The media have seized on a recent study that shows that a powerful "American elite" rules America.
It's a scary finding. But a closer look at the data suggests that policymaking in America—like the economy—is not necessarily a zero-sum game when it comes to the wealthy.
The study, by Martin Gilens, of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page, of Northwestern University, is one of the most empirical analyses yet on the impact on policy of various economic groups. It looked at polls for 1,779 policy questions between 1981 and 2002 and broke the responses down by income. The study then looked at which policy proposals were enacted.
The findings were clear. When a policy was supported only by ordinary citizens, it had little chance of succeeding. When a policy was supported by the "elite"—which it defines as the top 10 percent of earners, making $146,000 or more—the policy was adopted about 45 percent of the time.