October 2018, Week 5


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 		 [Our government is run by rich people — and it benefits them the
most.] [https://portside.org/] 




 Nicholas Carnes 
 October 24, 2018

	* [https://portside.org/node/18514/printable/print]

 _ Our government is run by rich people — and it benefits them the
most. _ 

 , Christina Animashaun/Vox 


The president is the billionaire head of a global business empire, and
his mostly millionaire Cabinet may be the richest in American history.
His opponent in the 2016 election was a millionaire. Most Supreme
Court Justices are millionaires. Most members of Congress are
millionaires (and probably have been for several years

On the other end of the economic spectrum, most working people are
employed in manual labor, service industry, and clerical jobs. Those
Americans, however, almost never get a seat at the table in our
political institutions.

Why not? In a country where virtually any citizen is eligible to serve
in public office, why are our elected representatives almost all drawn
from such an unrepresentative slice of the economy?

It’s probably worse than you think

This year, it might be tempting to think that working-class Americans
don’t have it so bad in politics, especially in light of recent
candidates like Randy Bryce, the Wisconsin ironworker running for the
US House seat Paul Ryan is vacating, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the
former restaurant server whose primary election win over Democratic
heavyweight Joe Crowley may go down as the single biggest election
upset in 2018.

In reality, however, they are stark exceptions to a longstanding rule
in American politics: Working-class people almost never become
politicians. Ocasio-Cortez and Bryce make headlines in part because
their economic backgrounds are so unusual (for politicians, that is).
Their wins are stunning in part because their campaigns upset a sort
of natural order in American politics.

[See Figure 1 here

The figure above plots recent data on the share of working-class
people in the US labor force (the black bar) and in state and national
politics. Even in the information age, working-class jobs — defined
as manual labor, service industry, and clerical jobs — still make up
a little more than half of our economy. But workers make up less than
3 percent of the average state legislature.

The average member of Congress spent less than 2 percent of his or her
entire pre-congressional career doing the kinds of jobs most Americans
go to every day. No one from the working class has gotten into
politics and gone on to become a governor, or a Supreme Court justice,
or the president.

And that probably won’t change anytime soon. The left half of the
figure below plots data on the share of working-class people in state
legislatures (which tend to foreshadow demographic changes in higher
offices) and the percentage of members of Congress who were employed
in working-class jobs when they first got into politics. As a point of
comparison, the right half of the figure plots data on the share of
state legislatures and members of Congress who were women. (Of course,
these groups overlap — a woman from a working-class job would
increase the percentages in both figures.)

[See Figure 2 here

The exclusion of working-class people from American political
institutions isn’t a recent phenomenon. It isn’t a
post-decline-of-labor-unions phenomenon, or a post-_Citizens
United _phenomenon. It’s actually a rare historical constant in
American politics — even during the past few decades, when social
groups that overlap substantially with the working class, like women,
are starting to make strides toward equal representation. Thankfully,
the share of women in office has been rising — but it’s only been
a certain type_ _of woman, and she wears a white collar.

Government by_ _the rich is government for_ _the rich

This ongoing exclusion of working-class Americans from our political
institutions has enormous consequences for public policy. Just as
ordinary citizens from different classes tend to have different views
about the major economic issues of the day (with workers
understandably being more pro-worker and professionals being less so),
politicians from different social classes tend to have different views

These differences between politicians from different social classes
have shown up in every
[https://www.opensecrets.org/downloads/Carnes_LSQ_Revised_Submission.pdf] study
[http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1532673X12472363] of
[https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0085293] the
[https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07343460809507652] economic
[https://patriciaakirkland.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/business_mayors_0517.pdf] backgrounds
[https://go.redirectingat.com/?id=66960X1516588&xs=1&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FHigh-Priests-American-Politics-Institutions%2Fdp%2F1572331658] of
politicians. In the first major survey of US House members in 1958,
members from the working class were more likely to report holding
progressive views on the economic issues of the day and more likely to
vote that way on actual bills. The same kinds of social class gaps
appear in data on how members of Congress voted from the 1950s to the
present. And in data on the kinds of bills they introduced from the
1970s to the present. And in public surveys of the views and opinions
of candidates in recent elections.

The gaps between politicians from working-class and professional
backgrounds are often enormous. According to how the AFL-CIO and the
Chamber of Commerce rank the voting records of members of Congress,
for instance, members from the working class differ by 20 to 40 points
(out of 100) from members who were business owners, even in
statistical models with controls for partisanship, district
characteristics, and other factors. Social class divisions even span
the two parties. Among Democratic and Republican members of Congress
alike, those from working-class jobs are more likely than their fellow
partisans to take progressive or pro-worker positions on major
economic issues.

These differences between politicians from different economic
backgrounds — coupled with the virtual absence of politicians from
the working class — ultimately skew
[https://www.vox.com/2014/9/3/6098677/the-class-war-in-american-politics-is-over-the-rich-won] the
policymaking process
[https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/W/bo16956543.html] toward
outcomes that are more in line with the upper class’s economic
interests. States with fewer legislators from the working class spend
billions less on social welfare each year, offer less generous
unemployment benefits, and tax corporations at lower rates. Towns with
fewer working-class people on their city councils devote smaller
shares of their budgets to social safety net programs; an analysis I
conducted in 2013 suggested that cities nationwide would spend
approximately $22.5 billion more on social assistance programs each
year if their councils were made up of the same mix of classes as the
people they represent.

Congress has never been run by large numbers of working-class people,
but if we extrapolate from the behavior of the few workers who manage
to get in, it’s probably safe to say that the federal government
would enact far fewer pro-business policies and far more pro-worker
policies if its members mirrored the social class makeup of the

As the old saying goes,_ _if you’re not at the table, you’re on
the menu.

The problem isn’t workers, and it isn’t voters

Now, defenders of America’s white-collar government will tell you
that working-class people are unqualified to hold office, and that
voters know it and rightly prefer more affluent candidates.

Alexander Hamilton said it
[http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed35.asp] (“[workers] are
aware, that however great the confidence they may justly feel in their
own good sense, their interests can be more effectually promoted by
the merchant than by themselves”). Pulitzer Prize-winning
journalists have said it
[https://go.redirectingat.com/?id=66960X1516588&xs=1&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.penguinrandomhouse.com%2Fbooks%2F78738%2Fin-defense-of-elitism-by-william-a-henry-iii%2F9780385479431%2F] (“voters
repeatedly reject insurrectionist candidates who parallel their own
ordinariness ... in favor of candidates of proven character and
competence”). Donald Trump has said it
[http://time.com/4828157/donald-trump-cabinet-iowa-rally-poor-person/] (“I
love all people, rich or poor, but in [Cabinet-level] positions, I
just don’t want a poor person.”).

However, this line of reasoning is flat wrong. The raw personal
qualities that voters tend to want in a candidate — honesty,
intelligence, compassion, and work ethic — are not qualities that
the privileged have a monopoly on. (In fact, two of the traits voters
say they most want in a politician, honesty
[https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_inequality_can_make_wealthy_people_less_cooperative] and compassion
[http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/], may actually be
a little less common among the rich.)

When working-class people hold office, they tend to perform about as
well as other leaders on objective measures; in an analysis of cities
governed by majority-working-class city councils in 1996, I found that
by 2001, those cities were indistinguishable from others in terms of
how their debt, population, and education spending had changed.

When working-class people run, moreover, they tend to do just fine. In
both real-world elections and hypothetical candidate randomized
controlled trials
[https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/american-political-science-review/article/do-voters-dislike-workingclass-candidates-voter-biases-and-the-descriptive-underrepresentation-of-the-working-class/2C06FFF09BDD1853313A5CB39A9FFF5B] embedded
in surveys (which help to rule out the so-called Jackie Robinson
voters seem perfectly willing to cast their ballots for working-class

The real barrier to working-class representation seems to be that
workers just don’t run in the first place. In national surveys of
state legislative candidates in 2012 and 2014, for instance, former
workers made up just 4 percent of candidates (and around 3 percent of

The problem is campaigning

So why do so few workers run for office? I’ve been researching this
question for the past decade
[https://press.princeton.edu/titles/13227.html], and I think the
answer is right under our noses: campaigns.

Let me say from the outset that I love our democracy, and I wouldn’t
want to live in a country that selected political leaders any other
way. But American democracy isn’t perfect — no system of
government is — and one of the side effects of selecting leaders via
competitive elections is that groups with fewer resources are at a
huge disadvantage.

In democratic elections, people can only be considered for office if
they take time off work and out of their personal lives to campaign.
Even in places where candidates don’t spend a lot of money on their
campaigns, they still put in a lot of time and energy — any
candidate will tell you that running was a significant personal
sacrifice. They give up their free time. They give up time with their
families. Many of them have to take time off work.

For politically qualified working-class Americans, this feature of
elections seems to be the barrier that uniquely distinguishes them
from equally qualified professionals. In surveys, workers and
professionals alike hate the thought of asking for donations. They say
that the thought of giving up their privacy is a downside. They
express similar concerns about whether they are qualified.

But it is the thought of losing income or taking time off work that
uniquely_ _screens out working-class Americans long before Election
Day. When the price of competing is giving up your day job (or a chunk
of it), usually only the very well-off will be able to throw their
hats into the ring.

Elites recruit elites

But couldn’t party and interest group leaders help working-class
Americans overcome these obstacles? Couldn’t foundations create
special funds to encourage and support candidates from the working

Of course. But they usually don’t. The people who recruit new
candidates often don’t see workers as viable options, and pass them
over in favor of white-collar candidates. In surveys of county-level
party leaders, for instance, officials say that they mostly recruit
professionals and that they regard workers as worse candidates.
Candidates say the same thing: In surveys of people running for state
legislature, workers report getting less encouragement from activist
organizations, civic leaders, and journalists.

The reasons are complicated. Some party leaders cite concerns about
fundraising to explain why they don’t recruit workers, for instance,
and in places where elections cost less, party officials really do
seem to recruit more working-class candidates. However, by far the
best predictor of whether local party leaders say they encourage
working-class candidates is whether the party leader reports having a
lower income him- or herself and whether the party leader reports
having any working-class people on the party’s executive committee.

Candidate recruitment is a deeply social activity, and political
leaders are usually busy volunteers who look for new candidates within
their own mostly white-collar personal and professional networks. The
result is that working-class candidates are often passed over in favor
of affluent professionals.

What about foundations, reformers, and pro-worker advocacy
organizations? Couldn’t they help qualified working-class Americans
run for office?

Of course. But they usually don’t. There are models out there for
doing so, actually — the New Jersey AFL-CIO has been running a
program to recruit working-class candidates
[http://www.njaflcio.org/labor_candidates_program] for more than two
decades (and their graduates have a 75 percent win rate and close to
1,000 electoral victories). But the model has been slow to catch on in
the larger pro-worker reform community.

To the contrary, the pro-worker community has focused on reforms aimed
at addressing the oversize political influence of the wealthy that
have historically tended to look at on inequalities in political
voice, imbalances in the ways that citizens and groups pressure
government from the outside. We’ve heard the same story for decades:
If we could reform lobbying and campaign finance and get a handle on
the flow of money in politics, the rich wouldn’t have as much of a
say in government. If we could promote broader political
participation, enlighten the public, and revitalize the labor
movement, the poor would have more of a say.

The key to combating political inequality, in this view, is finding
ways to make sure that everyone’s voices can be heard — and the
idea of giving workers influence _inside _government has never been
a part of the mainstream reform conversation.

That may change someday, and I hope it will — especially considering
the practical and political roadblocks facing other reforms like
increasing voter turnout and reforming the campaign finance system.
The opportunity to go down in history as the Emily’s List
[https://www.emilyslist.org/] of the working class is just waiting
there for some forward-looking organization.

You can do something about it

In the meantime, what can you do? A lot, actually.

First, look up what the candidates on your ballot do for a living.
Many people get sample ballots in the mail, or have the option to look
them up online. Create your own occupational profile of your ballot
— find out how your candidates earn a living (or if they work full
time in politics, find out how they earned a living before). While
you’re at it, look at the representation of women, people of color,
people with disabilities, or any other social group you think is
important. When you’re done, post the results on social media. The
virtual absence of working-class people in American political
institutions is something that people take for granted. Challenge

And if you aren’t happy with the mix of people on your ballot,
contact your local party leaders and let them know that you would
support a more economically diverse slate of candidates. Be nice to
them — most local party leaders are volunteers with day jobs just
doing their best — and express appreciation for all the hard work
they do to keep your local party running. But also let them know that
you’d like to see more people with experience in working-class jobs
on your ballot. And if you’re willing and able, offer to help
however you can.

When working-class candidates run, stick up for them. If they’re
people you can get behind, donate to their campaigns, or send them
encouraging notes, or talk about them positively to your friends. If
you’re able, offer to volunteer for their campaigns. Working-class
candidates start at a disadvantage, and they don’t get as much
support from political insiders. Reach out to them and let them know
that you see the sacrifices they’re making. If you’re one of the
rare Americans who has a working-class candidate on the ballot, and if
you support them, offer to help.

Regardless of whether you find a working-class candidate to support,
call out social class stereotypes and prejudices when you see them in
political media. When workers run, journalists often express
amazement, or talk about them in class-coded ways that demean their
intelligence and character. (The CNN coverage of opposition research
on Randy Bryce
[https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/06/politics/kfile-randy-bryce-arrests] is
a great example.) When media outlets cover working-class candidates,
ask yourself: Are journalists treating the other candidates in this
race the way they’re treating this candidate? Would they say that
about a candidate with a white-collar job and a big house in the
suburbs? If the answers are no, write to their editors, or call them
out on social media. Demand political news coverage that doesn’t
slide into social class stereotypes.

Finally — and this is the big ask — set up an organization to
recruit and train working-class candidates. Contact party leaders and
interest groups in your area and organizations that work directly with
working-class people, and ask what it would take to create a program
to encourage workers to run for office. Start small — ask if you can
help put on a simple candidate training program for workers in your
area. Make it a one-time event. It will be easier than you think. Then
do it again. And again. Give it a name, find funders, and make it your
life’s work. (I told you it was a big ask.)

Campaigns have a built-in bias against working-class candidates. Call
it an unintended consequence, a glitch in an otherwise admirable
system, a side effect. Whatever it is, it isn’t a necessary evil, or
an inevitability. Politicians work for you. If you don’t like what
the millionaires have done with your government, fire them.

_Nicholas Carnes is the Creed C. Black associate professor of public
policy and political science__at Duke University’s Sanford School of
Public Policy. He is the author of _The Cash Ceiling: Why Only the
Rich Run for Office — and What We Can Do About It_. Find him on
Twitter __@Nick_Carnes__

	* [https://portside.org/node/18514/printable/print]







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