America – Oligarchy or Democracy?

Recently, former President Jimmy Carter said that he felt the United States had become an oligarchy.  That sentiment can’t be brushed off as the emotionalism of a liberal.  Well-respected institutions like Princeton University, as well as progressive organizations such as, have also put forth that idea.

The Princeton effort is particularly germane to this discussion.  In April 2014, two researchers, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, published a study that concluded that the United States had become an oligarchy, rather than continuing to be a democracy. defines oligarchy as

a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people, and / or: the people that control a country, business, etc.

Gilens and Page investigated over 1,800 policy initiatives taken during the time frame 1981 to 2002 by the Federal government.  Here’s how they summed up their work.

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.

Gilens and Page make clear that this less-than-encouraging characteristic is nothing new.  Rather, it’s the cumulative effect of a trend stretching back to the 1980s. They summarize the trend this way.

Ordinary citizens might be observed to win [only] if [the] elites with whom they often agree ... prevail.

Not too long ago, in this space, I urged everyone reading my post to vote, in every election at every level of government.  The oligarchy vs. democracy conundrum is yet another reason to do so.


To submit a blog to Union Matters, e-mail it to Keep it to 250 words or fewer. You MUST include your full name, hometown, and state. You may attach a photograph of yourself. Please include a phone number. This WILL NOT be published. Posting any given blog is within the discretion of the USW. No blog using foul language (this is a family site), false information (we don’t want to get sued), or unnecessary personal attacks (again, we don’t want to get sued) will be used. Wait a reasonable period of time, then blog again!