Is America an Oligarchy?

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The United States has long shown itself to be the most magnanimous, the most generous country in the world. Wherever there is a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a natural disaster, an epidemic, who is the first to help? The United States. Who helps the most and unselfishly? The United States. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Many now claim that America is an oligarchy. Mostly I find the people saying this to be the same people that are cynical about everything American. They want badly to find fault. So I was and am a little skeptical when they say that America is an oligarchy, a term I’ve seen bandied around for about 5 years now.So I did some research.

I figured that the best way to see if the dreaded 1% had gained an inordinate amount of the wealth in America was simply to look at the past numbers compared to now.

What I found, is that the percentage of wealth controlled by the top 1% in America is not by any means out of the norm when compared to other times in American history. It seems now, that on so many topics, people in the media can just say something is true, and merely toss out some bromides without providing the facts or sound logic to back up what they are saying. First, let’s look at the numbers for the 1% since 1910 in America, then let’s consider what this really means.

Top 1%


As one can see, as of 2010, the percentage of wealth held by the top 1% is certainly not out of step with the norm of American history in the last 80 years. There have of course been variances, but 2010 was comfortably within what seems a normal range of wealth distribution.

The criticisms stink to me of the normal Marxist sentiments so common to the Left. They cannot explain of course how one person being rich, even absurdly rich, in America, keeps another poor.

There are laws that prevent monopolies in the US. The more corporations, the better off we are. All those who complain about “corporatism” and corporations, wake up and make their coffee in their Black & Decker corporation coffee maker, check their email on their Apple corporation laptop, call their friend on their Samsung corporation cell phone, then drive to work in their Toyota corporation car. All the while listening to a left-winger complain about the American oligarchy on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting-funded, NPR.  The fact is, corporations made America a superpower, not the magic of the undefined “people.”

Corporations are going, we are told, to destroy the country. But what would this country be but for corporations? Who have developed it? Corporations. Who transact the most marvelous business the world has ever seen? Corporations. ~Jay Gould

For all the Left’s complaining about its all important equality, and its assertions that America is drowning in inequality, the UN’s Human Development report rated the United States third in the world in “Human Development Index” , in 2013. The HDI measures inequality and the score could be maximized if there were no inequality, which to me would be an impossible and destructive goal. Equality tells us almost nothing about the quality of people’s lives. Prisoners in Stalin’s gulags were very equal, and very miserable.  Never the less, the cry of inequality in the US seems unwarranted. We’ve had this argument before:

The idea the rich should not get richer displays either a massive lack of economic understanding or a preference for wealth redistribution at all costs, and therefore Marxism. Perhaps I repeat myself.  Of course the rich will make more and more money, because it takes money to make money.  86% of all millionaires in the US are self-made, they did not inherit or steal their wealth. They created it via investment or invention. When we as a country reach the tipping point where investment and invention are no longer profitable, we’re on the fast downward slope.

Want a true oligarchy? See Russia, where last year 110 people owned one third of the country’s wealth.  Funny thing is, it’s still better off than it was under communism. But don’t tell Paul Krugman that. Vladimir Putin is the richest man in Europe.  But don’t tell MSNBC. The Left has confused its boredom, the result of the American hyperpower, for the true angst generated by true poverty, of which there is almost none in the US. As Eric Hoffer pointed out, one of the most astonishing things about the US is the level of relative wealth in which the country’s so-called poor live.

Even the Huffington Post admits that the US is the most generous nation in the world. 

Much of the mythology about the American oligarchy is the the result of heretofore unseen level of populism in American politics. Those who worry about the history of wealth concentration in democracies should also study the effects of demagoguery. Playing upon the false and stormy passions of the populace in order to generate votes and approval ratings will prove disastrous for America.

America’s first “oligarchs” the Left’s favorite villains, the robber barons, in reality did more to build America and faster than any other people in history. The freedoms allotted the likes of Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and JP Morgan, combined with their ingenuity and energy, launched America past Britain and the rest of Europe. Yet the Left can’t see past Das Kapital.

We’re all dupes now.

8 thoughts on “Is America an Oligarchy?

    jc said:
    April 30, 2014 at 12:17 am

    Dude, that’s kind of a circular argument. Whether there’s a greater concentration of wealth doesn’t mean this can’t be an oligarchy. An oligarchy carries political considerations beyond any economic realities. And who ever said this was an ‘oligarchy’? Besides just posting meaningless numbers like this fails to account for a host of other economic factors that may still disprove whatever point you’re trying to make.

    magus71 responded:
    April 30, 2014 at 12:51 am

    Well, the people making the oligarchy accusations invariably bring up the 1%

    T. J. Babson said:
    April 30, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Nice post, Magus.

    For all the talk of the Tea Party “extremists,” the real story is that Democrats have more or less become Marxists in all but name.

    WTP said:
    April 30, 2014 at 4:05 am

    Exactly. Don’t know where I read it, wsj I believe, apparently 12% of the population has at one time or another been in the top 1%.

    Don’t know where Jc is living but Mike’s post is not the first time I’ve seen this reference to the US as an oligarchy. I remember the first time I heard the word was back in the early 80’s in reference to the US sliding in that direction. It was BS then and is so today. The occupy crowd has been bandying the term about as it’s the biggest word most of them know. Envy is no foundation for building a society nor an economy. You would hope that philosophers, with all their high mindedness would understand this.

    VXXC said:
    April 30, 2014 at 10:55 am

    In fact what we have along the ACELA corridor is Wall St <> Washington effective Bankers Communism. What we have with Occupy are Pro-Government Protestors who want to protest their way into the NGO good life…but there’s a problem. Problem is our actual finances are bankrupt since 2008, what we have the last 5 years since 2009 is Bankruptcy Settlement politics. This has all been a game of $30T card monte for the last few years for our masters great and small to grab as much as they can before the illusion of Fiat pops.

    There’s also the problem of many layered interlocking debt and debt instruments trapping all who owe debts or receive income from debt backed instruments (which is nearly all of them) in a mininium payments debt bomb. This is the Irish Famine redux. It was debt not Blight.

    Finally either a policman or an intelligence solider can see our government is organized crime turned to anarchic looting, for there’s no Boss. The Primary compliant of professional Washington against the politicians [who are remember a mere few hundred among millions] isn’t that they’ve ruined the nation, it’s that they can’t keep the party going. Watch that space for indeed professional government and it’s as large contracting cronies may indeed act to defend their interests before the rest of us do.

    magus71 responded:
    April 30, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    There are indeed crony capitalists is this country, and the debt is a huge problem.

    But the allegation that the wealth is currently distributed in a vastly different way than it ever has been is false. Also, to say that the country is run by oligarchs. perhaps because of their connections to government doesn’t ring true; after all, 1% implies a small number of voters. The vast number of voters voted for Obama because he offers them free stuff, like Obama Phones.

    Even dictatorships are fairly representative of the people’s personality. Democracies all the more so. We’re getting what we asked for.

    T. J. Babson said:
    April 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    I actually think money is becoming less important in politics due to the internet.

    magus71 responded:
    April 30, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Good point. But it may be at the cost of increased populism. I believe most Democrats know what they do is harmful in the long run, but do it anyway for votes. Even stupid comments like Kerry made the other day are an attempt to reach out to what he sees as his base, begging for a spot in the next administration.

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