Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Study: Polarization and Gridlock Work Well for the Wealthiest Americans

Joshua Holland
Moyers and Company
At the end of 2013, only 12 percent of Americans held a positive view of Congress – three points above the all-time low set earlier in the year, according to Gallup. Two out of three respondents to a CNN/ORC poll said this was the worst functioning Congress they’d seen in their lifetimes. And these dismal views weren’t just the product of subjective impressions – in its first year, the 113th Congress managed to pass only 66 bills, the fewest in the 40 years for which reliable data exists.
But a study published last November in The Journal of Politics suggests that this sorry state of affairs is good news for a small group of Americans at the top of the economic pile. “Washington gridlock helps the super-rich stay rich, and get richer,” says Thomas Volscho, a sociologist at the City University of New York and one of the authors of the study. “And the richer they get, the more the gridlock actually helps them.”

The researchers looked back over 70 years of data, and found that the more dysfunctional Washington is, the bigger the share of the pie the top one percent tends to grab. And most importantly, they also found that when economic inequality is high, the kind of polarization and gridlock that have been the hallmark of Washington since Barack Obama’s election make legislative efforts to change course all-but-impossible.

The study’s authors looked at how three variables influenced the share of the nation’s income grabbed by the top one percent of households between 1940 and 2006. First, they considered how much gridlock existed in the Senate. Then, they studied the distance in political preferences between the president and the House and Senate. And then they looked at how much each Congress got done.

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