So, I’ve found an academic paper which backs up my biases. Yeah!

Thing is, I don’t quite trust it. I’d like to see it pulled apart and see how well it stands up. But I'm not quite sure I can phrase this as a question, which is perhaps a problem.

Have political parties moved right since the ’70s?

Politicians work for an economic elite, the 1%, that drives the world economic policies.

It’s a common claim, and now it has data to back it up. Perhaps. Pablo Torija, a PhD candidate at City University, London, has published the paper “Do Politicians Serve the One Percent? Evidence in OECD Countries”. It’s quite technical.

The central claims are stated in a simpler form in an editorial (also by Pablo Torija) in The New Left Project, “Servants of the 1%?: Politicians and the Economic Elite.”

There was a difference between centre left, centrist and centre right parties in 1975. Centre left parties most benefited poorer individuals (percentile 16), and centre right most benefited richer individuals (percentile 81). ... This is a picture of a healthy democracy where different political parties represent different social groups.
In 2009, ... they all benefit the richest 1%, whether centre left, centrist or centre right.

The statistics behind this could no doubt keep us occupied for a while, but I'm more interested in a more fundamental problem (as pointed out on h2g2): How do we decide which spending benefits which group in the first place?

The assumption is made that spending on public services benefits the poor as the rich do not use these services. I’m not sure that this is true. I seem to recall reading that following the formation of the NHS, it was the middle and upper classes whose health improved because they were more aware of the services on offer and educated to the point that they understood the benefits available.


  1. The project looks as if it measures decisions. If that’s so, then it’s only measuring departures from the status quo, not the status quo itself. I don’t think we can necessarily assume a neutral or fair starting point. If there’s initial injustice or imbalance, then what could be interpreted as a series of corrective moves can look like something else.
  2. The fact that the richest benefit the most from decision X is perhaps less interesting than how far down the income scale the benefits stop. For example, if the top rate of tax is cut, then the richest get a whopping great benefit that no-one else who isn’t in the top rate will get. But if the second highest rate, or the basic rate, is cut, then the richest will still benefit the most but that benefit will also be felt further down the income scale. Would both scenarios register in the same way on this survey? Would (say) a VAT cut register differently?
  3. John Rawls argued that differences in wealth can be justified if they serve to maximise the position of the least well off. In other words, allowing inequality allows incentives which creates growth which in turn increases the material position of the least well off. While it sounds similar to “trickle down” economics, it’s not quite the same point. But the question is worth asking in principle ... is making the rich richer making everyone else better off ... even though the answer is almost certainly ‘no’, because what we have in practice is rent-seeking behaviour whereby the rich just help themselves to an ever-larger share of the cake that isn’t growing anywhere near enough to justify it.
    Otto Fisch
  • 3
    I'd say it's a question, but a huge one...one that is basically asking for peer review of an academic paper. Which probably is out of scope for a Q&A site. – user1530 Apr 30 '13 at 21:56
  • Yeah. A bit too much. You're probably right. Ah well. – TRiG Apr 30 '13 at 23:06
  • I was going to point out that "Giving money to group X" != "Doing what's best for group X", but I see you already included that important nuance, at least in the form of Rawls (though there are arguments, some more convincing that Rawls's, to the same effect). – user4012 May 1 '13 at 20:18
  • Perhaps not entirely out of scope, see skeptics.stackexchange.com which exists more or less for this purpose, but you'd have to extract some narrower factual claims from that paper. Broad interpretations of correlational data are more difficult to frame as proper questions there. – Fizz Feb 8 at 3:53

It's definitely a question ("How do we decide which spending benefits which group in the first place?") but I would posit that a proper answer would fill a book (or rather, several) and therefore would make the question a poor SE format fit, as anything short-form would likely degenerate into relatively non-enlightning soundbites. Some further narrowing down seems to be in order.


The methodology section of the paper describes the use of datasets with an 11 point income scale, a nominated ideology matrix of parliament, and a happiness measure.

The implicit theory is therefore that income differentials measure class, class interest can be measured by happiness, ideology can be measured by a purely normative measure of parliament.

So it is more or less a crude dominant ideology / false consciousness model.

The question is answerable but trivial. "How do we decide which spending benefits which group in the first place?" => normative ideologies.


I would personally narrow this down to just the Tax Code, and only of a single country. Even this might fill a book, since entities like the IRS aren't even sure what the tax code says.

The tax base has been broadened (I think), but lots of tax grants have been introduced as well that would benefit poorer people either when measured as a percentage of their income, or on total dollars spent.

I think this question could make great question, but as DVK points out, the right amount of focus is needed.


It's a valid question, and it's (probably) tied to the fact that "Baby Boomers" (including yours truly) were "left-leaning" in the 1970s moved steadily rightwad as they aged. (Few other generations in American or world history moved so much from one side to the other as part of the "aging" process.)

I would ask about POLICIES. How does support for certain ("left" or "right" policies compare in 1970 with today.

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