Democracy For Sale

“Our democracy is not supposed to be a tug of war between a couple of billionaires on the left and a couple of billionaires on the right,”

“Our democracy is not supposed to be a tug of war between a couple of billionaires on the left and a couple of billionaires on the right.”

Yes, unfortunately, it is.

As the charts below show, the billionaire class writes big checks to candidates and partisan campaign committees.  Why?  Because they want access to the politicians, once in office, to influence both the legislative agendas and the actual text of laws.

While we have a roughly and anachronistically speaking a “one man, one vote” democracy for elections, that doesn’t mean the output of our republican system of government is representative of the will of the people, because most people don’t have equal access to the candidates and office holders.

Chart - Top Donors 2017-18 - NYT - 2018-04-13.jpeg

Chart - Top Donors part II - 2017-18 - NYT - 2018-04-13

Source: NYT 4/13/18.

See other posts on this topic tagged #campaign finance, and below.

Chart: Campaign Super Donors

I’m shocked, shocked politicians doing the bidding of their campaign contributors



Comparison: Authoritarianism vs. Liberal Democracy

Excerpts from a David Brooks article on Putin and Trump provide a useful initial comparison table between authoritarianism and liberalism democracy.

Authoritarianism vs. Liberal Democracy

AuthoritarianismLiberal Democracy
Authority should be centralizedPower should be dispersed across a system of relationships and institutions
Assumes low social trustRequires high social trust
Loyalty to the personLoyalty to the abstraction - a constitution, a creed, or a set of democratic norms.
Lack of faith in the judgment of individuals and the ability for collective self organizationFaith that people know best how to run their lives and that individual choices can be woven into a collective fabric.
Assumes people unlike you are sowing chaos.Requires assumption that people unlike you are still worthy of respect (and thus compromises)
Thrives in times of anxiety and distrustRequires some level of social trust.

Source: NYT 4/2/18.






Chart: Our Anesthetized Nation

What’s wrong?

George Lucas’ 1971 dystopian view of the technologically controlled industrial society, THX-1138, envisioned the the merging of the big data / surveillance state, the big industrialization state, the robot controlled police state, and the sedation of the populace. In the below excerpt, members of this dystopian society open their medicine cabinet to a face of a camera and an upbeat voice asking, “What’s wrong?”


We can debate the trajectory and pace of our 21st century democracy toward, or away from, Lucas’ 25th century dystopia.  If current trends continue, there will be one significant difference from Lucas’ medical control of the population hypothesis:  Our society is on track for the private medicalization of the citizenry.  There are white markets (big pharma and media), gray markets (legalized alcohol and marijuana), and black markets (illegal drugs such as opioids (see below)).

Today’s Times charts the increased rate of overall usage and long-term dependence on anti-depressants.

Long-Term Antidepressant Usage

Chart - Antidepressant Rates and Durations - NYT - 2018-04-07

Source: NYT 4/8/18.

Opioid Related Deaths, 2015

Chart - Opioid Deaths 2015 - Economist - 2018-04-08

Source: The, 4/8/18.


Drug Deaths by Race

CHART - Opioid Deaths by race - NYT - 2017-12-22

Source: NYT 12/22/17.

See also this blog post on urban v. rural differences in emergency room admissions by substance type.