The 1% Congress
Now, you might think this is the sort of thing that everyone, including your grandmother and mine, knows. And a moment's reflection suggests that that likely is so. That said, I think this is smart research that shines a bright, unflattering light on the inbred shallowness of the discipline of political science. And it does underscore the class basis of American politics.
In any case, Carnes has this Op Ed in The New York Times this morning sketching his research findings. The one thing that seems lame to me is the diffuseness of his proposed remedy and the basis for it. He thinks we can turn the under-representation of working class Americans around with a bit of elbow grease. He basically says 'Hey Look, in 1945 only 2% of Congressional representatives were women and now 17% are! Let's congratulate ourselves!" But let's remember that it is now 2012. In nearly seven decades Carnes's numbers indicate that we have made only glacial progress toward gender equality in political representation.** And, let's remember too that the the members of the 1% who are represented in Congress have 0% reason to support (and 100% reason to oppose) anything like the decentralized electoral strategy Carnes gestures at. This is a problem that demands direct political action; it is another indication of why the progressive agenda following on OWS should be about political rights.
* Nicholas Carnes. 2012. "Does the Numerical Underrepresentation of the Working Class in Congress Matter?" Legislative Studies Quarterly XXXVII: 5–34.
Working-class citizens have been numerically underrepresented in policymaking institutions throughout most of America’s history. Little is known, however, about the political consequences of this enduring feature of our democratic system. This essay examines the relationship between legislators’ class backgrounds and their votes on economic policy in the House of Representatives during the twentieth century. Like ordinary Americans, representatives from working-class occupations exhibit more liberal economic preferences than other legislators, especially those from profit-oriented professions. These findings provide the first evidence of a link between the descriptive and substantive representation of social classes in the United States.
** As Susan points out, the increase in female Congressional representatives is overwhelmingly due to the election of African-American women. There are relatively few Republicans. And, I'd bet that the white women who do serve in Congress mimic the overall class background of the two houses.