The 1% in America have an out-sized influence on the political process. What policies do they support? And do their priorities differ from those of less wealthy Americans?

Political scientist Benjamin Page and two colleagues wanted to find out, so they started trying to set up interviews with the richest of the rich. This, they noted, was really quite a feat, writing:

It is extremely difficult to make personal contact with wealthy Americans. Most of them are very busy. Most zealously protect their privacy. They often surround themselves with professional gatekeepers whose job it is to fend off people like us. (One of our interviewers remarked that “even their gatekeepers have gatekeepers.”) It can take months of intensive efforts, pestering staffers and pursuing potential respondents to multiple homes, businesses, and vacation spots, just to make contact.

Persistence paid off. They completed interviews with 83 individuals with net worths in in the top 1%.  Their mean wealth was over $14 million and their average income was over $1 million a year.

Page and his colleagues learned that these individuals were highly politically active. A majority (84%) said they paid attention to politics “most of the time,” 99% voted in the last presidential election, 68% contributed money to campaigns, and 41% attended political events.

Many of them were also in contact with politicians or officials. Nearly a quarter had conversed with individuals staffing regulatory agencies and many had been in touch with their own senators and representatives (40% and 37% respectively) or those of other constituents (28%).

These individuals also reported opinions that differed from those of the general population. Some differences really stood out: the wealthy were substantially less likely to want to expand support for job programs, the environment, homeland security, healthcare, food stamps, Social Security, and farmers. Most, for example, are not particularly concerned with ensuring that all Americans can work and earn a living wage:


Only half think that the government should ensure equal schooling for whites and racial minorities (58%), only a third (35%) believe that all children deserve to go to “really good public schools,” and only a quarter (28%) think that everyone who wants to go to college should be able to do so.


The wealthy generally opposed regulation on Wall Street firms, food producers, the oil industry, the health insurance industry, and big corporations, all of which is favored by the general public. A minority of the wealthy (17%) believed that the government should reduce class inequality by redistributing wealth, compared to half of the general population (53%).

Interestingly, Page and his colleagues also compared the answers of the top 0.1% with the remainder of the top 1%. The top 0.1%, individuals with $40 million or more net worth, held views that deviated even farther from the general public.

These attitudes may explain why politicians take positions with which the majority of Americans disagree. “[T]he apparent consistency between the preferences of the wealthy and the contours of actual policy in certain important areas,” they write, “— especially social welfare policies, and to a lesser extent economic regulation and taxation — is, at least, suggestive of significant influence.”

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Every year the National Priorities Project helps Americans understand how the money they paid in federal taxes was spent. Here’s the data for 2014:


Since the 1940s, individual Americans have paid 40-50% of the federal government’s bills through taxes on income and investment. Another chunk (about 1/3rd today) is paid in the form of payroll taxes for things like social security and medicare. This year, corporate taxes made up only about 11% of the federal government’s revenue; this is way down from a historic high of almost 40% in 1943.


Visit the National Priorities Project here and find out where state tax dollars went, how each state benefits from federal tax dollars, and who gets the biggest tax breaks. Or fiddle around with how you would organize American priorities.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Planet Money’s Jacob Goldstein and Lam Thuy Vo offered some interesting data last week about the history of energy consumption in the U.S.  First they offered data on the rise and fall of alternative energy sources.


Coal, the first to replace wood, became a common energy source largely thanks to the railroads.  Wood was more or less everywhere, but coal had to be transported.

The invention and spread of the internal combustion engine drove the demand for oil.  According to this site (PM doesn’t say), natural gas becomes common in the ’50s thanks to the improvement of techniques for making metals and welding. This facilitates the building of oil pipelines, hence the rise of oil.

The overall rise in energy consumption per capita is worrisome, but it has fallen off since the mid-70s.  Thanks to high prices that encourage lower use and greater efficiency of appliances, our appetite for energy seems to have leveled off.


Not to end on an optimistic note, though.  That data is per capita.  Because our population has been rising, our overall energy use has continued to go up.


Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

At the GOP convention in August, Mitt Romney’s cavalier dismissal of global warming got the intended laughs.  Today, it seems less funny and the Democrats are capitalizing on the turn of events:

Here’s the transcript:

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the
oceans and to heal the planet.  My promise is to help you and your family.

In two short sentences, Romney gives us the broader context for the denial of global warming:  the denial of society itself.  He echoes Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum

There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

This doesn’t mean that there are no groups beyond the family.  But those larger groups are valid only because individuals, consciously and voluntarily, chose to create them.  This way of thinking about the relation between individuals and groups has long been an underlying principle of American thought.  Claude Fischer, in Made in America calls it “voluntarism” – the idea that the only legitimate groups are the ones that people voluntarily form or join.*  The individual has a strong obligation to those groups and their members, but he has little or no obligation towards groups and people he did not choose.

That is a moral position.  It tells us what is morally O.K., and what is not.  If I did not choose to join a group, I make no claims on others, and it is wrong for others – whether as individuals or as an organized group, even a government – to make any claim upon me.

That moral position also shapes the conservative view of reality, particularly about our connectedness to other people and to the environment.  Ideas about what is right determine ideas about what is true.  The conservative rejects non-voluntary connections as illegitimate, but he also denies that they exist.  If what I do affects someone else, that person has some claim upon me; but unless I voluntarily enter into that relationship,  that claim is morally wrong.  So in order to remain free of that claim, I must believe that what I do does not affect others, at least not in any harmful way.

It’s easy to maintain that belief when the thing being affected is not an individual or family but a large and vague entity like “society” or “the environment.”  If I willingly join with many other people, then I will see how our small individual acts – one vote, one small donation, one act of charity, etc. – add up to a large effect. That effect is what we intended.  But if we separately, individually, drive a lot in our SUVs, use mega-amounts of electricity, and so on, we deny that these acts can add up to any unintended effect on the planet.

As Fischer says, voluntarism is characteristically American.  So is the denial of global warming.  The incident at a recent Romney rally illustrates both (a video is here).

When a protester yells out the question, “What about climate?” Romney stands there, grinning but silent, and the crowd starts chanting, “USA, USA.”  The message is clear: we don’t talk about climate change; we’re Americans.


Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.  You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.  Two more posts on voluntarism are here and here.

In 1956 sociologist C. Wright Mills published a book titled The Power Elite.  In it, he argued that our democracy was corrupt because the same people exercised power in business, the military, and politics.  This small group, with so many important roles and connections, had an influence on our society that was far out-of-proportion with their numbers.  This, he concluded, was a dire situation.

Fast forward to 2012 and Lambert Strether posted a series of Venn diagrams at Naked Capitalism.  Strether writes:

[This] nifty visualization… shows how many, many people, through the operations of Washington’s revolving door, have held high-level positions both in the Federal government and in major corporations. To take but one example, the set of all Treasury Secretaries includes Hank Paulson and Bob Rubin, which overlaps with the set of all Goldman Sachs COOs. The overlapping is pervasive. Political scientists and the rest of us have names for such cozy arrangements — oligarchy, corporatism, fascism, “crony capitalism” — but one name that doesn’t apply is democracy.

UPDATE: I’ve included a criticism of the methodology after the diagrams; the overlap portrayed here is almost exclusively among Democratic politicians and the diagrams were explicitly intended to point out connections among progressives.

See for yourself:

On the methods for putting together these diagrams, Strether writes about the person who’s behind the diagrams:

Herman’s honest: Her goal is to “expose progressive corporatism,” and — assuming for the sake of the argument that D[emocrat]s are progressive, and that “progressives” are progressive — her chart does exactly that, and very effectively, too.

But what her data does not do is expose corporatism as such; there are very, very few Rs listed; it strains credulity that Hank Paulson was the only high-level GS operative in the Bush administration, for example, and if GS isn’t the R[epublican]s’ favorite bank, there’s surely another.

Hence, Herman’s chart, if divorced from context[2], might lead somebody — say, a child of six — to conclude that the only corporatists in Washington DC are D[emocrat]s.

Thanks to Carolyn Taylor for pointing out the methods bias.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Scholars are busy attempting to predict the effects of climate change, including how it might harm people in some parts of the globe more than others.  A recent report by The Pacific Institute, sent in by Aneesa D., does a more fine-grained analysis, showing which Californians will be the most harmed by climate change.

They use a variety of measures for each Census tract to make a Vulnerability Index, including natural factors (like tree cover), demographic factors (like age), and economic factors (like income).  At the interactive map, you can see the details for each Census tract.  Their compiled index looks like this:

You can also see the Vulnerability Index for each measure individually.  Here is the data for the percent of people over age 65 who live alone, a variable we know increases the risk of death from heat wave.

And here’s the data for the percent of workers who labor outside:

There’s lots more data at the site, but what’s interesting here is that, even in incredibly wealthy parts of the world, climate change is going to have uneven effects.  When it does, the most vulnerable people in the more vulnerable parts of the state are going to migrate to the other parts.  Most Californians don’t imagine that their cities will be home to refugees, but this is exactly what will happen as parts of California become increasingly difficult to live in.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

In subarctic climates — ones in which the mean annual temperature is below 32° — the soil is frozen all year round.  It’s damn cold, but a nice base on which to build.  Until climate change starts melting the permafrost, of course.

These two now crooked buildings can be found in Dawson City, Canada.  Carleton University geographers have shown that the average temperatures have been increasing, melting the permafrost, and destabilizing the town:

This image reminds me that I am only barely beginning to understand climate change and its consequences.  How we will pay for climate change, and who will do so, is something I suspect I’ll learn much more about in the coming years.

Via Boing Boing.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Mother Jones magazine offers some comparisons. Highlights:

  • Its net sales is greater than the GDP of Norway.
  • Its entertainment sales is triple that of Hollywood.
  • It emits more CO2 than the 50 lowest-emitting countries together.
  • It employs a workforce the size of the population of the 50 smallest countries in the world.
  • Its square-footage exceeds that of the island of Manhattan.

The data:

Via SocProf.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.