There is vast difference between the lives of ordinary people north of the Rio Grande river versus the people to the south. There are even greater differences between the lives of people across other arbitrary political borders like between North and South Korea which can even be seen from outer space at night due to the difference in light output. The difference is NOT due to culture or geography because these are quite similar in the two Koreas and when people in Mexico migrate across the border to the US, they bring their culture with them and still become much richer than they would have been if they had stayed home. The culture and geography on the two sides of the US-Mexico border is approximately the same and yet the poorest region of the US side of the border is richer than the richest region on the Mexican side of the border.
Both sides of this arbitrary line are racially and culturally very similar. They eat the same kinds of foods and listen to the same kinds of music and speak the same kinds of languages. The big difference in peoples’ lives from nation to nation is due to differences in governance. Obviously Mexico has been ruled by a relatively small group of political elites for most of its history. Although Mexico began a stable period of rule by elected officials in 1929, its government was controlled by a single political party until 2000. Voters never had any real choice because a murky selectorate of elites party insiders always held the real power and decided who should be on the ballot. If the party decided that it wanted the voters to elect Jose, then it would pick someone just like Jose and give the voters a ‘choice’ between two hand-picked candidates who both would satisfy the party’s desire to get someone like Jose. Even today Mexican democracy is still bad at responding to the will of the majority of Mexicans according to every international ranking.
Although the US has a much better democracy than Mexico, research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page has found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” The rich have more influence because they are the selectorate that determines who is on the ballot in the US too.
US voters will only have a real choice between two candidates for president. Nobody else has any chance at all to become president. Liberals will probably have to vote for Hillary Clinton (barring something unexpected) or they might as well not vote and conservatives will have to vote for whoever the Republican party puts on the ballot or they might as well not vote. That is it. But at least it is a real choice unlike in Mexico under 70 years of one-party “democracy.”
But we haven’t had any primary elections to decide that Hillary will be the Democratic candidate. Who decided that she is The One? The answer is the Democratic party and media elites. They have decided that four candidates could be considered, but that Hillary is the most serious candidate. The media and party elites are mostly in the top 2% wealthiest Americans. Anyone with money can become a party elite, because all you have to do is donate a lot of money to become part of the selectorate. The more resources you donate, the bigger your influence will be.
The Republican elites are much less sure about who to select as their candidate. When Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign in March 2015, there were thousands of news reports that breathlessly announced that Ted Cruz Becomes First Republican To Announce Presidential Candidacy! But he wasn’t the first official candidate at all. Cruz was actually only the 194th candidate to officially file with the FEC. The 194 people who officially filed earlier than Cruz were ignored by the media because none of the elite party donors backed any of them.
This is sometimes called the invisible primary; when party elites pick a nominee before anyone votes. Republican elites are unusually divided this year. They usually settle into just a few factions which only allow a handful of candidates to really enter the primary, and this year so far the party is in more disarray than I have ever seen with more numerous candidates that the media has dubbed ‘serious’ and no frontrunner.
This selection process is just one of many reasons why US democracy ignores the interests of middle-class Americans in favor of elite Americans and special interest groups. That is why the ideology of the elites matter so much. It was US elites who created compulsory universal education in the US back in the 1800s. They forced the masses to pay taxes for schools and then they forced all kids to go to school. The US business community wanted the schools to help manufacture better workers for their stores and factories. And it worked out great for the workers. That was one of the key policies that helped America become the richest country on earth.
Today elite opinion is diverging from mass opinion and I am less sanguine about whether US elites will create policies that help the interests of American workers. Elites are much less dependent upon American workers in today’s more globalized era. Below are a couple of graphs from David Roberts and Javier Zarracina that show how different the top 1% are from the rest of us:
Back in the 1800s when the elites forced ordinary Americans to go to school, it worked out pretty well for all of us because it resulted in a big drop in inequality and increased productivity. Today according to the above graph, US elites seem to generally favor policies that will increase inequality and could thereby cause productivity to fall. The above graph is not showing a partisan divide. It is a class divide. Elites control both parties and that is why Washington enacts policies that satisfy the median elite rather than the median American.