So. Do We Have an Oligarchy or a Plutocracy?

It’s a hard call. Plutocracy means rule by the rich, oligarchy means rule by a dominant class or clique. Either way, it all comes down to money, and most of us—those of us without the money—haven’t had much say about it.

Democracy, alas, takes a distant third place lately. Yeah, we can still vote, but for thirty years, the politicians we voted for have sold us all downriver, with more and more laws and regulations penalizing the poor and middle class and benefiting the rich. It’s supposed to “trickle down”, but so far it hasn’t. There’s a very small group of zillionaires who control everything via their pet legislators. They have systematically trashed all restraints on their activities, and now manipulate lawmaking to their own financial advantage with thousands of lobbyists and stealth activities that seek to control who votes. Social equality is not one of their goals.

If we are an oligarchy, who are the members of the oligarch, the dominant class? A dominant class could be any group of people who possess characteristics deemed important. Say, advanced degrees as evidence of ability to think critically, or demonstrated proficiency in science or some other discipline, or demonstrated ability to benefit the people. But our oligarch consists only of people with lots of money. The very wealthy literally control how laws are made. The oligarch must also include Congress, because they are the ones who actually make the laws.

But when you look at Congress, you find that about half are millionaires, and only 6% have incomes representative of the bottom 80% of the population. In fact, House wealth has increased 25% in the past two years alone, while everyone else’s  fell. It all fits well with the conservative belief that money is virtue, but not very well with virtue itself. Granted, being a millionaire these days doesn’t mean the same thing it meant a few decades ago. As the saying goes, “Inflation will make millionaires of us all”. Even so, even though there are ten million millionaires in the world, a net worth of a million dollars is still quite substantial when average income is $42K in the US (Note that this figure is sharply skewed by the enormous income at the upper end of the scale.) and $7K worldwide, and millionaires are greatly over-represented in Congress.

Speaking of, doesn’t that 1% qualify as plutocratic? Or do we need the top 0.1% for that? Even those guys speak of themselves as plutocrats, according to some intercepted communications not long ago.

That being the case, and given that the very rich virtually control Congress, my vote is for plutocracy. What’s yours, and why?

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23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “Democracy, alas, takes a distant third place lately.
    Yeah, we can still vote … ”

    For now. They’re working on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is the number one issue and anybody who doesn’t realize that is ignorant. You can throw out all hope for social equality and your opinion mattering if we don’t even have the right to vote. We fought hard for this and now we are just letting then take it away

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good analysis – and a good explanation of the distinction. I would say we have a particular kind of plutocracy – namely the police state variety – as revealed by Edward Snowden.

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  3. I have always thought that the correct term to use is “plutocracy,” though the catchphrase more popular these days is definitely “oligarchy.” I think one could sensibly argue that a plutocracy is one type of oligarchy, and that our current “democracy” is a in reality a plutocratic form of oligarchy. And so, logically and to keep the term short, we most accurately describe the current state of our “democracy” by calling it a plutocracy.

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  4. plutocracies are a subset of oligarchies. The U.S. is a plutocracy because sufficient wealth is all that is required for membership in the oligarch. In non-plutocratic oligarchies (if any exist) there are other qualifications, like noble birth, or religious influence (Iran?). In the U.S. very large sums of money will secure membership in the oligarch if one seeks it. That is a pure plutocracy.

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    • I should have mentioned that Aristotle first conflated the two terms, possibly as a mere acknowledgement of the fact that wealth will buy power and power will always be used to amass wealth. In the end maybe all oligarchies are plutocratic.

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  5. We have plutocrats lobbying oligarchs, which results in crony capitalism. Semantics aside, we certainly know the results – everybody but the oligarchs and the plutocrats has their lives destroyed.

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  6. i tend to simplify it to wealth to power, power to wealth (plutocracy to oligarchy, respectively). perhaps also respectively, the conservative path to rule and the liberal path. at the end of the road, the dem-ocracy winds up in the same place.

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  7. I don’t trust a govt run by people with degrees and specialties, either. Furthermore, if everyone is to be allowed to vote, as some suggest, then everyone ought to be in the pool of people chosen to govern. Why wouldn’t we want the same people who we feel ought to vote, regardless of ability to reason, not be allowed a term in office?

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    • The trouble is, how do you decide who is smart enough to vote. Several of the current members of Congress aren’t.

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  8. My choice is Plutocracy. If the definition of an Oligarchy is “rule by a single class” and that class happens to be the truly wealthiest levels of America, Plutocracy wins by mere definition.

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  9. Reblogged this on CreekWaterWoman and commented:
    A good short read. It’s timely too, given we’ll soon have a new president.

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  10. “We can still vote,” but we are permitted to choose ONLY amongst the oligarch’s hand-picked corporatists. All American politicians are thoroughly vetted through the Corporate Campaign Finance system, which does not fund any but dedicated corporatists. Socialists, indeed ANY candidate who is not a fully proven fascist is not funded! And with presidential camapigns costing upwards of a billion dollars (and even Congressional contests being astronomically costly), those without a stamp of approval from the corporations CANNOT RUN.

    That is certainly NOT democracy.

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  11. I WAS going to bookmark this site, and become a participant (I comment a lot on Alternet), but when I tried to post my first comment, it simply vanished, without explanation, and there seems to be no way to contact the site owners, so forget it! I can’t waste my time writing carefully constructed, meaningful comments, only to have them go straight into the trash! Would LOVE the site otherwise…

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    • Don’t know why that happened. Your comment obviously didn’t vanish, because I’m responding to it.

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  12. Thank you for this web site and for educating me on the language that more correctly describes the type of government we have.
    Democracy remains a distant possibility. Plutocracy remains the current reality. Our population disdains educating itself. And we live with the results of that as of November 9, 2016

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    • As you point out Plutocracy remains the current reality, and last night cements that. If this were an oligarchy, then a Koch brothers backed politician would have won. Instead, we got the first American President with no political or military background whatsoever. His main claim to fame was his billionaire status, and that bought him a financial advantage and independence that his supporters liked, and which allowed him to mess with the whole establishment, Democrats and Republicans alike.

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      • He will sell his soul to the Republican Party and anyone who is not in the top 1% will be all the worse.

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  13. The voters knew all about Trump and STILL voted for him. When you have uneducated, ignorant massed who are brainwashed from watching FOX news and that Rush Limphead then this is what you get.

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  14. Donald Trump was not chosen by anyone but the American people. He was not chosen by members of the plutocracy. He was not chosen by influential party leaders or wealthy donors. He didn’t receive the support of celebrities, academics or scientists. In this sense, he was soundly rejected by the American Oligarchy, aka the Establishment.

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  15. We are not a democracy. If you are going to provide definitions of terms, then understand that a democracy equals mob rule. The word does not occur anywhere in our US Constitution.

    Our US Constitution (distinct from our State Constitutions) was written to LIMIT government because true liberty is not achieved through government dictate. Please quit advocating ‘democracy.’ We saw what it looks like in the recent demonstrations in DC and it ain’t pretty.

    The federal government was never meant to infringe on the People’s lives to the extent that it currently does.

    We are not a Nation, either. We are a Republic. Our States are themselves Nations that have come together, much as the EU was formed, to provide for common protection and to regulate trade. (The EU has been a failure and destined to self-destruct, much as the US should probably self-destruct if it cannot return to the chains of the Constitution.)

    The Sovereign People, through the US Constitution, did not give the federal government the power to do about 80% of what it is currently doing. Get the FEDGOV back into its box and you will experience a freedom not seen since our founding.

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  16. We have a Plutocracy of huge corporations and vastly wealthy individuals–too large to be called an oligarchy. They have created intolerable systemic corruption, dysfunction, and waste in a complicit Congress. There is a way to return to and improve upon our original Democratic Republic. Of course, it is not easy, but it is doable. See CUSDI.org.

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  17. I would call it a “plutoligarchy,” leaning more towards the plutocractic form of a system. As an “oligarchy” is rightfully ruled by a certain dominant class or clique of people, that class or clique of people are overwhelmingly wealthy. Plutocracy is a form of Oligarchy. They (being corporations and wealthy individuals) own major sectors of wealth in various industries, have influence over the politicians that make the laws (to benefit them) and is leaving the country in shambles, at the peril of the American people. If we are to wonder why certain banks and financial institutions got their bailout and stimulus, as opposed to giving main street America the bailout that they deserve, should give you an idea where the focus of attention is headed. Remember, “corporations are people” too and that gives them the voice, vote and validity that they sooo duly deserve in this place we call a Democracy. Thank the last 30+ years of politicians who have carefully crafted this system to be a more perfect union!

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