The New American Plutocracy

by Paul Kurtz
The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 20, Number 4.

Plutocracy: (1) government by the wealthy, (2) a controlling class of the wealthy. From the Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos, wealth, and kratia, advocate of a form of government.

I am deeply troubled by the fact that in the upcoming presidential and congressional elections there is little or no debate on what I consider to be a central issue for the American future: the emergence of a new and powerful plutocracy wedded to corporate power. Regrettably, none of the major candidates will deign to even discuss this vital question. Only Ralph Nader has identified it. But he has largely been ignored or parodied by the mass media. Typically, Paul Krugman, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, has ridiculed Nader precisely for his attacks on “corporate power.” Senator John McCain did raise the issue of the special interests and soft money corrupting the political process. But he has been rebuffed and has climbed into the same bed with Bush. Many do not consider Nader to be a viable candidate, for the Green Party does not represent an effective political coalition. Neither Free Inquiry nor the Council for Secular Humanism can endorse political candidates, but this should not preclude me from presenting my own personal views about the deeper humanist issues at stake.

A plutocracy is defined as “government by the wealthy.” The critical question that should concern us is whether the United States is already a plutocracy, and what can be done to limit its power. This question, unfortunately, will not be taken seriously by most voters-but it damned well ought to be.

Ancient Greek democracy lasted only a century; the Roman republic survived for four, though it was increasingly weakened as time went on. As America enters its third century we may well ask whether our democratic institutions will survive and if so in what form.

As readers of these pages know, I have been concerned by the virtually unchallenged growth of corporate power. Mergers and acquisitions continue at a dizzying pace, as small and mid-sized businesses and farms disappear; independent doctors, lawyers, and accountants are gobbled up by larger firms; and working men and women are at the mercy of huge global conglomerates, which downsize as they export jobs overseas.

I have also deplored the emergence of the global media-ocracy, whereby a handful of powerful media conglomerates virtually dominate the means of communication. A functioning democratic society depends upon a free exchange of ideas; today fewer dissenting views are heard in the public square, as diversity is narrowed or muffled.

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