‘If the Millionaires’ Party ever gets its act together, watch out.’

May 6, 2013
(Flickr/ToGa Wanderings)
(Flickr/ToGa Wanderings)

That the U.S. Congress contains more than its fair share of millionaires is fairly well known. But I've never seen it put quite this vividly:

If millionaires were a political party, that party would make up less than 10% of the country, but it would have a filibuster-proof super-majority in the Senate, a majority in the House, a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, and a man in the White House. If the Millionaires' Party ever gets its act together, watch out.

That's from Nick Carnes, a public policy professor at Duke University and author of the forthcoming book "White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making".

It's easy to brush these numbers off. Members of Congress are, almost by definition, extremely successful, driven individuals. So, too, are Supreme Court judges and presidents. Perhaps this is no different than basketball players being tall or supermodels being attractive.

But even if that's true, Carnes' research -- and common sense -- shows that the simple fact of being a white-collar millionaire leads to different priorities. It leads to different social circles. It leads to different bills.

While the average member of Congress in my sample voted with the AFL-CIO approximately 56% of the time, models 3 and 4 in Table 1 suggest that if the class composition of Congress were identical to that of the nation as a whole, the average member would have supported the AFL-CIO’s position between 59% of the time (model 4, with controls) and 69% of the time (model 3, without controls), which translates into approximately one to three more major progressive economic policies in each Congress.

Professional basketball is a different game because almost everyone who plays it is tall. Similarly, Congress is a different body because so many of its members are rich.

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