Plutocracy

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Not to be confused with Plutonomy.

Plutocracy (from Greek πλοῦτος, ploutos, meaning "wealth", and κράτος, kratos, meaning "power, dominion, rule") or plutarchy, defines a society or a system ruled and dominated by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens. The first known use of the term is 1652.[1] Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy. The concept of plutocracy may be advocated by the wealthy classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion, though the term itself is almost always used in a pejorative sense.[2]

Usage[edit]

The term plutocracy is generally used as a pejorative to describe or warn against an undesirable condition.[3][4] Throughout history, political thinkers such as Winston Churchill, 19th-century French sociologist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville, 19th-century Spanish monarchist Juan Donoso Cortés and today Noam Chomsky have condemned plutocrats for ignoring their social responsibilities, using their power to serve their own purposes and thereby increasing poverty and nurturing class conflict, corrupting societies with greed and hedonism.[5][6]

Examples[edit]

Examples of plutocracies include the Roman Empire, some city-states in Ancient Greece, the civilization of Carthage, the Italian city-states/merchant republics of Venice, Florence, Genoa, and pre-World War II Empire of Japan (the zaibatsu).[citation needed]

One modern, formal example of - what some critics have described as - a plutocracy is the City of London.[7] The City (not the whole of modern London but the area of the ancient city, which now mainly comprises the financial district) has a unique electoral system for its local administration. More than two-thirds of voters are not residents, but rather representatives of businesses and other bodies that occupy premises in the City, with votes distributed according to their number of employees. The principal justification for the non-resident vote is that about 450,000 non-residents constitute the city's day-time population and use most of its services, far outnumbering the City's 7,000 residents.[8]

Modern politics[edit]

See also: Upper class

Historically, wealthy individuals and organizations have exerted influence over the political arena. In the modern era, many democratic republics permit fundraising for politicians who frequently rely on such income for advertising their candidacy to the voting public.

Whether through individuals, corporations or advocacy groups, such donations are often believed to engender a cronyist or patronage system via which major contributors are rewarded on a quid pro quo basis. While campaign donations need not directly affect the legislative decisions of elected representatives, the natural expectation of donors is that their needs will be served by the person to whom they donated. If not, it is in their self-interest to fund a different candidate or political organization.

While quid pro quo agreements are generally illegal in most democracies, they are difficult to prove, short of a well-documented paper trail. A core basis of democracy, being a politician's ability to freely advocate policies which benefit his or her constituents, also makes it difficult to prove that doing so might be a crime. Even the granting of appointed positions to a well-documented contributor may not cross the line of the law, particularly if it happens that the contributor can actually boast a qualified résumé. Some systems even specifically provide for such patronage.

United States[edit]

Some modern historians, politicians and economists state that the United States was effectively plutocratic for at least part of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era periods between the end of the Civil War until the beginning of the Great Depression.[9][10][11][12][13][14] President Theodore Roosevelt became known as the "trust-buster" for his aggressive use of United States antitrust law, through which he managed to break up such major combinations as the largest railroad and Standard Oil, the largest oil company.[15]According to historian David Burton, “When it came to domestic political concerns, TR’s Bete Noire was the plutocracy.[16] In his autobiographical account of taking on monopolistic corporations as president, TR recounted

’’ …we had come to the stage where for our people what was needed was a real democracy; and of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy.’’[17]

The Sherman Antitrust Act had been enacted in 1890, with large industries reaching monopolistic or near-monopolistic levels of market concentration and financial capital increasingly integrating corporations, a handful of very wealthy heads of large corporations began to exert increasing influence over industry, public opinion and politics after the Civil War. Money, according to contemporary progressive and journalist Walter Weyl, was "the mortar of this edifice", with ideological differences among politicians fading and the political realm becoming "a mere branch in a still larger, integrated business. The state, which through the party formally sold favors to the large corporations, became one of their departments."[18]

In his book The Conscience of a Liberal, in a section entitled The Politics of Plutocracy, economist Paul Krugman says plutocracy took hold because of three factors: at that time, the poorest quarter of American residents (African-Americans and non-naturalized immigrants) were ineligible to vote, the wealthy funded the campaigns of politicians they preferred, and vote buying was "feasible, easy and widespread", as were other forms of electoral fraud such as ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of the other party's voters.[19]

Post World War II[edit]

In modern times, the term is sometimes used pejoratively to refer to societies rooted in state-corporate capitalism or which prioritize the accumulation of wealth over other interests. According to Kevin Phillips, author and political strategist to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the United States is a plutocracy in which there is a "fusion of money and government."[20]

Chrystia Freeland, author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else,[21] says that the present trend towards plutocracy occurs - and is self-justified - because the rich feel "[their] own personal self-interest is in the interests of everybody else."[22][23]

Some researchers have said the US may be drifting towards a form of oligarchy, as individual citizens have less impact than economic elites and organized interest groups upon public policy.[24][relevant? ] A study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton University) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern University), which was released in April 2014, [25] stated that their "analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts." Gilens and Page do not characterize the US as an "oligarchy" or "plutocracy" per se; however, they do apply the concept of "civil oligarchy" as used by Jeffrey A. Winters [26] with respect to the US.

Most recently, Jeffrey Winters has posited a comparative theory of “Oligarchy,” in which the wealthiest citizens – even in a “civil oligarchy” like the United States – dominate policy concerning crucial issues of wealth- and income-protection. [27]

As a propaganda term[edit]

In the political jargon and propaganda of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the Communist International, western democratic states were referred to as plutocracies, with the implication being that a small number of extremely wealthy individuals were controlling the countries and holding them to ransom.[28][29] Plutocracy replaced democracy and capitalism as the principal fascist term for the United States and Great Britain during the Second World War.[29] For the Nazis, the term was often a code word for "the Jews".[29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Plutocracy". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 13 October 2012. 
  2. ^ "The study of attitudes is reasonably easy [...] it's concluded that for roughly 70% of the population - the lower 70% on the wealth/income scale - they have no influence on policy whatsoever. They're effectively disenfranchised. As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy. When you get to the top, which is maybe a tenth of one percent, people essentially get what they want, i.e. they determine the policy. So the proper term for that is not democracy; it's plutocracy." Extract from the transcript of a speech delivered by Noam Chomsky in Bonn, Germany, at DW Global Media Forum, 15 August 2013.
  3. ^ Fiske, Edward B.; Mallison, Jane; Hatcher, David (2009). Fiske 250 words every high school freshman needs to know. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks. p. 250. ISBN 1402218400. 
  4. ^ Coates, ed. by Colin M. (2006). Majesty in Canada: essays on the role of royalty. Toronto: Dundurn. p. 119. ISBN 1550025864. 
  5. ^ Conservative thinkers: from John Adams to Winston Churchill. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. 2006. pp. 19–68. ISBN 1412805260. 
  6. ^ Toupin, Alexis de Tocqueville; edited by Roger Boesche; translated by James; Boesche, Roger (1985). Selected letters on politics and society. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 197–198. ISBN 0520057511. 
  7. ^ The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest, The Guardian, retrieved 01/11/2011
  8. ^ René Lavanchy (12 February 2009). "Labour runs in City of London poll against ‘get-rich’ bankers". Tribune. Retrieved 14 February 2009. [dead link]
  9. ^ Pettigrew, Richard Franklin (2010). Triumphant Plutocracy: The Story of American Public Life from 1870 to 1920. Nabu Press. ISBN 1146542747. 
  10. ^ Calvin Reed, John (1903). The New Plutocracy. Kessinger Publishing, LLC (2010 reprint). ISBN 1120909155. 
  11. ^ Brinkmeyer, Robert H. (2009). The fourth ghost: white Southern writers and European fascism, 1930-1950. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 331. ISBN 0807133833. 
  12. ^ Allitt, Patrick (2009). The conservatives: ideas and personalities throughout American history. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 143. ISBN 0300118945. 
  13. ^ Ryan, foreword by Vincent P. De Santis; edited by Leonard Schlup, James G. (2003). Historical dictionary of the Gilded Age. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe. p. 145. ISBN 0765603314. 
  14. ^ Conservative thinkers: from John Adams to Winston Churchill. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. 2006. p. 103. ISBN 1412805260. 
  15. ^ Schweikart, Larry (2009). American Entrepreneur: The Fascinating Stories of the People Who Defined Business in the United States. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn. 
  16. ^ David Henry Burton: Theodore Rooselvelt, American Politician, An Assessment, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1997
  17. ^ Theodore Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt: an autobiography. New York, Macmillan, 1913
  18. ^ Bowman, Scott R. (1996). The modern corporation and American political thought: law, power, and ideology. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. 92–103. ISBN 0271014733. 
  19. ^ Krugman, Paul (2009). The conscience of a liberal ([Pbk. ed.] ed.). New York: Norton. pp. 21–26. ISBN 0393333132. 
  20. ^ Transcript. Bill Moyers Interviews Kevin Phillips. NOW with Bill Moyers 4.09.04 | PBS
  21. ^ Freeland, Chrystia (2012). Plutocrats: the rise of the new global super-rich and the fall of everyone else. New York: Penguin. ISBN 9781594204098. OCLC 780480424. 
  22. ^ National Public Radio (October 15, 2012) "A Startling Gap Between Us And Them In 'Plutocrats'"
  23. ^ See also the Chrystia Freeland interview for the Moyers Book Club (October12, 2012) Moyers & Company Full Show: Plutocracy Rising
  24. ^ Piketty, Thomas (2014). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Belknap Press. ISBN 067443000X p. 514: "the risk of a drift towards oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism about where the United States is headed."
  25. ^ Gilens & Page (2014) Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, Perspectives on Politics, Princeton University. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  26. ^ Winters, Jeffrey A. “Oligarchy" Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 208-254
  27. ^ Gilens & Page (2014) p. 6
  28. ^ http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/fi/vol02/no02/editors2.htm
  29. ^ a b c Blamires, Cyprian; Jackson, Paul (2006). World fascism: a historical encyclopedia, Vol. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 522. ISBN 978-1-57607-940-9. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of plutocracy at Wiktionary
  • Quotations related to Plutocracy at Wikiquote