The United States today qualifies as a plutocracy – on a number of grounds, and it is having a profound impact on the media, education and think tanks–indeed on the whole of society, says Michael Brenner.
By Michael Brenner
Plutocracy literally means rule by the rich. “Rule” can have various shades of meaning: those who exercise the authority of public office are wealthy; their wealth explains why they hold that office; they exercise that authority in the interests of the rich; they have the primary influence over who holds those offices and the actions they take.
These aspects of “plutocracy” are not exclusive. Moreover, government of the rich and for the rich need not be run directly by the rich. Also, in some exceptional circumstances rich individuals who hold powerful positions may govern in the interests of the many, for example Franklin Roosevelt.
The United States today qualifies as a plutocracy – on a number of grounds. Let’s look at some striking bits of evidence. Gross income redistribution upwards in the hierarchy has been a feature of American society for the past decades. The familiar statistics tell us that nearly 80 percent of the national wealth generated since 1973 has gone to the upper 2 percent and 65 percent to the upper 1 per cent. Estimates for the rise in real income for salaried workers over the past 40 years range from 20 percent to 28 percent. In that period, real GDP has risen by 110 percent – it has more than doubled.
To put it somewhat differently, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the top earning 1 percent of households gained about 8 times more than those in the 60 percentile after federal taxes and income transfers between 1979 and 2007 and 10 times those in lower percentiles.
In short, the overwhelming fraction of all the wealth created over two generations has gone to those at the very top of the income pyramid.
That pattern has been markedly accelerated since the financial crisis hit in 2008. Between 2000 and 2012, the real net worth of 90 percent of Americans has declined by 25 percent. Meanwhile, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates et al, i.e. the wealthiest 1 percent of the…