Pew’s Research Center recently noted that financial insecurity has a range of what it called “secondary effects” for communities, including diminished participation in civic and political life.
The question that immediately occurred to me was: is this a feature, or a bug?
Ever since Ronald Reagan identified government as the problem rather than the solution, the ascendant radical right has worked tirelessly (and successfully) to remove or reduce the social supports available to poor Americans through government. At the same time, the GOP has worked to discourage or suppress the votes of those same Americans.
In today’s America, the financially secure have what political scientists call “voice.” Even before Citizens United and its progeny, the well-to-do could and did donate huge sums to favored politicians. The corporations that are “people”(!) can and do hire well-connected lobbyists to ensure that their interests are represented in the halls of power. As Pew has now pointed out, the financially secure are also much more likely to vote.
Voting is the only way financially insecure folks have voice. If enough poor people voted, it would be much more difficult to fashion a government protective of privilege. Keeping poor folks from the polls is thus in the (short term) interest of the well-off.
As Pete, who frequently comments here has pointed out, these aspects of our civic landscape are not the hallmarks of a democracy; they are the attributes of oligarchy.
One problem with oligarchy is that its goals tend to be both short-term and short-sighted.
If we don’t reverse course soon, if we don’t take the boots of the advantaged off the necks of the impoverished and give disheartened Americans a reason to participate in their own self-government, that short-sighted focus on the next quarterly statement and disregard of the long-term good will take us all down.