Hong Kong and America: two systems, one corruption


The massive, student led protests in Hong Kong were sparked by the fact that Beijing's political and economic elites get to choose the candidates in its elections ("I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating" -Boss Tweed) -- but is this really any different from America's big money primaries, where corporate elites can spend unlimited sums fixing the race?

Larry Lessig's essay
We Should Be Protesting, Too
makes the connection: "Democracy with Chinese characteristics" is starting to look an awful lot like "Democracy with American characteristics," where the rich and powerful get to rig elections to ensure a slate of pro-establishment candidates who are guaranteed to support policies that reward their paymasters.

Today there’s no “white primary.” Today, there’s a “green primary.” To run in any election, primary or general, candidates must raise extraordinary sums, privately. Yet they raise that money not from all of us. They raise it from a tiny, tiny few. In the last non-presidential election, only about .05 percent of America gave the maximum contribution to even one congressional candidate in either the primary or general election; .01 percent gave $10,000 or more; and in 2012, 132 Americans gave 60 percent of the superPAC money spent. This is the biased filter in the first stage of our American democracy.

This bias has consequences. Of course, we don’t have a democracy “dominated by a pro-Beijing business and political elite.” But as a massive empirical study by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page published just last month shows, remove the word “pro-Beijing,” and the charge translates pretty well.

America’s government is demonstrably responsive to the “economic elite and organized business interests,” Gilens and Page found, while “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Boss Tweed would have been impressed.



We Should Be Protesting, Too
[Lawrence Lessig]

(Image: Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution, Pasu Au Yeung, CC-BY)