Separations of Wealth: Inequality and the Erosion of Checks and Balances

18 J. Con. Law 419 (2015)

U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 495

87 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2016 Last revised: 29 Apr 2016

See all articles by Kate Andrias

Kate Andrias

Columbia University - Law School

Date Written: March 1, 2016

Abstract

American government is dysfunctional: Gridlock, filibusters, and expanding presidential power, everyone seems to agree, threaten our basic system of constitutional governance. Who, or what, is to blame? In the standard account, the fault lies with the increasing polarization of our political parties. That standard story, however, ignores an important culprit: Concentrated wealth and its organization to achieve political ends. The only way to understand our current constitutional predicament — and to rectify it — is to pay more attention to the role that organized wealth plays in our system of checks and balances.

This Article shows that the increasing concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the wealthy elite, and the concomitant decline of countervailing organizations, help explain the extent of executive power, the rise of gridlock, and, ultimately, the deterioration of effective checks and balances in the Federal Government. A core goal of constitutional structure — to promote democratic accountability and responsiveness to the broad citizenry — is severely compromised by the power wielded by organized wealth. Moderating partisanship will not alone solve constitutional dysfunction, nor will conventional good governance reforms like campaign finance regulation. Rather, this Article argues, the law should facilitate organizations of ordinary Americans that can serve as a countervailing check and prod in governance.

Keywords: Checks and balances, politics, wealth, elite, governance, democracy, accountability

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Andrias, Kate, Separations of Wealth: Inequality and the Erosion of Checks and Balances (March 1, 2016). 18 J. Con. Law 419 (2015), U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 495, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2741122 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2741122

Kate Andrias (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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