Review: Downsizing Democracy–How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privatized Its Public

4 Star, Democracy

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

4.0 out of 5 stars Important Message, A Strain to Read,

May 29, 2003
Professor Matthew A. Crenson
The authors are substantively at the top of the heap in terms of making sense and documenting their observations. The book loses one star to poor decisions by the editors and publishers on dark paper, single spacing, small almost crowded type, and an over-all look and feel that makes this book annoying and difficult to read.The authors discuss and document ten points in each of ten chapters:
1) The tyranny of the minorities has reached its ultimate peversion–single individuals, well-educated, well-off, get what they want, and the poor masses lose the power that came from groups with diverse backgrounds.
2) Citizenship has lost its meaning–taxation is automatic, and the US can be said to be back in a situation where the broad masses are experiencing “taxation without representation.”
3) Elections now feature only the intensely loyal minority from each of the two major parties–the bulk of the voters have dropped out and elections are thus not representative of the wishes of the larger community.
4) Patronage has changed, with corporations rather than citizens getting to feed at the public trough, and the focus being on influencing policy after election, never mind who the people elected. The authors also do an excellent job of discussing polling and the manner in which it misrepresents the actual concerns and beliefs of the people.
5) Three chapters–one called “Disunited We Stand”, a second called “From Masses to Mailing Lists, and a third called “Movements without Members” all make more or less the same point, but in different ways: political mobilization–people actually joining, doing, writing, demanding–are out, and instead we have micro groups, sometimes actually limited to the employed staff of an advocacy group, that raise funds, take stands, and get what they want, without ever having actually mobilized people to come together in a political manner.
6) A very thoughtful chapter covers the manner in which law suits and the judiciary have become a new battleground, a means of overturning laws and regulations made by the legislative and executive branches. While the authors do not go into the recent scams where a “nature conservation” non-profit sells prime environmental land to rich people below cost, and then accepts their tax-deductible contributions, they might also have explored how the law is being used to subvert the public interest, often with the help of the very “advocacy groups” that are nominally representing the public interest.
7) The authors do an excellent job of discussing how the out-sourcing of government functions to private enterprises undermines accountability and lead to severe abuse. Similarly, non-profits, including notional churches and other tax dodges, can enjoy enormous public subsidization in the way of tax breaks, while giving less than they should to the public treasury.
8) The author’s end by asking “Does Anyone Need Citizens?” and the last two words in the book are “Who cares?” Today, the Administration’s answer would clearly be “no”, we don’t need citizens. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the US public is both uninformed, and unengaged. Citizens have allowed themselves to be side-lined, and by this excellent account from the authors, should they choose to re-engage, they will have very hard work in front of them as they seek to overturn a half-century of deliberate ventures all seeking to reduce citizenship, increase bureaucracy, and reward corporate patrons of individual politicians who choose not to act in the public interest, but only their own.

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