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Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth. The combination of both plutocracy and oligarchy is called plutarchy.

The word plutocracy (Modern Greek: πλουτοκρατία - ploutokratia) is derived from the ancient Greek root ploutos, meaning wealth and kratos, meaning to rule or to govern.


The term plutocracy is generally used to describe these two distinct concepts: one of a historical nature and one of a modern political nature. The former indicates the political control of the state by an oligarchy of the wealthy. Examples of such plutocracies include some city-states in Ancient Greece, the civilization of Carthage, the Italian city-states/merchant republics of Venice, Florence, Genoa, and pre-WWII Empire of Japan zaibatsus.

Before the equal voting rights movement managed to end it in the early 20th century, many countries used a system where rich persons had more votes than poor. A factory owner may for instance have had 2000 votes while a worker had one, or if they were very poor no right to vote at all. Even artificial persons such as companies had voting rights. In the US, it would take until 1945 before persons living on welfare and persons in personal bankruptcy would get voting rights.

One modern, perhaps unique, formalised example of a plutocracy is the City of London. The City (not the whole of modern London but the area of the ancient city, which now mainly comprises the financial district) has a unique electoral system. Most of its voters are representatives of businesses and other bodies that occupy premises in the City. Its ancient wards have very unequal numbers of voters. The principal justification for the non-resident vote is that about 450,000 non-residents constitute the city's day-time population and use most of its services, far outnumbering the City's residents, who are fewer than 10,000.

Modern politics

The second usage of plutocracy is a pejorative reference to a disproportionate influence the wealthy have on political process in contemporary society: for example Kevin Phillips, author and political strategist to U.S. President Richard Nixon, argues that the United States is a plutocracy in which there is a "fusion of money and government."

The influence the wealthy minority of the population has over the political arena includes campaign contributions, as well as bribing to achieve corporate objectives (exclusively profit related), refusing to support the government financially by refusing to pay taxes, threatening to move profitable industries elsewhere, and essentially any form of manipulation of the government. It can also be exerted by the owners and ad buyers of media properties which can shape public perception of political issues (see also: fourth estate).

Recently, there have been numerous cases of wealthy individuals and organizations exerting financial pressure on governments to pass favorable legislation (see also: Lobbying). Most western democracies permit partisan organizations to raise funds for politicians, and it is well-known that political parties frequently accept significant donations from various individuals (either directly or through corporate, labour union, or other advocacy groups). These donations may be part of a cronyist or patronage system. Some describe these donations as bribes, although legally they are not unless a quid pro quo exists. While campaign donations need not directly affect the legislative decisions of elected representatives, it is also likely that politicians are influenced by such contributions.

In the United States, campaign finance reform efforts ostensibly seek to ameliorate this situation. However, campaign finance reform must successfully challenge officials who are beneficiaries of the system which allows this dynamic in the first place. This has led many reform advocates to suggest taxpayer dollars be used to replace private campaign contributions; these reforms are often called clean money or clean election reform as opposed to simply campaign finance reform which does not address the conflict of interest involved where most or all of the campaign money is from private, often for-profit sources. Critics of clean elections point out that it allows the sitting government to decide which candidates would qualify to receive tax dollars - and therefore influence who would be allowed to win - thus solving one problem by creating another problem; courts in the United StatesTemplate:Which? have also agreed that some "clean election" legislation has discriminated against independent or third-party candidates, and has violated the constitution.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Plutocracy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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