Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton Studies in Political Behavior)
a book by Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels
(our site's book review)
"Democracy for Realists, by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, shows that however cynical you are about the democratic process, it's worse than you think. All the flaws in cognition that psychologists have been teaching for decades make a mockery of the folk theory that democracy produces responsive governments."—Steven Pinker, of the Harvard Crimson
"Democracy for Realists is the single most important treatise on American democracy published in several decades. Achen and Bartels challenge just about every existing school of thought about electoral politics, policymaking, and government performance. They do not conclude with a counsel of despair for the future of American democracy, but they give no quarter to any notion that responsive government is possible without a more responsible citizenry."—John DiIulio, University of Pennsylvania
Citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided; here Blue and Red fight as a distraction so we overlook the oligarchs that are picking our pockets; note: no one is steering the ship
The pushmi-pullyu: a perfect symbol of U.S. political gridlock
Democracy for Realists assails the romantic folk-theory at the heart of contemporary thinking about democratic politics and government, and offers a provocative alternative view grounded in the actual human nature of democratic citizens. The authors deploy a wealth of social-scientific evidence to show that the familiar ideal of thoughtful citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided. They demonstrate that voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. So voters do not control the course of public policy, even indirectly, nor do they steer the ship via votes. Steering currently is done by highly powerful, well-placed neocons in the shadow government. See Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market.
How do you take wealth from a rich, powerful oligarch? The same way you take a banana from a 900-pound gorilla—very carefully!
But Achen and Bartels have a better idea. Since responsive government is not possible without a more responsible citizenry, they offer a provocative alternative view grounded in the actual human nature of democratic citizens. (See The Responsive Communitarian Platform.) Romantic theories of how we wish things were or how things are "supposed" to be just will not do if our democracy is ever to be worthy of the name. We do not currently have a democracy, but the authors push us in wiser directions that ought to work better. (See Democracy—an American Delusion.) The problem is that the corporatocracy elites that are making out like bandits using the middle class for a cash cow do not want to change anything as wealth is veritably sailing into their pockets and they are adamantly opposed to change since any change would mean less for them, and if there is one eternal verity in operation here it is greed. So how do you take wealth from a rich, powerful oligarch? The same way you take a banana from a 900-pound gorilla—very carefully!
The corporatocracy elites that are making out like bandits using the middle class for a cash cow do not want to change anything as wealth is veritably sailing into their pockets
The folk theory referenced in this tome is that elections are based on issue voting, which can reveal the preferences of a majority of voters on a set of issues. And each political party is represented by a platform reflecting the policy it will enact if elected. The authors, however, demonstrate that voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. True. But this assumes it matters what politicians say and which one we vote for.
Okay, let's stop it there. In what universe do politicians keep their promises? In what universe are the promises even relevant to what the candidate does after he is elected? In elections for Congressional officials, there is a bit of relevancy, to be sure, but with Presidents, any correlation between what he promises and what he does is strictly coincidental.
In what universe do politicians keep their promises?
Republicans went crazy, Democrats became useless, and the Middle Class got shafted (or is it Trumped?)
In The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, we discuss how both parties are wasting the nation’s treasure on divisive foreign wars and stomping on the Constitution by accepting, under Obama, the expansion of Bush-era executive powers to monitor, torture, detain or even assassinate people without charge. The effect of both parties selling out to the corporatocracy was that banks, military contractors, and drug and energy companies had secured the subsidies, tax structure and foreign policies they desired so they resisted change at all cost, and the gridlock was cemented gleefully into place. The Republicans and Democrats worked together to sell out the middle class.
The Republicans and Democrats worked together to sell out the middle class; so who, then, has OUR backs?
Note that neither party platform contained the above realities that actually occurred. Obama ran on getting us out of wars, stopping torture, raising taxes on the rich, closing Guantanamo Bay detention center, etc. But he not only didn't keep promises, he made Bush policies worse. It isn't what he wanted—it's what the neocons in the shadow government wanted, and they got just what they wanted. Obama's campaign platform was irrelevant. So unless we can halt the de facto running of the government by the shadow government, elections are a fraud, a scam, a pose, a facade, a cover story, and a joke. Even if Romney had won, the same things would have happened, so what good did the election do? There was absolutely no way that voters could vote to change our military policies, our economic policies, our foreign policies, or our other policies. Elections were invented so voters could vote to change things, but the corporatocracy and the shadow government are forcing both parties to act the same, so one wonders if Achen and Bartels' book is relevant or meaningful since intentions don't lead to actualities anymore than theories lead to reconceptualizing which leads to restructuring which leads to revamping which leads to changing how things work which in turn lets voters' wills be respected and government becomes of, by, and for THE PEOPLE. This last is the sticking point: regardless of who gets elected or what they promise or what the public wants, their voices are irrelevant. It's the shadow government that is in control.
It's the shadow government that is in control
Having said this, the question then becomes: What is there in Achen and Bartels' book that allows the will of the people to even be heard, much less be stronger than shadow government and corporatocracy elites so the will of the people gets actualized? If nothing in the book is a well-documented plan for the will of the people to overpower the elites and dominate the political process, then trying to successfully apply the book to reality and get a meaningful result will be like squeezing blood from a rock.
Unless overpowering elites is solved, applying the book to reality and getting a meaningful result will be like squeezing blood from a rock
There is no chance the elites will allow these guys to derail their gravy train, however great the authors' reforms are
The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted had a simple solution to fixing politics: replacing the current system with a publicly funded campaign system. But the elites would never let this happen, and they're in charge. In Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, the "solution" given is a comprehensive analysis that lays the foundation for a discussion of necessary reforms and how they can be achieved, and the implementing of said reforms once figured out is thereby the solution. We get it—they generate better theories and "someone" translates these into pragmatic policies and "someone else" figures out how to implement them. We can see why they say academics operate from their ivory towers. However, Professor Ottoline Leyser, Director of the University of Cambridge’s Sainsbury Laboratory, addressed the question of why academics, who often operate within an "ivory tower," should engage with government. In her experience, leaving the ivory tower and talking to policy makers and other academics is when the “really interesting” ideas are generated.
Academics ought to leave their ivory towers and engage with government, since our government is a mess
Remember the universal health insurance discussions when those in the know pushed single-payer methods that would end up better for the consumer but worse for Big Insurance and Big Pharma? (See Single-Payer FAQ.) If our Congressmen and Congresswomen represented the people rather than Big Insurance and Big Pharma, we'd have gotten a system that was very pro-consumer. But they don't. And we didn't. So instead we got ObamaDon'tCare, which gave windfalls to—you guessed it—Big Insurance and Big Pharma, and many consumers got a raw deal and many are still not covered. What a surprise! See The Studies Are In, and Obamacare is Failing Miserably, from Mic.com, by Sam Dorman.
Big Pharma spreading "good health via medicine" across the land
So regardless of how the Achen and Bartels' solution tries to play out, one has to factor in who our Congresspeople are really representing—who they're working for. It ain't you, baby, nor us, nor the little old lady who lives down the lane. It's the Corporatocracy, pure and simple, which was true even before the disastrous Citizens United decision by the Supreme-in-their-own-minds-but-not-in-ours Court, but that evil decision rubber-stamped the matter and put the U.S. Corporatocracy firmly in the category of an oligarchy. We the people serve as the cash cows for the dominant oligarchy. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.)
The Supreme-in-their-own-minds-but-not-in-ours Court that crapped on our democracy with their disastrous Citizens United decision
In other words, no matter how we apply the authors' ideas to our political context, as soon as pragmatic applications evolve, the Corporatocracy giants will figure out ways to build in loopholes, workarounds, and ways to exploit the system, since in what universe are they going to let a couple of smart-ass academics come along and throw a monkey wrench into their perfectly functioning system? (Perfect for the Corporatocracy, abysmal for the people.) There is no chance the elites will allow these academics to derail the elites' Gravy Train.
Since the Corporatocracy prevails, democracy takes it on the chin
The book’s purpose is to convince American political scientists to stop drinking the Kool-Aid of nonviable economistic electoral theories that their profession has already served up for many decades. To an outsider, Achen and Bartels make a convincing case. But will they change the minds of insiders? After all, macroeconomists stayed faithful to their theories despite the 2008 global financial crash. Expecting change from a mere book might be too ambitious a hope for realists. In that case, isn't it just like the weather? Everybody talks about it but no one does anything about it. Perhaps the authors' book is merely high-class whimpering on a cosmic scale, or, worse, fighting over the deck chairs of the Titanic. The U.S. has incredibly serious problems and the nation is declining rapidly, thanks to the neocon takeover and the rule of greedy shadow government oligarchs. The time for talk is through and the time for action has been on us for decades. Nevertheless, the book's creative and innovative approach deserves serious consideration.
Perhaps the authors' book is merely high-class whimpering on a cosmic scale, or, worse, fighting over the deck chairs of the Titanic
“In our view, a realist theory of democracy must be founded on a realistic theory of political psychology. At present, nothing of that kind exists,” say the authors. They don’t pretend to have such a theory of political psychology themselves. In their opinion, it should be about group identity psychology.
In our opinion, there are two critical psychological issues that bear on the case, level of self-actualization and psychological awareness. With the latter, a more aware person can avoid being manipulated by having his buttons pushed by political ads, slogans, and speeches because he detects the manipulations and his awareness allows him to act consciously and not unconsciously, so he votes rationally. (Most of us are less aware and less rational and easy to manipulate.) Regarding level of self-actualization, a person can be at cause rather than at effect if his ability to see via being cognition isn't shortcircuited by the hangups he has which attempt to keep him at effect of his hangups. Hence, level of self-actualization and psychological awareness work together to empower consciousness so he can vote rationally. See Toward a Psychology of Being and The Adjusted American: Normal Neurosis in the Individual and Society and The Lonely Crowd and The Revolution Of Hope.
Of course, regardless if everyone was conscious and rational 24/7/365, in what universe does this force the oligarchs to undermine their power and wealth by allowing voters to govern so the government is of, for, and by the people? Why would they suddenly get guilty and moral and cooperate with us getting back a functioning democracy when they keep more power and wealth by obstructing democratic and political progress?
The oligarchs, shadow government, and the corporatocracy have a common denominator of greed. They don't act with generosity and compassion. Everything they do is for the bottom line and to please shareholders. How would it go over if they said sorry, the share value and profits will be down 36% in the future as we cooperate with a democratic and political restructuring and give the people power to begin forcing good environmental policies and other changes? The shareholders would fire the board and get more mercenary board members that would look out for their economic interests. Democracy and Corporatocracy are intrinsically and irreversibly incompatible and antagonistic. Everything Corporatocracy bigwigs do is for the bottom line and to please shareholders, and none of it is likely to ever be to cooperate with a democratic and political restructuring dreamed up in the recesses of an ivory tower.
Everything Corporatocracy bigwigs do is for the bottom line and to please shareholders, and none of it is likely to ever be to cooperate with a democratic and political restructuring
The authors say their book is about the conceptual limitations of human beings—including the authors of their book and its readers. We disagree, not because we don't all have conceptual limitations, but because it isn't a conceptual limitation at its core but a consciousness limitation that forces most people to be at effect of hangups that distort or abolish their rationality, while a small minority are at cause and they have no serious impediments to clear and rational thinking. Said individuals would have no serious conceptual limitations about voting, policies, and candidate evaluation and would not need to master the authors' theories and concepts to be conscious voters. These are the ideal voters for a well functioning democracy—and for well functioning politics as well. And such people rarely evolve outside of a humanistic environment that empowers a higher level of self-actualization and more and deeper psychological awareness. What is this environment? MCs. See for yourself: The Forest Through The Trees.
The Forest Through The Trees