Monday, April 18, 2011

Taxation without Representation? Politicians "Not Responsive at All" to Lower Income Constituents Study Says

Salon has an interesting article on "why it is so hard for politicians to raise taxes on the rich." You can read the whole thing by following the link above. Here is an excerpt:

A study by Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels provides some insight. Bartels found that senators are "very responsive" to the views of the wealthiest third of their constituents, "somewhat responsive" to the middle third, and not responsive at all to the third with the lowest incomes (to the extent that the opinions of the wealthiest constituents can outweigh senators' party affiliations in determining their voting records). It's true that Republicans are nearly twice as attentive as Democrats to the preferences of the wealthy, but both parties are equally indifferent to the opinions of their lower-income constituents.

Of course, it's not exactly news that the rich are politically powerful, but even so, the estimates of just how much power they hold can be staggering. Northwestern University political scientists Jeffrey Winter and Benjamin Page estimate, in a paper titled "Oligarchy in the United States?," that "the top 10 percent of the population has about as much material-based political power as the entire bottom 90 percent." And one important effect of this power has been a gradual shift of mainstream fiscal policy discourse toward policies favoring -- surprise -- the rich.

To see how far the debate has shifted, you just need to look at what's on the table in the current showdown: Progressives are asking to increase the top two tax brackets from 33 and 35 percent to 36 and 39.6 percent, while Paul Ryan's "Pathway to Prosperity" proposes cutting taxes in the highest bracket to 25 percent. That is, Democrats are merely asking that taxes on the rich be returned to what they were at the beginning of the Bush administration, which is still just slightly more than half of what they were at the beginning of the Reagan administration, while Republicans are pushing for rates lower than they've been since immediately before the Great Depression.