Practical Democracy: Obstacles

The realities of life, particularly our economic needs, tend to distract us from serious thought about public concerns. These circumstances have allowed the political infrastructure in the United States to gradually deteriorate until, as Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page1 conclude: America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened. One of their striking findings is:

"... the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

These results should not be surprising. Justice Louis Brandeis is quoted as saying 2: We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.

Organized political power and concentrated wealth feed off each other. The political process in the United States epitomizes this relationship. If we wish to change our entrenched system, we should start by heeding John Dewey's guidance3:

The old saying that the cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy is not apt if it means that the evils may be remedied by introducing more machinery of the same kind as that which already exists, or by refining and perfecting that machinery.

Creating new machinery that differs from existing machinery in important ways requires an understanding of the flaws in the existing machinery.