A Definition of Plutocracy
Domains: Politics, Sociology
Contexts: Forms of governance, class warfare, the corruption of democracy, sources of political corruption
The term "plutocracy" is formally defined as government by the wealthy, and is also sometimes used to refer to a wealthy class that controls a government, often from behind the scenes. More generally, a plutocracy is any form of government in which the wealthy exercise the preponderance of political power, whether directly or indirectly.
Plutocracy may also have social and cultural aspects. Thus, in Democracy for the Few political scientist Michael Parenti is led to comment "American capitalism represents more than just an economic system; it is an entire cultural and social order, a plutocracy, a system of rule that is mostly by and for the rich. Most universities and colleges, publishing houses, mass circulation magazines, newspapers, television and radio stations, professional sports teams, foundations, churches, private museums, charity organizations, and hospitals are organized as corporations, ruled by boards of trustees (or directors or regents) composed overwhelmingly of affluent businesspeople. These boards exercise final judgment over all institutional matters."
The question of whether or not the United States could be said to be a plutocracy is discussed at length, and answered in the affirmative, in Who Rules America, by sociologist G. William Domhoff.
There Domhoff remarks: "The idea that a relatively fixed group of privileged people might shape the economy and government for their own benefit goes against the American grain. Nevertheless . . . the owners and top-level managers in large income-producing properties are far and away the dominant power figures in the United States. Their corporations, banks, and agribusinesses come together as a corporate community that dominates the federal government in Washington. Their real estate, construction, and land development companies form growth coalitions that dominate most local governments."
In the US, plutocratic governance is further abetted by mass media owned by the hyperwealthy and operated in their own economic self-interest, the failure to provide public financing to political candidates, poor oversight of the electoral process, elitist Supreme Court appointments, the organization of wealth into socially-irresponsible corporations, the collapse of meaningful regulatory regimes, plutocratically financed "think tanks" (often thinly-disguised propaganda distribution centers), and an impoverished educational system that has failed utterly to provide Americans with the elements of genuine political literacy (all of which have their foundations in philosophy, another subject rarely taught).
See also: class warfare, fascism, democracy, oligarchy, progressivismand the Business Roundtable.