A few months ago former president Jimmy Carter came out with a bold statement that "America was an Oligarchy with Unlimited Political Bribery"!
Carter noted directly that:
It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.
It does seem that our system has been overrun by money. Jimmy Carter isn’t the first person to state this. Dozens of commentators have suggested that. Carter takes it a step further by noting directly that those in office have “a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who is a challenger”. This implies a grey area of graft and influence that the rest of us don’t enjoy.
Recently, I called a Representative in the US legislature and spoke to the person answering the phones about an issue. She asked me a few questions and then said “Well, I’ll make sure to pass that on to the Senator!” I was a bit angry over this. I had contacted another Senator some years ago and they told me that same thing: “I’ll be sure to pass that on to the Senator”.
I was in DC a few months ago and I was in that very Senator’s office where that I called. Two people were at their desks and they answered the phone and listened for a bit and then closed with “I’ll be sure to pass that on to the Senator”. Neither of the assists (who are sometimes referred to as “Hill Rats”) took down a note and they continued to click on their computers and read their email.
So, when I heard the woman tell me “I’ll be sure to pass that on to the Senator” I became more than a little miffed. I explained that very circumstance and how I am angry that we pick one person who in turn represents in many cases hundreds of thousands and in others up to millions. To be sure, I am not giving the donations needed to have the access Mr. Carter is speaking about. I get the assistant and who knows what influence my phone call meant!
But let’s look at this issue of being an “Oligarchy” a bit closer. Black’s Law Dictionary (8th Ed.) defines an Oligarchy as: “A government in which a small group of persons exercises control; the persons who constitute such a government.”
However, a better and clearer understanding of an “Oligarchy” can more likely be gained by looking at the level of representation that we have in America over time and then compare it to other Countries of the world.
This chart shows the history of the US House of Representatives and US Senate.
The number of representatives began relatively small, but so were the number of constituents each member had in their districts. The House seats start with less than 40,000 people per member and indeed, this reflects the debates at the time from the US Constitutional Convention of 1787:
“The delegates unanimously agreed to strike out ‘forty Thousand’ in the finalized copy of the Constitution, and the limit of ‘one for every thirty Thousand’ was adopted.” 1
Even when the original 65 representatives were elected, there were many that felt that was too small. James Madison made an immediate motion to double the size of the US House. This vote was defeated.
“Madison had championed a motion to double the initial size of the House of Representatives from 65 to 130 Members [which failed] ‘A majority of a Quorum of 65 members was too small a number to represent the whole inhabitants of the U. States...” 2
Though the US House seats began at less than 40,000, the districts of the House members grew in size. This went almost un-noticed. In 1911, the US House of Representatives voted to freeze its size to 435 members. The districts were less than 250,000. Today the US House districts are close to 750,000 on average with the Representative from Montana has close to 1 million people.
The founders were concerned that the US House was not of an adequate size, it might not be able to protect the rights of the citizens. George Washington spoke only on this one issue in the Convention.
The smallness of the proportion of representatives had been considered by many members of the Convention, an insufficient security for the rights and interests of the people.
The US Senate has remained a constant with two Senators per state. This was part of the great compromise where the House members followed the Population. However the US Senate populations have grown massively. The average Senate District had 137,000. That reflected a proposal in the Convention by delegate James Wilson, who suggested that there be “one Senator for every hundred thousand souls”. 3
Today each Senator represents the entire population of their State. If you simply divide the US Population by the number of Senators, the average sits at about 3,200,000. More accurately, each Senator has on average twice that number at 6,400,000.
Now, when we consider the world population, its much different. I have prepared this chart showing the representation differences between most of the Nations of the world. Many have representation the size of small cities.
Only India has worse representation than America and that is up to debate since the US Senate districts might be more properly represented at 6,400,000 people.
So the question is, do we have an Oligarchy? I think by the numbers, that may be optimistic. I think we really have a “Cabal”. A small group of political schemers or conspirators. An Oligarchy may be hopeful at this point! We need to increase representation!