Plutocracy (from Greek πλοῦτος, ploutos, meaning "wealth", and κράτος, kratos, meaning "power, dominion, rule") or plutarchy, refers to a society or a system ruled and dominated by a small minority of the wealthiest or most powerful citizens. Unlike democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not necessarily rooted in any definite political philosophy, and the concepts or strategies of plutocracy may be advocated or used by wealthy or powerful classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion, though the term itself is almost always used in a pejorative sense.
- The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, yet millions of American families have had to set up crowdfunding sites to try to raise money for their loved ones’ medical bills. Millions more can buy unleaded gasoline for their car, but they can’t get unleaded water in their homes. Almost half of America’s workers—whether in Appalachia or Alabama, California or Carolina—work for less than a living wage. And as school buildings in poor communities crumble for lack of investment, America’s billionaires are paying a lower tax rate than the poorest half of households. This moral crisis is coming to a head as the coronavirus pandemic lays bare America’s deep injustices. [...] The underlying disease, in other words, is poverty, which was killing nearly 700 of us every day in the world’s wealthiest country, long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. The moral crisis of poverty amid vast wealth is inseparable from the injustice of systemic racism, ecological devastation, and our militarized war economy. It is only a minority rule sustained by voter suppression and gerrymandering that subverts the will of the people. To redeem the soul of America—and survive a pandemic—we must have a moral fusion movement that cuts across race, gender, class, and cultural divides.
- Decades after Depression-era reforms, Wall Street fought successfully to deregulate the financial system, paving the way for the 2008 financial crash that caused millions to lose their homes and livelihoods. And the ultra-rich and big corporations have also managed to dominate our campaign finance system, making it easier for them to buy off politicians who commit to rigging the rules against the poor and the environment, and to suppress voting rights, making it harder for the poor to fight back. [...] Key to these rollbacks: controlling the narrative about who is poor in America and the world. It is in the interest of the greedy and the powerful to perpetuate myths of deservedness—that they deserve their wealth and power because they are smarter and work harder, while the poor deserve to be poor because they are lazy and intellectually inferior. It’s also in their interest to perpetuate the myth that the poverty problem has largely been solved and so we needn’t worry about the rich getting richer—even while our real social safety net is full of gaping holes. This myth has been reinforced by our deeply flawed official measurements of poverty and economic hardship. The way the U.S. government counts who is poor and who is not, frankly, is a sixty-year-old mess that doesn’t tell us what we need to know. It’s an inflation-adjusted measure of the cost of a basket of food in 1955 relative to household income, adjusted for family size—and it’s still the way we measure poverty today.
- Dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise. Equality of opportunity has been on the decline. A progressive and meaningful estate tax is needed to curb the movement of a democracy toward plutocracy.
- There were a few human beings who gradually, through the process of invention and experiment, built and operated, first, local river and bay, next, along-shore, then off-shore rafts, dugouts, grass broats, and outrigger sailing canoes. Finally, they developed voluminous rib-bellied fishing vessels, and thereby ventured out to sea for progressively longer periods. Developing ever larger and more capable ships, the seafarers eventually were able to remain for months on the high seas. Thus, these venturers came to live normally at sea. This led them inevitably into world-around, swift, fortune - producing enterprise. Thus they became the first world men. The men who were able to establish themselves on the oceans had also to be extraordinarily effective with the sword upon both land and sea. They had also to have great anticipatory vision, great ship designing capability, and original scientific conceptioning, mathematical skill in navigation and exploration techniques for coping in fog, night, and storm with the invisible hazards of rocks, shoals, and currents. The great sea venturers had to be able to command all the people in their dry land realm order to commandeer the... skills necessary to produce their large, complex ships... There were very few of these top power men. But as they went on their sea ventures they gradually found that the waters interconnected all the world’s people and lands... these very few masters of the water world became incalculably rich and powerful.
- These hard, powerful, brilliantly resourceful sea masters had to sleep occasionally, and therefore found it necessary to surround themselves with super-loyal, muscular but dull-brained illiterates who could not see nor savvy their masters’ stratagems. There was great safety in the mental dullness of these henchmen. The Great Pirates realized that the only people who could possibly contrive to displace them were the truly bright people. For this reason their number-one strategy was secrecy. If the other powerful pirates did not know where you were going, nor when you had gone, nor when you were coming back, they would not know how to waylay you. If anyone knew when you were coming home, “small-tini-ers” could come out in small boats and waylay you in the dark and take you over-just before you got home tiredly after a two-year treasure ¬ harvesting voyage. Thus hijacking and second-rate piracy became a popular activity around the world’s shores and harbors. Thus secrecy became the essence of the lives of the successful pirates; ergo, how little is known today of that which I am relating. p. 20
- If wealth, power, and income continue to concentrate at the very tippy top, our society will change from a capitalist democracy to a neo-feudalist rentier society like 18th-century France. That was France before the revolution and the mobs with the pitchforks.
- I have a message for my fellow plutocrats and zillionaires and for anyone who lives in a gated bubble world: Wake up. Wake up. It cannot last. Because if we do not do something to fix the glaring economic inequities in our society, the pitchforks will come for us, for no free and open society can long sustain this kind of rising economic inequality. It has never happened. There are no examples. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state or an uprising.
- The most insidious thing about trickle-down economics is not the claim that if the rich get richer, everyone is better off. It is the claim made by those who oppose any increase in the minimum wage that if the poor get richer, that will be bad for the economy. This is nonsense. So can we please dispense with this rhetoric that says that rich guys like me and my plutocrat friends made our country?
- Many economists would have you believe that their field is an objective science. I disagree, and I think that it is equally a tool that humans use to enforce and encode our social and moral preferences and prejudices about status and power, which is why plutocrats like me have always needed to find persuasive stories to tell everyone else about why our relative positions are morally righteous and good for everyone, like: we are indispensable, the job creators, and you are not; like, tax cuts for us create growth, but investments in you will balloon our debt and bankrupt our great country; that we matter; that you don't. For thousands of years, these stories were called divine right. Today, we have trickle-down economics. How obviously, transparently self-serving all of this is. We plutocrats need to see that the United States of America made us, not the other way around; that a thriving middle class is the source of prosperity in capitalist economies, not a consequence of it.
- We’ve been saturated with cultural images and a kind of cultural deification of wealth and those who have wealth. They present people of immense wealth as somehow leaders, oracles even. We don’t grasp internally what an oligarchic class is finally about, or how venal and morally bankrupt they are. We need to recover the language of class warfare to grasp what is happening to us. And we need to shatter this self-delusion that somehow if, as Obama says, we work hard enough and study hard enough, we can be one of them.
- The whole notion of the free market, laissez-faire capitalism, globalization is a very thin rationale for unmitigated greed by a tiny oligarchic elite. And they have made sure that that ideology is taught in universities across the country. And people, especially economists, who deviate from that ideology have been pushed aside, and become pariahs. And yet the driving ethos of that ideology is really to justify the hoarding of immense amounts of wealth by a very tiny percentage of the upper ruling class.
- Woe to those who make unjust laws,
- to those who issue oppressive decrees,
- to deprive the poor of their rights
- and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
- making widows their prey
- and robbing the fatherless.
- What will you do on the day of reckoning,
- when disaster comes from afar?
- To whom will you run for help?
- Where will you leave your riches?
- I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
- The conflict is not really between royalty and democracy. It is between both and plutocracy, which, having destroyed the royal power by frank force under democratic pretexts, has bought and swallowed democracy.
- Russell Kirk, Eliot and His Age: T. S. Eliot's Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century (1971)
- The stark reality is that we have a society in which money is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people. This threatens to make us a democracy in name only.
- Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich–that is the democracy of capitalist society.
- Reagan's story of freedom superficially alludes to the Founding Fathers, but its substance comes from the Gilded Age, devised by apologists for the robber barons. It is posed abstractly as the freedom of the individual from government control — a Jeffersonian ideal at the roots of our Bill of Rights, to be sure. But what it meant in politics a century later, and still means today, is the freedom to accumulate wealth without social or democratic responsibilities and license to buy the political system right out from everyone else.
- Bill Moyers, in his "For America's Sake" speech (12 December 2006), as quoted in Moyers on Democracy (2008), p. 17
- Ed Murrow told his generation of journalists bias is okay as long as you don't try to hide it. So here, one more time, is mine: plutocracy and democracy don't mix. Plutocracy, the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy.
Plutocracy is not an American word but it's become an American phenomenon. Back in the fall of 2005, the Wall Street giant Citigroup even coined a variation on it, plutonomy, an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer with government on their side. By the next spring, Citigroup decided the time had come to publicly "bang the drum on plutonomy." … over the past 30 years the plutocrats, or plutonomists — choose your poison — have used their vastly increased wealth to capture the flag and assure the government does their bidding. … This marriage of money and politics has produced an America of gross inequality at the top and low social mobility at the bottom, with little but anxiety and dread in between, as middle class Americans feel the ground falling out from under their feet. … Like those populists of that earlier era, millions of Americans have awakened to a sobering reality: they live in a plutocracy, where they are disposable. Then, the remedy was a popular insurgency that ignited the spark of democracy. Now we have come to another parting of the ways, and once again the fate and character of our country are up for grabs. … Democracy only works when we claim it as our own.
- The sponsor of an hour's television program is not buying merely the six minutes devoted to commercial message. He is determining, within broad limits, the sum total of the impact of the entire hour. If he always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or "letting the public decide."
- What would happen if someone were to choose the captains of ships by their wealth, refusing to entrust the ship to a poor person even if he was a better captain?
- They would make a poor voyage of it.
- And isn't the same true of the rule of anything else whatsoever?
- I suppose so.
- Except a city? Or does it also apply to a city?
- To it most of all, since it's the most difficult and most important kind of rule.
- Since those who rule in the city do so because they own a lot, I suppose they're unwilling to enact laws to prevent young people who've had no discipline from spending and wasting their wealth, so that by making loans to them, secured by the young people's property, and then calling those loans in, they themselves become even richer and more honored.
- We [Americans] have no aristocracy of blood, and having therefore as a natural, and indeed as an inevitable thing, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of dollars, the display of wealth has here to take the place and perform the office of the heraldic display in monarchical countries. By a transition readily understood, and which might have been as readily foreseen, we have been brought to merge in simple show our notions of taste itself.
- Edgar Allan Poe, "The Philosophy of Furniture" in The Gentleman's Magazine (1840:6), p. 267
- When the rich and the poor have justice meted to them in our courts with an uneven hand, and the fact is made plain and comprehensible, it is felt to be an outrage and a betrayal of the spirit of our institutions.
- Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianizing the Social Order (1912)
- The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
- Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy.
- I fear that we may be on the verge of becoming an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires control not just the economy, but the political life of this country. And that’s just something we’re going to have wrestle with.
- If by "democracy" we mean the form which the Third Estate as such wishes to impart to public life as a whole, it must be concluded that democracy and plutocracy are the same thing under the two aspects of wish and actuality, theory and practice, knowing and doing. It is the tragic comedy of the world‑improvers' and freedom‑teachers' desperate fight against money that they are ipso facto assisting money to be effective. Respect for the big number—expressed in the principles of equality for all, natural rights, and universal suffrage—is just as much a class‑ideal of the unclassed as freedom of public opinion (and more particularly freedom of the press) is so. These are ideals, but in actuality the freedom of public opinion involves the preparation of public opinion, which costs money; and the freedom of the press brings with it the question of possession of the press, which again is a matter of money; and with the franchise comes electioneering, in which he who pays the piper calls the tune. The representatives of the ideas look at one side only, while the representatives of money operate with the other. The concepts of Liberalism and Socialism are set in effective motion only by money. … There is no proletarian, not even a Communist movement, that has not operated in the interests of money, and for the time being permitted by money—and that without the idealists among its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact.
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