Friday, July 19, 2019

System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics — Anthony DiMaggio

The Democratic primary season is upon us, and the party’s candidate list is a useful starting point for assessing the impact of affluence on American politics. Classic works by sociologists of decades past, including C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff, posited that U.S. political institutions were captured by elite economic actors, who seek to enhance their own material positions at the expense of the many....
"Class" is a technical term in sociology. It is synonymous with "social class" and "socio-economic class, and it denotes the social stratification of a group, usually a society based on cultural and institutional arrangements that are generally a combination of formal and informal. Characteristic of each class as a set of individuals is a level of status, power and wealth.

It is useful to think of a society in terms of a system of networks and their relations. The "upper class" especially is usually identified by certain characteristics that are relevant to status, power, and wealth, such as family background, educational background and career. The top tier is a much more closely knit network that lower classes and the top tier lives in a completely different environment from the lower tiers. In some cases the structure is rigid with little social mobility, such as the aristocratic and caste system based on birth. There is much more social mobility in liberal societies than in traditional ones.

Why is network a good way to consider the concept of class? "Network" emphasizes connections and inter-communication. Class is often thought of more in terms of aggregates. While it is true that a the lower rungs of society, class does exhibit the characteristics of aggregates, where connects are few and scattered, the top tier is "well-connected," and it is these connections that giver the upper class its social, political and economic power and influence.

The common characteristic of the "upper class" is that it constitutes a ruling elite, if not directly providing the bulk of the leadership, at least choosing it and to some extent controlling it. This constitutes the political organization called "oligarchy," literally the rule of the few. In liberal societies the characteristic of oligarchies is plutonomy, literally governance based wealth.

Anthony DiMaggio asserts that this is due to state capture. I would not disagree with in my view it is not so much a matter of "capture" in a concerted and intentional sense, since it is the historical norm. New members come, old members go. The structure remains mostly the same, although it changes appearance owing to historical and geographical conditions that affect culture and institutions. If there was capture, and there seems to have been historically based on comparison with the more egalitarian social structure of so-called primitive societies, it happened ages ago through what Marx called primitive accumulation, e.g., of taking control of land. Historians, sociologists, political theorists and philosophers have investigated this and speculated about. While primitive accumulation continues to some degree, the patterns were established during the transition from hunter-gather societies to agricultural ones.

The top tier assumes and asserts that there was really no capture "back then," and there is no capture now; it is the natural state for the stronger and more  competent to rule since they can use resources more efficiently and effectively. Recall John Locke's just-so tale of private property arising from mixing land with use. So what may look like "capture" was really just a natural concentration of "human capital" based on initiative and ability. Lower tiers are either convinced by this line of reasoning — or not. At any rate, pretty much the same process repeats under different cultural garb geographically and across time, in spite of the occasional revolution, since revolutionary change is soon co-opted by a newly emergent elite.

This post is a summary of studies and polls about the contemporary US, which the author then relates to the contemporary Democratic Party. The GOP has already decided on renominating a sitting president that is a billionaire whose record is one of favoring the upper class based on "trickle down." The GOP base seems to buy this.

His conclusion:
Early polling data suggests that Democratic partisans have continued to elevate neoliberal “electable” Dems when it comes to the highest office in the land, although progressive candidates are gaining ground. Pollingfrom mid-July of this year reveals that Joe Biden leads all candidates, with 32 percent support. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not far behind, each polling at 19 and 14 percent respectively, while Kamala Harris stands at 13 percent support. These results suggest that there is a real struggle among Democratic partisans to determine the future direction of the party, with the top four candidates as of mid-2019 split between establishment neoliberals on the one hand, and New Dealer-style liberal-progressive reformers on the other. Whoever prevails in the primaries, one thing appears clear. Should a neoliberal candidate win the 2020 nomination, there is little reason to expect a reverse in the status quo-elitism of the Democratic Party.
System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics
Anthony DiMaggio | Assistant Professor of Political Science, Lehigh University, and author of The Politics of Persuasion: Economic Policy and Media Bias in the Modern Era, and Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11

1 comment:

Kaivey said...

I have somewhere on my phone an article which says how many people anong the working and middle classes genuinely look up to the the ruling class seeing them as superior deserving to rule. They tend to be conservatives.