I feel strongly) in so doing, and hope that for the sake of discussion, it can be touched upon as a specific without becoming a third rail when folks start standing forth with what position they hold one way or the other.


Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Feb 2016 8:43 a.m. PST

This is a horrible arena for research and an equally horrible approach. Beside the fact that the researchers themselves state it is not conceivable to get an authoritative sample (gotta love research based on the researchers' own feelings of what is representative data), there is a tenuous link between the structure of surveys of opinion (which have no guarantees of accuracy or truth) and that of cast votes, which are well-defined and specific. And identity based normalization is out of the question.

Andrew Preziosi Supporting Member of TMP05 Feb 2016 8:43 a.m. PST

I agree with JJ in the fact that we are indeed a "constitutional republic".

Many Americans really do not know or understand this facet of "our" particular democracy and it's a shame.

In short, we elect "leaders" who we hope will represent our thoughts, ideals and needs, not who are pledged to do as such.

kallman05 Feb 2016 8:46 a.m. PST

Yes JJ we may share a cell and I knew upon posting that I would be skirting the line if not crossing it. Regardless I felt it was poignant. Being a student of history and a fan of Mark Twain I often reflect on the quote attributed to the man,"History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme." I think we are seeing the rhyme taking place. Whether you want to compare the United States to Ancient Rome or only go back as far as the Gilded Age there is much here that should move people to demand better of their representatives.

tkdguy05 Feb 2016 9:49 a.m. PST

This gif seems relevant here:

Our economy explained with cookies


KTravlos Supporting Member of TMP05 Feb 2016 10:49 a.m. PST

"democracy, but rather a constitutional republic."

Germany is a Res-publica since the Basic Laws are not amendable by any majority. The USA was never a de-jure Res-publica, whatever a minority of Founders wrote, since all the crucial constitutional parts are amendable by a majority. If majority rules you are a democracy. Period.

If law rules, i.e you cannot change the law however many want to , you are a republic. Although the more correct term would be necro-cracy, as the dead rule you (they established those rules, and you cannot amend them).

And by the actual rules of the game as written in the manuals (i.e constitutions), the US is a democracy much more than Germany is (in which even if 99.9% of Germans wanted to amend the Basic Law they cannot in any legal way. They would have to nullify the constitution and start from scratch).

Though to be frank all of this is classical liberal hogwash. The etymology of the words republic and democracy is the same. Res-Publica= Rule of the Public, Demo-kratia= Rule of the Demos (i.e public). Beyond that fact that there is not such a thing as a regime that does not implicitly require at least the sullen tolerance of the majority to function. So even things like monarchy and oligrachies are oxymorons.

The question is better stated in terms of size of selectorates and the minimum size of the winning coalition one needs to have within a selectorate in order to rule (

Has the US selectorate shrunk (i.e fewer people choose who shall fill in the position of power in the government)? Has the minimum size of the winning coalition gone under 51% of the selectorate (a characteristic of authoritarian regimes is that they only need 20-30% of the selectorate to support them to hold power, usually due to cross-cutting divisions)? That is where to seek answers.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP05 Feb 2016 2:17 p.m. PST

tdkyguy: That's not how any economy works, because the picture is based solely on the idea of a static supply of resources/wealth. There is no provision in the gif for the production of or introduction of new cookies, or, for that matter, a different kind of cookie, or cupcakes, or fruit pies. The concept that an economy is based on the shuffling of static finite resources is a false one, which any examination of history clearly proves. A better gif for our current world situation would depict the middle guy delightedly making new cookies, cakes, etc., the lefthand guy whining that he doesn't have any cookies or cakes, and the righthand guy berating the middle guy, snatching most of the middle guy's cookies, and tossing one back over to the lefthand guy, who promptly smashes it and then continues to whine that he doesn't have any.

As for the OP, "oligarchy" is too broad a term, as it can encompass both the reprrsentative democratic republic structure, where elective power resides in the people as a whole but effectual power resides in the elected, and a structure such as communist China, where no actual power resides in the people, with effectual power being among the ruling few. Both are, in a technocal sense "oligarchies," but both are two very different creatures indeed.

kallman05 Feb 2016 3:20 p.m. PST

Wow! This is a wonderful discussion. Please continue. thumbs up
BTW love the gif but Parzival makes a correct statement about the economics.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP05 Feb 2016 4:37 p.m. PST

Democracy only ever became a common form of government because the people who helped pave the road were educated in the classics and held the belief that everything of the Ancients was perfection immaculate. The Athenians had democracy, therefore it it was pure and noble and everyone should have it.

zoneofcontrol Inactive Member05 Feb 2016 6:26 p.m. PST

The only thing I can add to Parzival's description is that sometime the guy on the right impedes or prevents the guy in the middle from making cookies, cakes, pies, etc.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP05 Feb 2016 7:24 p.m. PST

Democracy only ever became a common form of government because the people who helped pave the road were educated in the classics and held the belief that everything of the Ancients was perfection immaculate. The Athenians had democracy, therefore it it was pure and noble and everyone should have it.

No. It was because they'd read John Locke and believed in the concepts of Natural Law, liberty, and innate rights.
Western democracy is rarely the democracy of Athens. In the democracy of Athens, if the majority wanted to kill Socrates, Socrates was killed. No one who developed Western democracy liked that; in fact, fear of "mob rule" was a primary concern. In America, this produced the concept of representative democracy and limited enumerated government powers. These men were not guileless fools, blindly following the ancients because they were ancient and had nice looking statuary. In fact, these men didn't even go for full enfranchisement of all adults, or even all adult males, or even all adults of European ancestry, but rather adult men of property (essentially believing, probably correctly, that men who own property, be it lands or material, will in their own self-interest be inclined to preserve the property of others). But even with this, they developed a system that (hopefully) denied the abuses of the majority and the whims of the electorate from dominating the system, placing the final details and decisionmaking of law in the hands of a representative few. Furthermore, these few were divided into four distinctive sources of power and motivation as well as areas of intended control:
1.) The House of Representatives: Directly elected by the population and determined in number by population, this was the "democracy" part of the republic. This is where the direct power of the people was to reside, with their current and immediate concerns being voiced and constructed into potential law. With a two-year term for the representatives, this naturally gave voice to public whim, because who knows? The people might be right!
2.) The Senate: as originally intended, this body was selected by the state governments, equally apportioned. This was to represent the will of the states themselves as semi-autonomous governing bodies, as well as to provide for the regional interest of less populous regions, preventing heavily populated cities from dominating rural areas. Also, as a six-year, off-set term election cycle, this body would be more stable and less given to popular whim.
3.) The Presidency: Elected by the people, but through delegates apportioned by population and state and (presumably) selected from respected and accomplished citizens, this was intended to combine both the popular will and the (theoretically) more controlled will of the delegates. This reflects the duty of the President to represent both the people and the union of the states to each other and the international community. Of note is the oath of office, which specifically and unequivocally states that the duty of the President is to the Constitution, that is The Law, and not to either popular whim nor regional or state desires.
4.) The Judiciary: Appointed by the President (in certain levels) or by Congress (at others) and approved by the Senate in the former case, this body is intentionally removed from popular whim and electoral effects. Again, this body is about Law and Justice, not political desires.

Whether you agree that all of the above currently serve the original intent, or that the original intent was in fact the correct one, it is so obviously NOT Athenian democracy as to make any close comparison bluntly absurd.

Andrew Preziosi Supporting Member of TMP06 Feb 2016 1:49 a.m. PST

Very well stated, Parzival.

You might want to pass your discourse on to those same people, they could use a reminder. wink

Personal logo Volstagg Vanir Supporting Member of TMP06 Feb 2016 3:00 a.m. PST

I was not sure where else to post this

That would (generally speaking) be the Blue Fezz:
(TMP's sister-site of manly-men and and unrepentant rapscallions)
Pity, as this will likely disappear at some point,
and it's a better-than-average exchange.

Terrement Supporting Member of TMP06 Feb 2016 4:47 a.m. PST

My experience from the past on BF, though can't speak for the present as I am no longer there is that it already has been discussed here far better than it would there and well before now it would have deteriorated into personal attacks, baiting question, lies and general acrimony.

If it is better now than then I'll happily be corrected but hope this discussion continues as it has to this point,


Andrew Preziosi Supporting Member of TMP06 Feb 2016 6:24 a.m. PST

Agreed. I was worried the discussion would devolve, so far, so good though.

I hope it continues on this higher path.

kallman06 Feb 2016 9:26 a.m. PST

Kudos to Parzival who clearly was paying attention in civics and demonstrates he is a scholarl. As stated the founding fathers were heavily influenced by Locke. While yes many of the icons that formed the nation drew heavily upon classical models these were thoughtful and dare I say enlightened men. They also in the creation of the framework of the Constitution and the separation of powers understood that government would need to evolve to be responsive to the people. It was and still is an imperfect union.

Now with that stated are we approaching a time where that framework and the Constitution is being tested? Most certainly.

KTravlos Supporting Member of TMP06 Feb 2016 12:26 p.m. PST

Just a note of caution. The word Founders is all good and nice, but the Founders were very divided on the question of government, and the constitution was not welcome by all of them. Also each and every Founder had their own ideas about what the US should look like, and what they thought they got in the constitution. Suffice to say that Hamilton in the end was the more spot on (A person I deeply admire).

Also, the Constitution has been tested tens of times in American history, from the get-go. No reason that this is any more special than the 1790s, 1830s, 1850s, 1860s, 1870s, 1890s, 1910s,1920s, 1930s,1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s,1980s.

A lot of talk of Ancient Greece, but Rome was more of an inspiration. They avoided the clerocracy of Ancient Athens like the plague. A mistake in my view.

And I will repeat, If they wanted to make a uber-conservative constitution they would had made it un-amendable like Germany, or the Dutch, old Swiss, Genovese, or Venetian Republican Constitutions. The majority of the Founders were "democracts" in that they decided the people should be the "ultimo ratio" in the state. Some of them thought they were making a necrocarcy or what many libertarians mean by the word "republic", but most of them were very cognizant that the majority would have the power.If they were not, we would not be able to amend it.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP08 Feb 2016 4:47 p.m. PST

Interesting point on the concept of the "necrocracy." I prefer to call it the concept of perpetuity, which is that if law is not in some way permanent, then society cannot be stable and the result is inevitably chaos. Consider this: every (stable) society has laws against murder. How old are these laws? Are any of these laws recent, as in crafted or enacted during the lifetime of any portion of the living populace? No. Yet we still hold that they apply, though we have taken no formal governmental action or societal agreement to so state or reenact those laws. Though created by those long dead, we universally agree that they exist and that they cover our societies today. We may change the details of consequence or level of egregiousness, but at no point do we say, "somebody wrote that down hundreds or thousands of years before we even existed, so they don't apply to us." And we should all be very grateful that we don't say this, that we in effect agree that the will of the long dead lives on and should live on, applying to us as firmly as it did in the past. Of such agreement is civilization built, and all but the pathetically foolish acknowledge this necessity.
Indeed, the concept of perpetuity, or the permanence of law, is fundamentally essential to economic activity and growth and yes, liberty. That for example ownership does not vanish with death, but has a legal process of transference, is absolutely essential to a stable society, as surely as the concept of ownership-- that is, "property"-- itself. The tacit agreement that that which is not physically part of an individual can nevertheless be considered to be subject solely to that individual's use or control, is fundamental to the existence of society, and it may well be that in truth the basic purpose of the state is nothing less than the preservation of this concept. Thus, the wisdom of those long dead-- the first to say, "this is mine and that is yours" and to so achieve agreement-- is the bedrock of human progress. We abandon the wisdom of the dead at our own folly.

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