Plutocrats vs. Oligarchs

PIC: Lihatria007 (CC)

PIC: Lihatria007 (CC)

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.

* * *

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.

30 Comments on "Plutocrats vs. Oligarchs"

  1. Anarchy Pony | May 3, 2014 at 10:03 am |

    So plutoligarchs then?

  2. Chad Burke | May 3, 2014 at 10:56 am |

    So its OK to be ultra wealthy and political if you lean left, but if you are conservative then you are an evil fat cat corrupting the system in vile ways. Ok, that seems like a fair and unbiased opinion.

    • That depends upon the context, doesn’t it? Are you happy to see GOP hopefuls trotting of to kowtow to Adelson, because I’m certainly not happy to read about Gates’ support of GMOs around the globe and all the propaganda surrounding that. That the Waltons refuse to pay a living wage to their employees while racking up such wealth that people couldn’t spend in ten lifetimes belies a peculiarly right wing pathology.

      • Chad Burke | May 3, 2014 at 11:28 am |

        They put my first comment back up. That’s nice of them. Im not arguing the political position here. Regardless which side you lean to this article is clearly a poorly veiled attempt to demonize conservatives. The author starts by listing the three wealthiest people in the country and then basically gives them a pass because they are liberal. He then redefines oligarch and plutocrat to refer only to wealthy conservatives, which is just untrue. The whole idea of the article is to equate these scary sounding words with the Koch bros and Waltons. Its just a really biased, stupid article.

        • Dingbert | May 3, 2014 at 2:32 pm |

          Agreed, except the top three aren’t what I’d call “liberal.”
          Political donations, 2009-2014, FEC (decimals truncated):
          Gates–Democratic: 19%, Republican: 31.8%, Indie: 49%
          Buffett–Democratic: 42.6%, Republican: 4.2%, Indie: 53%
          Ellison–Democratic: 48.7%, Indie: 50.2%
          Frankly, I’m surprised there’s not more 50-50 split access-buying. Guess that’s what PACs and soft money are for.

          • Chad Burke | May 3, 2014 at 3:51 pm |

            I’ll grant you that. Let’s say they get a pass for not being actively conservative.

          • VaudeVillain | May 3, 2014 at 10:30 pm |

            My reading was that they got a pass for being ineffective. I’m not sure that’s an accurate assessment of them regardless, but I’m not so sure it was ideological.

            That said,the article makes a case that the wealthiest among us have and exercise undue influence over our political process. I wouldn’t put money on the author being a conservative Republican.

  3. Chad Burke | May 3, 2014 at 11:14 am |

    This article is attempting to redefine words. Oligarchs and plutocrats by definition are not rooted to a political philosophy as in liberal or conservative, yet the author continually refers to oligarchs as wealthy conservatives. Furthermore an oligarchy is a concentration of power in a small number of individuals. Wealth can often be a part of this but, again, by definition doesn’t have to be. Basically the author says its OK to be a rich, politically influential liberal, but rich politically active conservatives are evil. Then he uses his new definition of vaguely imperial and evil sounding oligarchy to frighten less intelligent readers. What a joke.

    • Der Doublethink™ is a feature of the system and not restricted to “Liberals” or “Conservatives” (technically the same thing anyways… John Locke, Edmund Burke, yes?).

      However it is true that certain individuals, regardless of card-carrying Party ID™, are better for the environment than others…

      • Chad Burke | May 3, 2014 at 3:48 pm |

        So you agree with what I say about the basic premise of the article being a lie, yet take the time to question whether I understand the rampancy of doublethink in the political forum? Did I claim that I had just discovered the first example? Or that it was exclusive to either party. As a rule I try not to reference the parties as their are so many liberal republicans and so many progressive democrats, the standard definitions don’t really fit anymore.

        • Ask an Eskimo for a standard definition of “snow”.

          Or even better, ask for a standard definition of “Eskimo”.

  4. The Dude Abides™

  5. BuzzCoastin | May 3, 2014 at 12:33 pm |

    people are not oligarchs or plutocrats
    it’s their money
    money makes people do selfish stupid actions
    it’s been proven that if you had an oligarchs money
    you’d behave the same way
    (see Lori Santos et al, Capuchin moneys)

  6. terrasodium | May 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm |

    another coke vs.pepsi taste test challenge, it appears that the ikea business model of pre-engineered partical board lifestyle of handing people a preboxed set of tab “a” fits slot “b” components and a single tool to fasten them together hasn’t been lost on the media messengers.

  7. The word Rosen was looking for is…


    • terrasodium | May 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm |


      • I would agree, even without reference to Reptoids or Alien hybrids.

        • terrasodium | May 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm |

          Reptoid=hippocampus, Alien= A lienable{rights ,legislations), it’s just milk, blood ,sex , word magick, new to each unwashed unelected uninitiated generation of prols, old news to the kleptocracy parasites.

          • The amygdala is not classified as part of the reptile brain. It developed in early mammals. You will however find a great deal of misreporting on this issue simply because it has pathways connecting to areas that developed during reptile evolution.

          • terrasodium | May 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm |

            noted , thanks , would the medulla oblongata be a more instructive reference?

          • The division that normally gets classified as the ‘reptile brain’ are brain stem structures, of which the medulla oblongata is part – the other higher levels being limbic and neocortex.
            This is not a good distinction as the MO & other brain stem components existed far earlier than reptiles and reptiles also have a fairly well developed limbic system and regions corresponding to the neocortex. Fundamentally it is a distinction utilized largely in pop-science and has little functional value outside of metaphor.
            The characteristic triune structure of the brain is based on divisions of the embryonic neural tube which is present in all vertebrates.

          • terrasodium | May 3, 2014 at 8:01 pm |

            so those regions are not responsible for auto aggression and “fight or flight” responses in reptiles and man?

          • which regions do you refer to as “those”?

          • terrasodium | May 3, 2014 at 8:32 pm |

            the regions evolutionary theory would claim are the first to form at the brain stem , less complex structures shared by men and reptiles, reptilian brain in metaphor and in fact of function

  8. InfvoCuernos | May 3, 2014 at 8:26 pm |

    Oh, you mean the two words are interchangeable, like democrat and republican? I did learn something from the article: I had always assumed that plutocrat had something to do with the god of the underworld. I figured that maybe it was because they did shit “underground”, behind the scenes.

  9. JacHunter | May 4, 2014 at 10:54 am |

    These Plutocrats would be a lot more powerless to become Oligarchs and wreak so much havoc on the world if they didn’t have the power to finance the careers of politicians in addition to all of the other ways they lobby and bribe them.
    Campaign finance reform is this country’s only hope.

  10. Aidan Benelle | May 4, 2014 at 10:58 am |

    And the end of the day, we have only our ‘distracted selves’ to blame. If 2 million people showed up in Washington to protest the overreach of these parasitical oligarchs things would start to turn.

  11. For the best take on Piketty’s book see this interview with Michael Hudson:

    And regarding this:

    According to Forbes, the three richest Americans in 2013 were….
    Wake the eff up already!

    The super-rich’s wealth and ownership is hidden/sheltered within foundations, trusts, offshore finance centers, offshore holding companies, offshore unregistered trusts, etc.

    Forbes is not the bible on this!

  12. James Page | May 5, 2014 at 12:50 am |

    Wasn’t able to read all the comments but…Chad Burke…basically it’s not okay to have more money than you can spend in 20,000 life-times and do inhumane shit of any kind whatever somebody, anybody or everybody may call you. It’s more like Steve is pointing out the majority of plutocratic oligarchs and /or oligarchic plutocrats…how about that for semantic philosophical tongue twisting crap…also happen to be conservative, republican or conservative, republican leaning individuals. Now I am fairly certain that all of the apparently 11,000 plus individuals in this country who filed income taxes of 10 million dollars or more are not all plutocrats, oligarchs, conservative or republican or combinations there of but if there are any that are of the opposite persuasion of say… the Koch brothers they are certainly into social relevant things which do not get publicized (which might be a good thing since it took the larger population more than 30 years to “wake-up” to the effects and results of the neo-conservative plutocratic, oligarchic agenda…maybe there is a liberal progressive reaction which is bubbling beneath the surface even as we rant er…a…debate…er…a communicate. I’m just say’in dude!

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