A new study from researchers at Northwestern University reveals how the 100 wealthiest Americans have been able to quietly influence politics and push conservative policies behind the scenes.
The study finds that most billionaires influencing American politics, while less visible than people like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos or the Koch brothers, for example, are pushing extremely conservative politics. However, even billionaires who position themselves as left-of-center are profiting off of conservative policies. Amazon, for example, has made millions of dollars providing surveillance software to the Department of Homeland Security and police departments.
Many of the billionaires included in the study are opposed to government regulations and programs that benefit society as a whole, but that would harm their interests. Some believe the environment and big banks should not be regulated, and are opposed to social programs that help Americans find jobs or healthcare, according to the Guardian. “[They are] tempted to cut deficits and shrink government by cutting or privatizing guaranteed Social Security benefits.”
But the same billionaires who are pushing their ultra-conservative agendas are staying out of the spotlight. The study found that only one-quarter of the 100 billionaires included in the research had made public statement about tax policies, for instance. Only 3% of them made public comments about Social Security policies.
“[W]e suspect that for some of them, one factor entering into the decision not to speak may have been a reluctance to expose unpopular positions to public view,” the researchers explained. “If billionaires, too, tend to favor unpopular policies related to taxes and Social Security, that may help account for their silence.”
The choice to remain silent is calculated and deliberate. Billionaires have plenty of access to media, but choose to stay mum while supporting and advancing conservative policies that are harmful to most Americans.
The study’s findings shed light on how a political network of the wealthiest Americans has become powerful enough to shape U.S. politics and push the country toward ultra-conservatism. In the age of Trump, and as the country continues to move to the far right, the researchers ask why American voters are not more outraged or aware of the few wealthy people controlling the country behind closed doors.
By avoiding public scrutiny, billionaires are also avoiding accountability. “We believe that this sort of stealth politics is harmful to democracy,” the researchers concluded.