Yves again. What they are missing is the concerted effort to change social values, which has started as a reaction to the 1960s. That was a big contributor to the lack of pushback. Adam Curtis’ four part BBC series, The Century of the Self, covers this nicely (I strongly recommend it, you can view it on Google Video), as does David Brock’s The Republican Noise Machine. Back to Runciman:
So where did the resistance go? This is the real puzzle, and Hacker and Pierson take it seriously because they take democracy seriously, despite its unhealthy fixation on elections. Democracies are meant to favour the interests of the many over those of the few. As Hacker and Pierson put it, ‘Democracy may not be good at a lot of things. But one thing it is supposed to be good at is responding to problems that affect broad majorities.’ Did the majority not actually mind that they were losing out for the sake of the super-rich elite?….Hacker and Pierson….see strong evidence that the American public do still want a fairer tax system and do still see it as the job of politicians to protect their interests against the interests of high finance. The problem is that the public simply don’t know what the politicians are up to. They are not properly informed about how the rules have been steadily changed to their disadvantage. ‘Americans are no less egalitarian when it comes to their vision of an ideal world,’ Hacker and Pierson write. ‘But they are much less accurate when it comes to their vision of the real world.’
Yves again. This actually does ring true. I was gobsmacked when I lived in Australia to see at all levels of income and education how much better informed people were about domestic and international politics. But many readers would probably disagree with the premise about democracies and instead argue that this is a classic Mancur Olson collective action problem. Back to the article:
Hacker and Pierson’s argument is really a return to a much longer-standing critique of democracy, one that flourished during the 1920s and 1930s but was supplanted in the postwar period by expectations of rational behaviour on the part of voters. This traditional critique does not see the weakness of democracy as a matter of the voters wanting the wrong things, or not really knowing what they want. They know what they want but they don’t know how to get it.
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