Slouching Toward Oligarchy (Photo: Delana Martin)
by Robert Reich
America is not yet an oligarchy, but that's where Charles and David Koch and a few other billionaires are taking us.
American democracy used to depend on political parties that more or less represented most of us. Political scientists of the 1950s and 1960s marveled at American "pluralism," by which they meant the capacities of parties and other membership groups to reflect the preferences of the vast majority of citizens.
Then around a quarter century ago, as income and wealth began concentrating at the top, the Republican and Democratic parties started to morph into mechanisms for extracting money, mostly from wealthy people.
Finally, after the
So far in the 2014 election cycle, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' political front group, has aired more than 17,000 broadcast TV commercials, compared with only 2,100 aired by
Americans for Prosperity has also been outspending top Democratic super PACs in nearly all of the
The Kochs have spawned several imitators. Through the end of February, four of the top five contributors to 2014 super PACs are now giving money to political operations they themselves created, according to the
For example, billionaire
Last week, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (worth an estimated
"Certainly the 'Sheldon Primary' is an important primary for any Republican running for president," Ari Fleischer, former
The new billionaire political bosses aren't limited to Republicans. Democratic-leaning billionaires Tom Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager, and Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, have also created their own political groups.
But even if the two sides were equal, billionaires squaring off against each other isn't remotely a democracy. When billionaires supplant political parties, candidates are beholden directly to the billionaires. And if and when those candidates win election, the billionaires will be completely in charge.
In his much-talked-about new book, "Capital in the
Logically, this leads to greater and greater concentrations of income and wealth in the future -- dynastic fortunes that are handed down from generation to generation, as they were prior to the 20th century in much of the world.
The trend was reversed temporarily in the 20th century by the Great Depression, two terrible wars, the development of the modern welfare state and strong labor unions. But Piketty is justifiably concerned about the future. A new Gilded Age is starting to look a lot like the old one.
The only way to stop this is through concerted political action. Yet the only large-scale political action we're witnessing is that of Charles and David Koch and their billionaire imitators.
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Slouching Toward Oligarchy