DEFINITION of Plutocracy

Plutocracy is a government controlled exclusively by the wealthy either directly or indirectly. A plutocracy allows, either openly or by circumstance, only the wealthy to rule. This can then result in policies exclusively designed to assist the wealthy, which is reflected in its name (comes from the Greek words "ploutos" or wealthy, and "kratos" - power, ruling).


A plutocracy doesn't have to be a purposeful, overt format for government. Instead, it can be created through the allowance of access to certain programs and educational resources only to the wealthy and making it so that the wealthy hold more sway. The concern of inadvertently creating a plutocracy is that the regulatory focus will be narrow and concentrated on the goals of the wealthy, creating even more income and asset-based inequality.

Modern Usage

"Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy," President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography. Roosevelt wrote this at a time when the wealthy paid little or no income tax and could afford summer homes in Newport that made the White House look shabby. 

Although many people talk about the widening gap between rich and poor in the United States, plutocracy is more a concept than a governing model in any modern country. That's true even in a country run by billionaire Donald Trump and by a Congress whose total wealth Roll Call estimated was at least $2.43 billion, 20% more than the collective riches of the previous Congress.

However, there's still plenty of regular folks in Congress, who sleep in their offices because they can't afford the costly rents in the Capital, plus pay for housing in their home district.

An argument can be made that the 115th Congress in particular leans the most toward plutocracy, with tax cuts aimed at the wealthy and the elimination of rules and regulations thought to hinder business and profits. 

"A plutocracy is a system of rule by people of wealth, which describes our situation in the United States far more accurately than the term democracy. We have been an Empire ruled as a plutocracy since our founding," maintains author David Korten.  

Princeton University Prof. Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof. Benjamin I Page in a study concluded that "Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."