Timothy Kuhner, an associate professor of law at Georgia State University, is featured in The World Financial Review, with a piece titled “The New Tyranny: A Preface to the 2016 Elections in the United States.”

The article begins:

Democracy in the United States has been replaced by a rival form of government premised upon the power of wealth. Not to be confused with mere corruption, plutocracy is an official system of rule built upon new interpretations of political speech, equality, and representation. The power of plutocracy rests upon public ignorance of and acquiescence to the profound transformation described in the pages that follow, perhaps the next American trend to sweep the globe.

The elections of 2016 are playing out upon a ramshackle platform of economic and political inequality that only recently became impossible to ignore. In a single two-week period in April of 2014, Thomas Piketty revealed that the bottom 50% of the population owns just 2% of national wealth, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page found empirically that the wealthy enjoy nearly exclusive control over US government policy, and the Supreme Court struck down a key Watergate reform inMcCutcheon v. FEC, enabling individuals to donate millions of dollars each to political campaigns.1 McCutcheon’s remarkable extension of the First Amendment’s free speech clause came on the heels of another Supreme Court case,Citizens United v. FEC, which granted corporations a constitutional right to unlimited political expenditures from general treasury funds. What do such constitutional sympathies and concentrations of power reveal about the United States?

The problem of money in politics runs far deeper than we care to admit. Piketty notes that the top 10% of US wealth holders could not possibly control 70% of national wealth as they do today if it were not for the existence of laws favourable to the concentration of wealth – a striking panorama of privatisation, deregulation, and tilted policies on entitlements, labour, and taxation. Beyond the decline of organised labour, Gilens and Page explain that wealthy citizens and interest groups are able to achieve such laws because they “regularly lobby and fraternise with public officials, move through revolving doors between public and private employment, provide self-serving information to officials, draft legislation, and spend a great deal of money on election campaigns.”2 Viewed in light of such facts, the depth of the problem is a function of government being co-opted by the few to secure their own interests over and above those of the public – an age-old recipe to be sure. John Locke defined tyranny as “the exercise of power beyond right[,] not for the good of those who are under it, but for [one’s] own private, separate advantage.” Certainly King George III qualified. But Locke also said this about tyranny: It is “a mistake to think this fault is proper only to monarchies.” “[O]ther forms of government are liable to it, as well,” Locke continued, “[f]or wherever the power is put in any hands for the government of the people, and… is…made use of to impoverish, harass or subdue them…There it presently becomes Tyranny.”3Could it be the case that tyranny has re-emerged on American soil? Does an aristocracy of wealth now subjugate Americans?

To read the full text in its original publication, click here.

Professor Kuhner was a participant at our Seton Hall symposium, “Democracy By the People: Reforming Campaign Finance in America Today,” in April.  Kuhner’s scholarship focuses on campaign finance, corruption, and democratic theory. Kuhner is the author of Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution (Stanford University Press 2014). In articles published by law journals at Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and Indiana University, he has addressed campaign finance reform from the standpoints of constitutional law, democratic and economic theory, comparative law, and international law.