We already know what Democracy means. We also understand inequality. But some of us are not quite so clear on a society that could be defined as an oligarchy. Basically, we are living it right now. It is the control of society by a few very rich people.
When a society permits or encourages excessive wealth among citizens, then the control of society, which may also mean control of government, may fall into the hands of the wealthiest citizens. That situation–rule by the wealthy–is clearly termed an oligarchy or “plutocracy.” In a capitalist democracy, once the form of government becomes plutocratic, ruled by the wishes of the richest citizens, it becomes very difficult to overturn. Of course, some people with a basic education will tell you that we do not live in a democracy. We live in a republic. That is akin to saying, “I don’t drive a car. I drive a Buick.”
The wealthy do not want you to know that they are running things. After all, a democracy is not supposed to work that way. The majority rules in a democratic system, and the majority is never a handful of super-rich individuals. This, however, is where we are today. A few thousand people have bought up the votes of politicians, in this case, one political party, the Republican Party, and turned it into an active legislative advocate for the enormously rich.
Expenditures by Americans on Politics.
The history of our current flirtation with oligarchy, with the rule of the few, led by one almost unimaginably clownish bumpkin that was our former President, working in tandem with the Right Wing Billionaires, is not only scandalous, but dangerous to our way of life and dangerous to the lives of at least half of our population, if not two-thirds. In the 2020 national elections, Americans spent $4.1 billion in contributions to various presidential candidates, another $4 billion on congressional candidates, gave $3.2 billion to political parties, and–the biggest group–the wealthy particiapated in political PACs, raising an astonishing $13. 2 billion. That’s over $24 billion in one campaign season.
In 2016, we spent that kind of money to elect a man, Donald Trump, a selfish, egocentric narcissist, who proceeded to dismantle the very government that serves the people. Within months he had introduced industry lobbyists into the regulating positions in departments that they had previously been lobbying. Men who promoted fossil-fuels and coal mining–both on the decline–were in government positions helping to promote coal and oil over more climate friendly options. in the meantime, they were publishing anti-scientific positions that caused leading scientists to resign and other scientist, men and women we need, to turn away from government service.
Now…a short comment on why that is happening and why it is serious. Today, a top scientist can make multiples of the kind of income government pays. If a scientist decides to give several years or forty years to government, it is a gift. Many of our great discoveries come from government scientists. Thus, you and I get those discoveries, and their dedicated service, for government at a huge discount. So why did Donald Trump discourage science, encourage the dismissal of scientists and create departments where top young scientists did not want to join? As crass and ignorant and as unpatriotic as it may seem, he did it merely, we know now for certain, to further his political ambitions (he does not believe in democracy, it seems clear) to remain in office by helping rich, air and water-polluting corporation owners. That is where he got his money and that is where the lion’s share of his political funds still come from.
Michael Lewis, in his book, “The Fifth Risk” points out that the outgoing Obama administration was prepared better than any in history to turn over the reins of government, down to the utmost detail. But, in many, if not most, cases, no one from the new Trump administration showed up. One single person showed up at the enormous U.S. Department of Agriculture. At another agency dozens of men arrived, all in their twenties, all former Trump campaign staffers, none with even one day of government experience or experience in the field to which they were assigned. In many cases, lobbyists from mining or the oil field arrived to regulate the agencies that had been working to improve either the working conditions for employees in those industries or improve the air or water as a result of their activities. You can imagine the results. One result was the exit of many top people who immediately left their moderately paid government jobs, which they had enjoyed because they were doing good work. They now doubled their incomes over night.
The United States has a kind of democratic system that allows for the intervention, within rules, of groups and corporations, and even individuals–though that is much harder. The “lobbyist” system means that apitalism is filled with incentives and opportunities, as well as risks. But as business people have better understood how enterprises grow and mature, the risks have been better overcome and commerce has thrived, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, in the latter 20th Century and now in the 21st. So many people who have started businesses, and those who have inherited businesses that have grown and combined over the last century have often become quite wealthy.
As the population of the United States grew from the low 100 millions in the early 20th Century to over 300 million in the early 21st Century, the increased size of markets has has made some people, without exaggeration, fabulously wealthy. Some were, in fact, born enormously wealthy. Americans would normally say…at least most of them who understand and believe in the capitalist system, would say….what’s wrong with that? And they’re right. Logically, at least, if you have a system that is designed to make as much money as possible, then it makes no sense to put restrictions on it. At least, that is the rationale.
But then, the problem becomes, what about the workers? They don’t get rich, or in the last 40 years, while working, do not earn even enough to live on. Full time workers at Walmart have been on government assistance. Fast food workers, who work full-time, even if they work 16 hours a day, have been in situations where they simply did not make enough money to afford health care, food, transportation and lodging all at the same time. So, those kinds of situations have made tens of millions of Americans dissatisfied with Capitalism. The fact is that they do favor a modified Capitalist/Socialist system. The result of capitalists controlling politicians and holding down wages resulted in the need for some help from government for workers, which they came to expect, and to the extent that welfare is Socialist, well, then Americans, huge numbers, over 50 million, are partially Socialist.
But Americans rarely see themselves as having any Socialist tendencies. We are all pretty sold on Capitalism. And we should be. Everywhere Capitalism has touched down, it has been a success. The outcomes, that is, the distribution of the benefits of Capitalism have not been so successful. On the far right side, the conservative or reactionary side, is slavery or serfdom. We’ve mostly done away with that extreme. The Chinese on mainland China, American manufacturers in the Marianas Islands, supported by Republican members of the House of Representatives, and some other Asian countries, have continued with slave labor wages. But, for the most part, Americans, including most of industry and federal government, encourage fair and life-sustaining wages for employees.
Ineaquality Leads to Greed Leads to Corruption
But that doesn’t solve the problem of income inequality. Quite apart from the capitalist ideology, the distribution of income in a society is both a moral and an economic issue. How much should individuals be paid for their labor? in the case of large organizations with a variety of titles, jobs, functions, levels of authority and responsibility, income levels are fairly well debated and assigned based on functioning within the organization. But in general society two factors alter that situation.
First, some people are born into huge wealth without earning it and have massive fortunes to spend however they decide, with no regard to the good of society. In itself, that is not a problem, as many people who earn both large and small incomes waste their money, and many of the wealthiest are huge philanthropists. So, it is not a matter of what people do with their money. That also is a basic tenet of Capitalism…freedom of choice in personal financial matters, ownership of private property and discretion in all personal matters–individual freedom.
In the United States we have created a tiered system, with a small number of individuals at the peak of the economic pyramid, a smaller number of somewhat wealthy, secure, individuals, professionals and a managerial class, in the next percentile, and then a huge number of people in what is becoming a slimmer middle class and a swelling number at the deep, wide base of the pyramid, where most Americans reside. At the large, wide base of that pyramid, there are holes, through which many people, as many as several million, drop into scarcity of food, housing and health care.
Inequality in the United States todayd, for all our bounteous wealth, scattered across many different income levels, is as bad as it has ever been. It is as bad as the early days of the late 19th or early 20th Century for absolute polar opposites between the rich and the poor. The poor are struggling to keep health care, a mortgage and transportation while being unable to afford college for their children. Their children who do go to college, come out with enormous burdens of debt, inhibiting all sorts of growth and opportunity.
The rich are flying off into space at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, buying huge yachts, multiple million-dollar homes and paying off educational institutions to accept their less-than-qualified children so that they can cheat their way (that’s what it is) into the society of those who have earned their educations through scholarship. The super rich are buying islands and spending hundreds of millions of their discretionary income to create personal space programs to send their families and friends and paid (very wealthy) customers above the stratosphere for a few seconds of entertaiment.
But all this would not be so bad–if there were not structural inequalities and political inequalities created by a handful of people who might even be called “evil.” Not all rich people are evil. John D. Rockefeller took advantage of business practices that were later outlawed. He became enormously rich. He was pilloried in the press and seen by many as evil. His son, equally as wealthy, or richer was the opposite of his father, and one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. His efforts to give away money intelligently to hospitals, universities, charities, museums and huge tracts of lands, hundreds and thousands of square miles, donated to the nation as national parks–were unequaled.
So how would we designate a super-rich individual as “evil.” Well, first of all, most very rich men give away money, sometimes each year, in amounts that are often multiple times what the average man would earn in a lifetime. So, it is not that many of these men, or women, are uncharitable. To be evil, and to balance the good that they do, one must consider, in our opinion, their intent. If a man were supporting Hitler with hundreds of millions of dollars, even if those funds were partially going to build roads or camps for children, the end result–concentration camps, war, famine and death for millions can only be seen as evil.
Oligarchs Do Not Share.
The intensity of the evil they caused can best be seen in the results within society. If a hugely wealthy individual were to give money to a group whose goal was to divide the country into two groups, so that one could work against the other, forcing deadlock and prohibiting anything good from happening to that society–that would clearly be evil. Returning to the Hitler case, German society was turned against the Jews, against an exaggerated view of union workers, or other political party members, and eventually even Catholics and gypsies. Handicapped and mentally challenged children became the enemies of the Hitler regime and were carted off to death camps.
We do live in a wonderful time, privileged to live in an era when pain and hunger and fear have largely been reduced or eliminated from American society. Slavery and the Jim Crow laws and the tyranny of the KKK, all this kind of hatred has been outlawed and, by most rational people, determined to be totally unacceptable. Complications still arise when groups organize sub-rosa to form hateful plans against immigrants or African-Americans, Muslims, Hispanics or Asians. Those groups will always be found in small groups hidden in the dark corners or remote places in our society. We hope to and must keep them remote and out of view until racial and religious hatred ends completely.
Some vey rich people do not like an egalitarian society. They have decided to spend a small percentage of their wealth trying to divide the country into two groups. They have spent huge sums of money to create propaganda, lies, about those who would help their fellow citizens in order to preveent government from spending “their” tax money on the Middle Class and the poor. It is unfortunate that the two groups must be divided this way. By hiring individuals on radio and television to lie about a wide range of economic and social issues, they create one group who are ignorant of the true facts, of reality. The other group marked as “enlightened” are simply reading the traditional news and watching traditional, long-standing media as they always have. Suddenly an alternative set of facts, a false reality is offered by the media paid for by the billionaires. It works. People who follow their media have a completely different view of reality.
This is how demagogues and dictators are created. When a steady stream of lies, funded by hundreds of millions of dollars, is spread throughout society every day by what can only be called evil men funded by those who would destroy society in order to keep a few extra millions from going to the government, this is the worst of oligarchy–control of society by a few rich families.
Society need not be so divisive. Only a few men, and they are mostly men, with a few intolerant, un-feminine women among them, work daily to disrupt society. But they have influenced tens of millions of Americans who have voted in the past for a man who not only hates government, a grifting, cheating, lying individual who says he cares for the average man but who has done everything he could to help his pals in the community of Right Wing billionaires. It is not unusual or new. Hitler blamed the Communists for hating the Jews, when, in reality, more Jews were Marxist (including Marx) than would ever even consider Fascism, which, like the KKK and groups like the current Proud Boys, touted its bigotry.
Too much inequality can be said to have an influence on the division in society. If I have a million dollars and you have ten thouand, we have a huge disparity. But if I can reduce your amount to five thousand while keeping my milion, in terms of disposability, I’ve gained without earning a single new dime. When a segment of society is catered to by politicians, it can become patronistic. It is easy for the super-rich to become paternalistic, feeling that they know best what is best for society. Politicians, some of them, then may feed on this paternalistic attitude, finding patrons among the rich, but only so long as they follow the wishes, even whims, of the oligarchs. This is where we are today.
Why do you suppose that a nerdish, faux-pompous, Senator from the smallest, poorest state in the country is the leader of the Republican Party. It is because he is no one’s fool. He realized that the secret to being a political leader in the 21st Century is to become the friend of every hugs, multi-millionaire and billionaire who wants to buy a politician. And that is just what Mitch McConnell has done. He has sold out the people of Kentucky, the poorest…and dumbest…in the U.S. who continue to vote for him while he denies them every single government benefit the Democrats would like to bestow on them. Not just food stamps, which they need, since they are the poorest people in the nation, but also health care, and not just Medicaid, but reasonably priced health care. He helps the billionaires hold down the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour by haranging the Democrats for being Socialists. So Kentuckians vote for Republicans…who vote against inexpensive health care, higher minimum wages, education, and job training.
The division in the country by false ideologies…that is, by tales told by politically motivated radio hosts, hundreds, if not thousands of them…is ruining society, pitting one good neighbor against another, even though, on important matters, they have no differences worth discussing. Inequality, huge amounts of excess money in the hands of men who would only damage society through corrupting politics is our great enemy. The Right Wing billionaires have created a politics of Fascism that has overtaken the Republican Party. It is time to fight back against this evil wing of the Super-Rich class before the only way will be for one segment of the poor to fight a civil war against another segment, while the rich pull the strings and fools die for them.