Of 1%, By 1% & For 1%: Is Hunger Games Just a Hollywood Movie?

According to Oxfarm, the global 1% will soon own most of the planet’s wealth & look around globally, oppression and suppression is everywhere. And many say, many countries, from Palestine, Syria to even South Africa, many look like the world in the film, Hunger Games. Hunger Games, is basically, a movie, about how the 1% remain in control, of a world that it oppresses & suppresses.

The first article below, looks at Oxfarm report on the 1%, then the next article is on the cordial relationship between global elites, at Davos & Dictatorship, then the next article is on the the military–industrial complex, the next article is on the Political Message of Hunger Games, and the last article on how a study finds that US is an oligarchy. All, the articles I mentioned, can help one understand, the 1% and the new global “Hunger Games.”

1) Oxfarm 

Source: In 2015, the rich are still getting richer and the poor are still getting poorer. This is the conclusion of a new report on inequality produced by Oxfam and based on data compiled by Credit Suisse. The report confirms that the richest 1% of the world’s population now collectively own 48% of all the wealth of the planet. By 2016, based on current trends, they will have over half – that is, more than the other 99% of us have put together.

The 80 top billionaires of the world now possess $1.9 trillion dollars between them, a sum equal to the total combined wealth of the world’s poorest half of the population. Despite the world economic crisis, the wealth of these billionaires has gone up by 50% in just four years, giving them a massive $600 billion dollars extra to play with. It does not stop there. The richest 20% of the world’s population own 52% of the wealth not already grabbed by the top 1%.

Should this surprise us? In Capital, Marx explained how as capitalism developed and degenerated there would be a process of accumulation by which the rich few would suck up evermore amounts of cash and assets, all at our expense. As Marx noted, “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery at the opposite pole.” The Oxfam report confirms Marx’s analysis and notes that the remaining 80% of the world has to make do with just 5.5% of the world’s wealth. The assets of this 80% averages out at just £2,544 per adult, whereas the top 1%, the super-rich, enjoy £1.68 million each on average.

2) Davos & Dictatorship

Days before the last Davos (World Economic Forum) meet, of the global leader elite, Oxfare said the global top 1% rich elite was to own most of the global wealth. Attended apart from global economic and business leaders, were government leaders. One leader was Egypt’s leader, Sisi, who gave a speech, and received a standing ovation. Months after that standing ovation at Davos, money started to flow into Egypt.

Source: A few days ago, the Egyptian regime announced it was prosecuting witnesses who say they saw a police officer murder an unarmed poet and activist during a demonstration, the latest in a long line of brutal human rights abuses that includes imprisoning journalists, prosecuting LGBT citizens, and mass executions of protesters. Last June, Human Rights Watch said that Egyptian “security forces have carried out mass arrests and torture that harken back to the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.” Today, the White House announced that during a telephone call with Egyptian despot Abdelfattah al-Sisi, President Obama personally lifted the freeze on transferring weapons to the regime, and also affirmed that the $1.3 billion in military aid will continue unimpeded.

3) The military–industrial complex

from the Wikipedia

The military–industrial complex, or military–industrial–congressional complex,[1] comprises the policy and monetary relationships which exist between legislators, national armed forces, and the arms industry that supports them. These relationships include political contributions, political approval for military spending, lobbying to support bureaucracies, and oversight of the industry. It is a type of iron triangle. The term is most often used in reference to the system behind the military of the United States, where it gained popularity after its use in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961,[2] though the term is applicable to any country with a similarly developed infrastructure.[3][4]

The term is sometimes used more broadly to include the entire network of contracts and flows of money and resources among individuals as well as corporations and institutions of the defense contractors, The Pentagon, the Congress and executive branch.[5]

A similar thesis was originally expressed by Daniel Guérin, in his 1936 book Fascism and Big Business, about the fascist government support to heavy industry. It can be defined as, “an informal and changing coalition of groups with vested psychological, moral, and material interests in the continuous development and maintenance of high levels of weaponry, in preservation of colonial markets and in military-strategic conceptions of internal affairs.”[6] An exhibit of the trend was made in Franz Leopold Neumann‘s book Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism in 1942, a study of how Nazism came into a position of power in a democratic state.

As Saudi Arabia continues U.S.-backed strikes in Yemen and Washington lifts its freeze on military to aid to Egypt, new figures show President Obama has overseen a major increase in weapons sales since taking office. The majority of weapons exports under Obama have gone to the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia tops the list at $46 billion in new agreements. We are joined by William Hartung, who says that even after adjusting for inflation, “the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion.

Source: In 2015, the rich are still getting richer and the poor are still getting poorer. This is the conclusion of a new report on inequality produced by Oxfam and based on data compiled by Credit Suisse. The report confirms that the richest 1% of the world’s population now collectively own 48% of all the wealth of the planet. By 2016, based on current trends, they will have over half – that is, more than the other 99% of us have put together.

The 80 top billionaires of the world now possess $1.9 trillion dollars between them, a sum equal to the total combined wealth of the world’s poorest half of the population. Despite the world economic crisis, the wealth of these billionaires has gone up by 50% in just four years, giving them a massive $600 billion dollars extra to play with. It does not stop there. The richest 20% of the world’s population own 52% of the wealth not already grabbed by the top 1%.

Should this surprise us? In Capital, Marx explained how as capitalism developed and degenerated there would be a process of accumulation by which the rich few would suck up evermore amounts of cash and assets, all at our expense. As Marx noted, “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery at the opposite pole.” The Oxfam report confirms Marx’s analysis and notes that the remaining 80% of the world has to make do with just 5.5% of the world’s wealth. The assets of this 80% averages out at just £2,544 per adult, whereas the top 1%, the super-rich, enjoy £1.68 million each on average.

4) The Political Message of Hunger Games 

Source: The political commentary of The Hunger Games is made even more accessible to us as it links future, past and present in one big bowl. It is open to contextualisation. The world of The Hunger Games is much more like ours than any other young-adult literary sensational books or films, like Harry Potter or Twilight. In those, you always had a touch of surreal, of magic and of fantasy. In The Hunger Games, while some elements are a little fantastical, they are all developed through technology and can find believable explanations that can make them potentially real. The conception of the arena and its dangers, the weapons, the different machines…all are very futuristic but not too unreal. Thus we can see a direct relationship with the real world, which makes the story even scarier and the criticism fiercer.

Democracy needs to eradicate tyranny and take over: this is a very easy and very simplistic interpretation of the plot, definitely lacking in reflection and failing to consider all aspects of the work. Democracy is never presented in the book as a model to follow. Collins goes beyond the simplistic and is not afraid to show the limits of that thinking. She addresses today’s people, those in power right now and the present population. In fact, she addresses the readers directly when she completely discredits our democratic system. Look at this dialogue for instance:

“Everyone,” Plutarch tells him. “We’re going to form a republic where the people of each district and the Capitol can elect their own representatives to be their voice in a centralized government. Don’t look so suspicious; it’s worked before.”

“In books,” Haymitch mutters.

“In history books,” says Plutarch. “And if our ancestors could do it, then we can, too.”

Frankly, our ancestors don’t seem much to brag about. I mean, look at the state they left us in, with the wars and the broken planet. Clearly, they didn’t care about what would happen to the people who came after them. But this republic idea sounds like an improvement over our current government.

The ancestors are actually us, and as Collins says, we don’t have much to brag about between the wars going on right now, the remaining social inequalities and the environmental crisis. Here, she shows the future repercussions of our present actions and asks the reader to reconsider his own actions and help prevent the extinction of our planet. Through the fact that they don’t even trust the republic system to be efficient, Collins points out the limits of our political thinking and of the measures taken so far. That said, she doesn’t completely dismiss the idea either, but registers it only as an ‘improvement’ over tyrannical power and dictatorship. Even the rebellion doesn’t inspire trust and Katniss is very aware of their own manipulations. Their leader, Coin, seems too much like the Capitol’s president, Snow. If rebellion is also limited, then what is the solution? Collins doesn’t give one as every system has its flaws. She doesn’t tie her work to any political camp or alliance. As Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University states: ‘The Hunger Games’ has this feeling of being contemporary and political but without being really clear what its politics are”.

So the author doesn’t give much of a political solution, yet she encourages the human side to take over. To be and to think more like a human to protect those you love and share among a community. Not much to build a new political system in Panem, true, and the trilogy doesn’t really finish on a happy ending note where the new president is actually the best leader the districts ever had and everyone lives happily ever after. Collins doesn’t give a political solution because it is impossible to create the perfect system. It is an utopia. Her message is more plausible and, even if it will take a lot of time and work, achievable because it concentrates on a global human effort. We need to deal with our flaws one by one, on the political, social and environmental sides.

Some actors in the film have expressed their own political understanding of the book. Donald Sutherland (President Snow) believes in its power to change our politics today and sees in the films the same potential as The Battle of Algiers, a film about the organisation of a rebellious movement during the Algerian War in 1966 and that has been source of inspiration for insurgent groups :

“Hopefully they will see this film and the next film and the next film and then maybe organize,” Sutherland said. “Stand up. They might create a third party. They might change the electoral process, they might be able to take over the government, change the tax system.”

Jeffrey Rights, who plays Betee in the films, is more neutral and praises the series’ openness to interpretations. “It’s welcoming of the entire political spectrum,” he told the website Hypable.

“Some people look at these stories and take a 1% versus the 99% perspective, which can be read something as a left-leaning perspective. I think others look at this and they view it from a more right-leaning perspective as a condemnation of government. Others may look at is as a validation of a need for strong allegiance to the 2nd Amendment. So it’s non-discriminatory, it’s nonpartisan.”

President Snow’s political structure is all based on supreme authority, government overreach and sadistic entertainment to satisfy the Capitol’s and his own thirst for violence. Control is the key word, whether it is through the repression of any rebellious movement (even peaceful protests) by the state police, the Stormtroopers, or through constant TV recording. His tight control of everything that happens in Panem gives him exclusive authority and security. He made himself the strongest and forced people to bow to his games and enjoy his form of entertainment. Thus he embodies all the tyrants and dictators that have lived in their most extreme brutality. Yet he also stands for more. He believes that ‘even the strongest cannot overcome the Capitol’ and warns Katniss against the rebellion’s intentions. Is this just blind faith in his own authority and the strength of his political system, or is he suggesting that whether he lives or dies, nothing will change? That someone as thirsty for power and abusive will replace him, and that the whole system is inescapable? Probably a bit of both.

War is on everyone’s lips, especially in the third book where a civil war takes place, a rebellion from the people against the Capitol’s tyrannical authority. Collins said herself : “I don’t write about adolescence. I write about war. For adolescents.” She specifies the major theme of her books and the target she wants to reach – teenagers, to prepare them for their coming of age. In Plutarch’s words, war is something humans carry within themselves, nurtured by this self-destructive impulse and this constant need to unleash violence, thus it is doomed to repeat.

“Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?” I ask.

“Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,” he says. “But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss.”

Plutarch’s words are not very comforting or encouraging but they are true. Still, he holds on to the little hope that it might end because hope springs eternal. Because Collins doesn’t want to make everything bleak. Hope is needed to shake people and is feared by president Snow: “A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. Hope is fine, as long as it’s contained.” By Catching Fire, he’s modified his stance: “Fear does not work when there is hope.” So again the idea of hope and the collective are presented as the baby steps towards freedom. Free from fear and oppression. At least for a while.

5) Real World Political Repression 

Political repression is the persecution of an individual or group for political reasons, particularly for the purpose of restricting or preventing their ability to take part in the political life of a society.

Political repression is sometimes used synonymously with the term political discrimination (also known as politicism). It often is manifested through discriminatory policies, such ashuman rights violations, surveillance abuse, police brutality, imprisonment, involuntary settlement, stripping of citizen’s rights, lustration and violent action or terror such as the murder, summary executions, torture, forced disappearance and other extrajudicial punishment of political activists, dissidents, or general population.

Where political repression is sanctioned and organised by the state, it may constitute state terrorism, genocide, politicide or crimes against humanity. Systemic and violent political repression is a typical feature of dictatorships, totalitarian states and similar regimes. Acts of political repression may be carried out by secret police forces, army, paramilitarygroups or death squads. Repressive activities have also been found within democratic contexts as well. This can even include setting up situations where the death of the target of repression is the end result.

6) Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

 BY JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ

Source: Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Economists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role—for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12 percent.

But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.

When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

7) Study finds that US is an oligarchy

By

Jerome Roos is a PhD candidate in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine.

Source: It’s not every day that an academic article in the arcane world of American political science makes headlines around the world, but then again, these aren’t normal days either. On Wednesday, various mainstream media outlets — including even the conservative British daily The Telegraph — ran a series of articles with essentially the same title: “Study finds that US is an oligarchy.” Or, as the Washington Post summed up: “Rich people rule!” The paper, according to the review in the Post, “should reshape how we think about American democracy.”

The conclusion sounds like it could have come straight out of a general assembly or drum circle at Zuccotti Park, but the authors of the paper in question — two Professors of Politics at Princeton and Northwestern University — aren’t quite of the radical dreadlocked variety. No, like Piketty’s book, this article is real “science”. It’s even got numbers in it! Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University took a dataset of 1,779 policy issues, ran a bunch of regressions, and basically found that the United States is not a democracy after all:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

The findings, of course, are both very interesting and very obvious. What Gilens and Page claim to have empirically demonstrated is that policy outcomes by and large favor the interests of business and the wealthiest segment of the population, while the preferences of the vast majority of Americans are of little to no consequence for policy outcomes. As the authors show, this new data backs up the conclusions of a number of long-forgotten studies from the 1950s and 1960s — not least the landmark contributions by C.W. Mills and Ralph Miliband— that tried to debunk the assertion of mainstream pluralist scholars that no single interest group dominates US policymaking.

But while Gilens and Page’s study will undoubtedly be considered a milestone in the study of business power, there’s also a risk in focusing too narrowly on the elites and their interest groups themselves; namely the risk of losing sight of the broader set of social relations and institutional arrangements in which they are embedded. What I am referring to, of course, is the dreaded C-word: capitalism — a term that appears only once in the main body of Gilens and Page’s text, in a superficial reference to The Communist Manifesto, whose claims are quickly dismissed as empirically untestable. How can you talk about oligarchy and economic elites without talking about capitalism?

What’s missing from the analysis is therefore precisely what was missing from C.W. Mills’ and Miliband’s studies: an account of the nature of the capitalist state as such. By branding the US political system an “oligarchy”, the authors conveniently sidestep an even thornier question: what if oligarchy, as opposed to democracy, is actually the natural political form in capitalist society? What if the capitalist state is by its very definition an oligarchic form of domination? If that’s the case, the authors have merely proved the obvious: that the United States is a thoroughly capitalist society. Congratulations for figuring that one out! They should have just called a spade a spade.

That, of course, wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows. But it’s worth noting that this was precisely the critique that Nicos Poulantzas leveled at Ralph Miliband in the New Left Review in the early 1970s — and it doesn’t take an Althusserian structuralist to see that he had a point. Miliband’s study of capitalist elites, Poulantzas showed, was very useful for debunking pluralist illusions about the democratic nature of US politics, but by focusing narrowly on elite preferences and the “instrumental” use of political and economic resources to influence policy, Miliband’s empiricism ceded way too much methodological ground to “bourgeois” political science. By trying to painstakingly prove the existence of a causal relationship between instrumental elite behavior and policy outcomes, Miliband ended up missing the bigger picture: the class-bias inherent in the capitalist state itself, irrespective of who occupies it.

These methodological and theoretical limitations have consequences that extend far beyond the academic debate: at the end of the day, these are politicalquestions. The way we perceive business power and define the capitalist state will inevitably have serious implications for our political strategies. The danger with empirical studies that narrowly emphasize the role of elites at the expense of the deeper structural sources of capitalist power is that they will end up reinforcing the illusion that simply replacing the elites and “taking money out of politics” would be sufficient to restore democracy to its past glory. That, of course, would be profoundly misleading. If we are serious about unseating the oligarchs from power, let’s make sure not to get carried away by the numbers and not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Jerome Roos is a PhD candidate in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine.

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