This Week’s Mtg: Are We An Oligarchy? (1/20/11)

An “oligarchy” is a society in which politics and government are controlled by a few powerful individuals – who could be “oligopolists” (business owners who’ve rigged markets in their favor) or some other small elite, like a racial or ethnic one.  Think the Gilded Age around 1900, when a few gigantic trusts controlled almost the entire economy and their owners leveraged that wealth and influence into vast political power.  Or think Russia and many other poor countries now.  Sionce we all live in market economies, I prefer to use “plutocracy.”  In a plutocracy, the wealthy so dominate politics and government that the country ends up not just with rule by the rich but also with rule for the rich and their interests at the expense of everyone else.  

Sound familiar?  To me, too.  But, are we really turning into an oligarchy and/or a plutocracy?   (It’s not supposed to happen in a democracy.)  And, if so, how did it happen and who are our  oligarchs/plutocrat overlords?   That’s Thursday’s topic, courtesy of Dean.  We’ll probably spend a good deal of the night on the whether and the how.

Yet, in my new quest to get us to focus more on why we believe the things we do, my opening remarks will focus on public perceptions.  Traditionally, Left and Right see this whole topic very differently.  The Left focuses its anger on economic and big business elites as the true oligarchs/plutocrats.  To liberals, our political system has been captured by a small and interconnected class of corporate and wealthy interests that uses politics to perpetuate its own privilege and power.  The Right, especially in the last 25 years, has focused on a different culprit: A cultural and educational elite of Liberal social engineers and their allies in the news media, academia, and Hollywood.  I will briefly discuss these two worldviews and whether they can be reconciled. 


  1. Are we really a plutocracy?  What evidence tells us this? 
  2. If so, who are the oligarchs and plutocrats and how did this happen; i.e., was it natural (technology, globalization, etc.), or politically driven? 
  3. Or, is this whole thing overstated?  Do the rich and powerful really wield such power, and do they really harm the rest of us?
  4. Does either political party care, or are all politicians part of the elite (or at least beholden to them)?
  5. What can be done?  Who’s going to do it?   What would be the costs and tradeoffs?


LINKS:  A vast amount has been written on this.   A few short, interesting ones.

Also, here are my This Week’s and Follow-Up’s related to our recent meeting on income inequality and taxes.  Some good links there.


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