Thursday, February 4, 2016

Your Powerlessness, Quantified

While many would say that the degree of oligarchy in the US government is just one of many important issues, I claim that no debate about government policy matters unless the parties debating have the ability to affect government policy, whether through petitioning to representatives' good will or by using legal mechanisms (like voting or referenda).  I also propose that this is objectively applicable to the current political climate of the United States.

It was claimed that my argument was exaggerated, so I would like to substantiate this couple of claims with a purely mathematical argument.  Here are the numbers that prove we Americans have literally--quantitatively--provably--no power in our government:

Fact:  There is 5% (+/- 8%) correlation between public opinion and laws that are passed by Congress.

Fact:  There is 78% (+/-8%) correlation between economic top 1% opinion and laws passed.

The top 1% have between 5.38 and ∞ times more influence in government than the entire country.  Assuming both correlation values are non-zero and in the center of those error bars, the ratio between them is 15.6.  Keep in mind that this is not quantitatively justified, because the margin of error for the public's influence includes zero and negative values.  It is highly likely that the public has zero impact on the government.  But let's entertain the possibility that this impact is small and nonzero, to eliminate any possibility of subjectivity from this topic.

In the best case, the legal influence of one rich person is 5.38 * 99 = 532.62 times greater than the influence of one average person.  In the most probable case, a rich person's influence is 15.6 * 99 = 1544.4 times as much as an average person's.  In another very possible case, the American people have zero impact on government and the only way to have any influence is to be in the top 1%.

Fact:  To be in the top 1% of the US, "You’d have to make $434,682 in adjusted gross income to make the cut, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation." (Investopedia)

Is that a democracy?  A land where one voter quantifiably has AT LEAST five hundred times as much influence over government?

Oh, but surely if we band together, we can have more influence on government, right?  Surely, the reason we don't have an impact on government is that not enough people below the top% vote, right?

Let's assess the substance of that statement.  

Let's just assume all of the top 1% already vote, and they're having the maximum influence legally allowed to them (it is easier for them to vote because taking a break on voting day isn't as big a deal for them as it is sub-living wage-earners).  What if every eligible person in the country voted?  In our current political system, in the situation where an average person has 1/1544 as much influence as someone in the top 1%, if 100% of people suddenly voted, then we could multiply that influence by 100%/53.6%.

5% / 78% = 1 / 15.6
5% / 78% * 100% / 53.6% = 1 /  8.36

If literally every person in the bottom 99% voted, and if impact on government were a function of voting, then we would be able to have 1 / 8.36 as much influence as the top 1%.  So the average person in the top 1% would only have 8.36 * 99 = 828 times as much influence as the average American in the bottom 99%.

But there seems to be a more fundamental issue, yeah?  If 53.6% of the Americans vote, then how is it possible that the top 1% have 16 times more influence than that whole collective?  How is it possible that, in a system where voting and speaking to your congresspeople allegedly constitute participation in government, 1% of people have 16 times more impact on government than 53.6% of people?

It's not hard to imagine, but this post is just about the facts.  You can connect the dots on your own.  If you'd like my take on it, read my previous post Collusion.  

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