David Rosen writes at CounterPunch:
Oligarchy is defined as “government by the few” and came into English use around 1570. The term derives from two Greek words: oligos meaning “few” and arch for “rule”; similar English-language terms include monarch or hierarchy. Plutocracy is derived from the Greek ploutos meaning “wealth” and kratos for “govern.”
Today, both concepts — plutocrats and oligarchs — refer to the growing influence the rich – and especially the superrich – have on the national (and international) political economy. Oligarchs are plutocrats who use their enormous wealth to further a particularly conservative, if not rightwing, agenda.
Thomas Piketty’s study, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, reveals that the U.S. – along with much of the advanced capitalist world — is returning to what economist Paul Krugman calls the “new Gilded Age.” Piketty finds that that in 2010, the top 1 percent controlled 20 percent of U.S. income and, together with the next 9 percent, the superrich controlled 50 percent of all income. The IRS recently noted that in 2011, 11,445 U.S. taxpayers declared incomes of more than $10 million.
According to Forbes, the three richest Americans in 2013 were: Bill Gates ($72 bil net worth), Warren Buffet ($58.5 bil) and Larry Ellison ($41 bil). They may well be plutocrats in the old-fashioned sense of Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford. But are they oligarchs?
Michael Bloomberg was New York’s mayor for 12 long years and is ranked 10th on Fortune’s list of wealthiest Americans with a net worth of $31 billion. He leveraged his public position and private wealth vigorously promoting two pet projects, gun control and obesity? Both initiatives stalled in the political marketplace. Is he an oligarch?
Today’s grand plutocrats include the Walton family, the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. They makeup seven of the top 11 wealthiest Americans: Charles Koch ($36 bil), David Koch ($36 bil), Christy Walton ($35.4 bil), Jim Walton ($33.8 bil), Alice Walton ($33.5 bil), Samuel Robson Walton ($33.3 bil) and Adelson ($28.5 bil). This is real money.
These plutocrats become oligarchs by employing their vast wealth in an apparently more aggressive – and conservative – way then, for example, Gates, Buffet or Bloomberg. The Koch brothers are major backers of the Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity; they are reported to have donated an estimated $196 millions to fight the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The Waltons have led the charge against public education, committing an estimated $1 billion promoting privatization – no teachers’ union or community accountability — through charter schools. Adelson famously holds court for Republican presidential hopefuls who visit his Las Vegas castle to kiss his ring and proclaim their undying support for Israel.
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America is stuck. The “American Century” is over and globalization is restructuring capitalism. The rich are getting phenomenally richer while the income of the rest of Americans stagnates or falls. Both American plutocrats and oligarchs are fighting to hold on to — and increase! — their wealth and influence during this restructuring. And they are succeeding.
Read more here.