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Gilens Sees Discrepancy Between American Values and Tax Policy

An article about the tax proposal New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described on “60 Minutes” refers to UCLA Luskin Public Policy Professor Martin Gilens’ research to shed light on the discrepancy between American opinions about taxes and the powerful influence of conservative multimillionaires. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to tax income over $10 million per year at a top rate of 60 or 70 percent sounds radical but actually aligns with registered voter polls, including both Democrats and Republicans, the Intercept article said. Gilens’ research, conducted with political scientist Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, highlights the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy few. Gilens explains, “Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all. By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy.” 


Gilens Argues for Increasing Democratic Representation Through Public Policy

In an episode of the P.S. You’re Interesting podcast, UCLA Professor of Public Policy Martin Gilens discusses economic and political inequalities within democracies. Gilens’ research has found that “how much political influence a person has depends highly on how much income or assets they own. … Once you take into account the preferences of interest groups and the well-to-do, what middle-class Americans want bears almost no relationship to what the government actually does.” Despite levels of economic inequality that are the “highest in our history,” Gilens argues that Americans “shouldn’t accept the current degree of inequality and lack of responsiveness of the government to its citizens as something inevitable or out of our control.” Gilens’ solution of “more democracy” consists of facilitating engagement of citizens in the democratic process, including Election Day holidays and automatic voting registration, and forcing government decision-makers to respond to the preferences of citizens.