Oligarchy “is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may be distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education or corporate, religious or political, military control. Such states are often controlled by families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.
Throughout history, oligarchies have often been tyrannical, relying on public obedience or oppression to exist. Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as a synonym for rule by the rich, for which another term commonly used today is "plutocracy.” 1
The US may always have been an oligarchy, and I would argue that this is the case. Certainly Madison himself articulated this in The Federalist Papers X. 2
The Revolutionary war was an insurgency against the crown led by the wealthy merchant class 3 who owned warehouses full of the sweepings of the tea sorting floors bought at high prices (but without paying tea taxes) from Dutch smugglers. The merchant class were threatened with ruin when the taxes on tea were reduced and the English East India Company was allowed to sell their high quality teas directly to the public in the US, rather than to wholesalers at auctions in London. So the merchants, the oligarchs of their day, who controlled the press and the economy, ginned up a revolutionary war, using the poor and farmers to do the fighting, paying them in worthless script that nobody, including themselves, would accept. 4
When the war was over, and with France's help the Americans had won, the still wealthy merchants bought up the script held by the surviving soldiers for pennies on the dollar and then passed laws ensuring that they received the full value from the states.
This led, eventually, to the failed "Shay's Rebellion" and the constitutional convention which cemented federal power, parsing out limited protections by race sex and class, enforced only by judges appointed by the oligarchs, ensuring that the oligarchs started off with, and would maintain, total control of the country and people. 5
Modern realization that this was perhaps the case may have begun with Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page (2014). (Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, Perspectives on Politics, Cambridge University Press, Volume 12, Issue 3 September 2014 , pp. 564-581.) 6
The professors evaluated surveys dating between 1981 and 2002 which showed preferences for legislative outcomes by economic status and discovered that in 1,779 surveys, "policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favor) is adopted only about 18% of the time, while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favor) is adopted about 45% of the time." concluding, "When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it." [Universal healthcare continues to be he iconic failure in this regard.)
President Carter has repeatedly confirmed this perspective, that the US is more "oligarchy than a democracy". 7 Piketty, T., & Goldhammer, A. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century. Cambridge Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. argues that modern capitalism has put the world "on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy—a society of inherited wealth." (See note A)
Paul Krugman, agrees with Piketty - and thinks it is going to get worse. And this is the world we live in today, as the oligarchs scoop up more than 80% of all wealth created and raise the cost of winning an election to the point where anyone who can win one has to be funded by them, while beguiling the populace with hints at reform and promoting "independents" who cannot hope to change anything, 8 living in a representative constitutional republic, where only the oligarchs are interested, and the constitution only provides what people will fight to defend (which, when it is being "defended" by the most conservative pro-corporate judges the oligarchs can find, is not very much at all). To refer to a country where small private committees controlled by the oligarchs meet, to select acceptable candidates, who are then paraded before the public whose sole nominal contribution is to pick which of the preselected candidates they dislike least in heavily rigged elections as “democratic” is ludicrous. Particularly when is costs of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to buy political power at the city level, and billions are spent on presidential campaigns by the oligarchs who control the media, the idea that anyone who is not an oligarch can have a meaningful impact, is delusional at best.
To fix this, we have to stop supporting the oligarchy and its political appointees. See e.g. “Vision Unbounded - 2020 and beyond”
Appendix 1: The Rise of the Trading Class
The creation of the great landed estates was accompanied by the slow development of the small trader and merchant. Necessarily, they first established themselves in the seaports where business was concentrated.
Many obstacles long held them down to a narrow sphere. The great chartered companies monopolized the profitable resources. The land magnates exacted tribute for the slightest privilege granted. Drastic laws forbade competition with the companies, and the power of law and the severities of class government were severely felt by the merchants. The chartered corporations and the land dignitaries were often one group with an identity of men and interests. Against their strength and capital the petty trader or merchant could not prevail. Daring and enterprising though he be, he was forced to a certain compressed routine of business. He could sell the goods which the companies sold to him but could not undertake to set up manufacturing. And after the companies had passed away, the landed aristocracy used its power to suppress all undue initiative on his part.”
The Manorial Lords Monopolize Trade.
This was especially so in New York, where all power was concentrated in the hands of a few landowners. "To say," says Sabine, "that the political institutions of New York formed a feudal aristocracy is to define them with tolerable accuracy. The soil was owned by a few. The masses were mere retainers or tenants as in the monarchies of Europe." The feudal lord was also the dominant manufacturer and trader. He forced his tenants to sign covenants that they should trade in nothing else than the produce of the manor; that they should trade nowhere else but at his store; that they should grind their flour at his mill, and buy bread at his bakery, lumber at his sawmills and liquor at his brewery. Thus he was not only able to squeeze the last penny from them by exorbitant prices, but it was in his power to keep them everlastingly in debt to him. He claimed, and held, a monopoly in his domain of whatever trade he could seize. These feudal tenures were established in law; woe to the tenant who presumed to infract them!
He became a criminal and was punished as a felon. The petty merchant could not, and dared not, compete with the trading monopolies of the manorial lords within these feudal jurisdictions. In such a system the merchant's place for a century and a half was a minor one, although far above that of the drudging laborer. Merchants resorted to sharp and frequently dubious ways of getting money together. They bargained and sold shrewdly, kept their wits ever open, turned sycophant to the aristocracy and a fleecer of the laborer.
It would appear that in New York, at least, the practice of the most audacious usury was an early and favorite means of acquiring the property of others. These others were invariably the mechanic or laborer; the merchant dared not attempt to overreach the aristocrat whose power he had good reason to fear. Money which was taken in by selling rum and by wheedling the unsophisticated Indians into yielding up valuable furs, was loaned at frightfully onerous rates. The loans unpaid, the lender swooped mercilessly upon the property of the unfortunate and gathered it in.
Many features of the above should be familiar to you, as little has changed in the USA of today.
With much of Big Tech in the hands of Western elites, the prospects for authentic democracy and freedom from capitalism do not look more auspicious in the 21st century than in the 18th.
^5000The mainstream imperialist media lie CONSTANTLY. Literally 24/7. And it's getting worse.
All of them do it: radio, tv, the newspapers, the movies. The internet. No exceptions.
The corporate Big Lie is pervasive and totalitarian. CBS does it. NBC does it. ABC does it.
CNN does it. FOX does it. NPR does it. And of course the NYTimes and WaPo do it.
Thousands of "diverse" voices telling you the same lies. Enough to convince anyone.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of The Greanville Post
All image captions, pull quotes, appendices, etc. by the editors not the authors.