We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.
Evidence suggests that politicians ... follow the views of the wealthy on such matters as taxation, spending, and regulation: for example, the wealthy are less enthusiastic about raising the minimum wage than is the general population. But unequal influence—exerted through money spent on campaigns or political causes—does not necessarily mean undue influence. Perhaps the wealthy have more informed perspectives on certain issues than the average voter and push for policies that benefit not only themselves but others, too.
The U.S. is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. The Framers expressly rejected the notion that the people should be able to instruct their representatives on how to vote. One proposed amendment to the Bill of Rights would have permitted voters to impose such binding directions, but James Madison objected: the nation’s representatives “must be able to contradict the sense of . . . the people” and not to vote for measures that they thought harmed the “public good,” he argued. Representatives will inevitably consider not just whether their policies align with the electorate’s current views but whether they will have good effects—at least, if they want to be reelected. Voters have short memories; they will hardly forgive politicians whose policies do harm just because those policies once earned high marks in opinion polls.
Public-choice theory—the application of economic principles to political decision-makers and institutions—reminds us that since individual voters are unlikely to change the result of an election, they will be naturally, and rationally, ignorant of most policies. They will often vote for expressive reasons—to affirm their image of themselves as good people. In times of crisis, voters may tend to pay more attention to the concrete consequences of their vote. But given that voting in ordinary times is mostly expressive, politicians should not uncritically obey popular sentiment but instead translate it into prudent policy ... History and logic indicate that a democracy in which the wealthy can exercise sway is likely a more stable and prosperous regime than one where the government attempts to redistribute influence from one group to another. (emphasis added).