It was Jean-Paul Sartre who wrote, “When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die.” This quote comes to mind as mariner reads no less than four sources writing simultaneously about the effect of oligarchical and plutocratic forces on American society. The common thread is the loss of the ‘American Dream’ – the dream that says anyone who works hard and believes in guaranteed freedom will live a fulfilling life as an American citizen.
- Oligarchy – a form of government where power rests with a small elite segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family or military influence.
- Plutocracy – literally ‘rule by the rich’.
- Meritocracy – a social system in which people get opportunities and succeed based primarily on their talent (Merit) and effort.
- Democracy – a government wherein citizens elect officials to represent their interests.
The original vision was a meritocracy; successful citizens are based on performance measured through examination and demonstrated achievement. Politics completely trashed this vision by the Civil War. Further, the economy shifted in a way that more profit multiplies the ability to make even more profit without ever tying growth to production of goods or services. This form of investment has no trickle-down effect – a convenient myth proffered by the wealthy. The excess wealth is never redistributed to the population; rather, wealth is locked into families through trusts, real estate and investments. This economic arrangement draws more and more profit to the wealthy few and literally deprives working citizens from sharing the national wealth.
Obviously, the wealthy have the resources to enjoy a fulfilling life but the national culture increasingly loses any opportunity for fulfillment of any kind. The absence of fulfillment in life is a major reason for class stultification; it is at the root of several clashes between citizens, for example racial tension, indifferent commitment to moral values, and jobs leading to even lower salaries and job dissatisfaction across all industries; even more insidious is the effect on family life. The bottom line is that without meritocracy (and a functioning democracy), there is little motivation to achieve or to be accountable for the nation. Mariner believes that low voter turnout is tied directly to a belief that whatever happens in the plutocracy won’t change anything in the voter’s unfulfilled daily life.
It is common knowledge that the Federal Government and most state governments are plutocracies. Those elected to represent the citizenry actually represent special interests that are wealthy in nature or stand to increase profits unfairly by manipulating legislation through elected representatives. It was in the general news a few months ago that Congress spends its first five hours every day soliciting donations from lobbyist sources. There is no doubt in any corner that plutocracy has replaced representative government.
The final thread, perhaps the most damaging in the long term, is the inability of the United States to remain the leading influence and economy of the world’s nations. What was new in the original documents creating the US was the power of the citizens striving in a meritocracy governed by a democracy. Today, education, science, reinvestment in jobs and technical advancement – all and more are cast aside in favor of sustaining an oligarchy and plutocracy. Overwhelming evidence can be seen in dozens of national oligarchies around the globe.
There’s an old slogan that has come to represent the energy of populist and other uprisings but the core truth is universal:
“Power to the People.”