The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust by John Judis. This book was published in 2000, but the analysis is still relevant. What’s interesting, particularly from an Australian perspective, is that the book is not, as might be expected, a diatribe against elites and interest groups. Judis argues that the American system relies on participation by interest groups representing real constituencies and by disinterested elite groups – his models are the Brookings Institution and the Committee on Economic Development.
But now, Judis says, most interest groups have no real members, and are merely “letterhead groups” relying either on business lobbies or direct mail appeals for their funding, while the elites have capitulated to business. The result is a corrupt, money-driven system of politics.
The bad guys in the book are the lobbying industry (“K Street”, in the intra-Beltway jargon) and members of the elite who act as mouthpieces for partisan interests – the prime individual example is Henry Kissinger, and the main institutional villain is the American Enterprise Institute. Having never looked into the history of the Institute, I’ve accepted Brad de Long’s judgement that it was once a reputable, if conservatively-inclined outfit. By Judis’ account, though, it was always a front group for partisan conservatives, and so, its recent activities (discussed here, here and here) can be seen merely as revealing its true colours.
Judis’ analysis is quite US-specific, but it is still helpful in trying to work out an appropriate response to the Australian debate over “elites” most of which is at a very low level.