Thursday, February 4, 2016

USA: Oligarchy or Plutocracy?


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.


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