Thursday, August 06, 2015

Oligarchy By The Numbers

With billionaires trying to buy candidates and control election results in both major US political parties with the legal support of a pro-business Supreme Court, the word "oligarchy" is getting thrown around again as we approach the 2016 election. So I found these sentences relevant when I ran across them in my morning reading...
"So the long period in which towns prospered, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, was also one in which the sense of urban community was most highly developed. In some respects the notion of a community is specious, however, since the richer townspeople known as 'the better sort' created an oligarchy of power concentrated in a small network of families. In Norwich 60 per cent of the wealth had devolved into the hands of 6 per cent of the population..." --Peter Ackroyd, Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors ["page" 139 of the Kindle edition]

Yeah, you say, but that was the 1100's and 1200's. That was medieval England. Everyone knows that medieval societies were based on hierarchies of extreme inequality, not like today when the top 1% are expected to control more than half of the world's wealth by 2016 and when the top 0.1% of Americans control as much wealth as the bottom 90% and all of these numbers are trending quickly toward even greater inequality.

So if 60% of the wealth being controlled by 6% of the people was defined as 'oligarchy' back in the 12th and 13th centuries, we may actually need a new word for our extreme 21st-century phenomenon.

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