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. This is David Korten’s video commentary on American Plutocracy and the transition to Deep Democracy.
White Men of the Propertied Class
The U.S. Constitution was written by white men predominantly of the propertied class. For their time, the steps they took were heroic and progressive. They brought an end to hereditary monarchy and introduced the separation of church and state to end theocracy — both exceptional accomplishments for their time. The original Constitution, however, enshrined the power of white males of property in the institutions of a plutocracy, a system of rule by people of wealth. It specifically sanctioned slavery and gave no rights to women, Native Americans, or people of color. We have come a long way since, but still have a very long way to go.
An Empire Ruled as a Plutocracy
The story that those who wrote the U.S. Constitution acted out of a passionate belief in the right of every person to life, liberty, and justice for all and gave us governing institutions that embody the highest expression of these democratic ideals is a leading example of an Empire fiction. As is characteristic of such fictions, it clouds our ability to see and thus to reach for unrealized possibilities of Earth Community well within our means.
Every bit of the land our nation occupies, from that of the original thirteen colonies, to that acquired during the Westward expansion, was taken by force and/or deceit from Native Americans who were impoverished as a result. And Native American treaty rights continue to be ignored with alarming regularity. It took a civil war to amend the Constitution to prohibit slavery and continued struggle to extend the vote to people of color. African Americans suffer the consequences of the enslavement of their ancestors to this day. Women, even white women of property, didn’t get the vote until 1920 and remain significantly under represented in political office. Even now we have no assurance that every vote will be properly recorded and counted.
Creating the Democracy We Never Had
Our current economy is accurately described by investment advisers and marketing consultants as a “plutonomy,” a combination of the terms “plutocracy” and “economy.” It refers to an economy in which income growth is confined to those at the top of the wealth pyramid. They use the concept as a guide to framing profitable investment and marketing strategies.
The is the mirror opposite of economic democracy, which is an essential foundation of political democracy, both foundational to the Living Democracy of the Living Earth Economy of an Ecological Civilization.
Our current situation as a nation and a species has instructive parallels to that of the early American settlers who mobilized to win their independence from a distant king. There was no model for the democratic processes and institutions to which their rebellion led. They learned and advanced the arts of political democracy through invention and practice as they set in motion the historic process of dismantling the institutions of Empire while simultaneously creating the institutions of a new nation.
The journey to democracy that began with the American Revolution remains unfinished. We, the people of our time, must mobilize to carry the process forward by learning and advancing the arts of economic democracy as we declare our independence from Wall Street in both word and deed.
In the words of Frances Moore Lappe, “To save the democracy we thought we had, we must take democracy to where it’s never been.”