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Table of Contents

Table of Contents 2
What is Plutocracy? 3
Is America a Plutocracy? 3
Ethics and Plutocracy 4
Why is America Still a Plutocracy? 4
The Rich Get Richer 5
The American Dream 6
Objectivism and Plutocracy 7
Utilitarianism and Plutocracy 8
Solutions to Plutocracy 9
Glossary of Terms 12
Bibliography 13

Plutocracy in America:

What is Plutocracy?

Plutocracy is a political system where the wealthy rule. Examples of plutocracies throughout the years include the Empire of Japan before WWII, some city-states in Ancient Greece, Carthage, and the Roman Republic. (Wikipedia, 2011) It’s not surprising that places such as these were plutocracies. Wealth can easily be converted into power and power can easily be used for political control. Systems such as these have an immense disparity between those that are wealthy and those that are not because once you are wealthy you can use that to become even more wealthy which leads to more power and if desired, more political control. (Warden, 2008) Before WWII Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany referred to western democratic states, such as the United States of America and Great Britain, as plutocracies. They implied that a small number of extremely wealthy individuals were controlling these countries and holding them ransom. (Wikipedia, 2011) While this may sound completely untrue there is more merit to this implication than meets the eye.

Is America a Plutocracy?

Yes, America is a plutocracy. We may think of ourselves as a democracy but this country was actually founded as a plutocracy. Back in the old days you couldn’t vote unless you had land. Owning land meant that you had enough money to purchase it which meant that your wealth was above a certain threshold. Also, only white males could vote and many of them had slaves of their own which shows that democracy was not a core value for America at that time. Since that time America has shifted to a more democratic view by making it so you do not have to own land to vote you only have to be a citizen of the country. (Warden, 2008) Even with the changes that have been made the country is still not really a democracy because money rules in this land. The plutocracy that America has been built upon raises many ethical and moral questions.

Ethics and Plutocracy

What is ethics? On page 1 of A Moral Life it is described as a systematic, rational search for answers to moral questions, often the hardest and most momentous questions we can ask. Ethics is the study of morality using philosophical methods. What is morality? On page 1 of A Moral Life it is described as consisting mostly of our moral judgments, principles, values, and theories. (Pojman & Vaughn, 2011) This brings us to the moral and ethical question of whether or not plutocracy is right. Many of the wealthy people in America give back to the less fortunate by making donations and spending their money to help people. To these people it is morally wrong for America to be a plutocracy. Other wealthy people would rather horde their money and use it for their own personal gain. To these people it is morally acceptable for America to be a plutocracy. Whether or not plutocracy is ethically correct would depend on which group of people is being asked.

Why is America Still a Plutocracy?

To answer this question you can look at many different things but let’s take the presidency for example. Do you want to be the president? Of course you would. Everyone wants the opportunity to be in control, to make the tough decisions, to guide this country down the right path, and last but not least fix the mistakes that previous leaders have made. Unfortunately this opportunity isn’t available to everyone. Why is this opportunity not available to everyone? The reason is pretty simple really; money. A presidential candidate needs to be wealthy if they want to run for the presidency. Presidential candidates spend millions of dollars on their campaigns in hopes of becoming the next president of the United States of America. Take Mitt Romney for example; when he ran for president in 2007 he spent about $44 million of his own personal fortune. (Shear, 2011) If you don’t have wealth then you could raise money to run for president however there is no way one could raise enough money to compete with what wealthy people are spending these days. In 2007 it was estimated that running for the presidency would cost upwards of $150 million dollars! (Curry, 2007)

The Rich Get Richer

“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. This statement is essentially the motto of a plutocracy. If you were asked the question, “Should a person be selected for a position of power regardless of the amount of wealth that they have?”, what would you say? Most Americans would agree that it doesn’t matter how much money someone has, rather it should be about the character of the person. Ethically it would seem that the majority of Americans do not want a plutocracy so why is plutocracy still so prevelant in America? The problem here is with the fundamentals of a plutocracy. Since the rich get richer it is so difficult to change something already in place because the people in power have no urge to change it. For America to venture away from a plutocracy the wealthy would have to give up all their power. Why would they want to do that? What benefit is it to them? Morally many of them may feel wrong about getting richer while the poor are getting poorer however it would take the majority to make a change. Society has taught us that money is power and many people spend their whole lives trying to attain it. It’s a sad fact that most wealthy people would much rather buy more toys than donate some of their money to people less fortunate than themselves. Material things are the focus of our society and until it changes from the inside plutocracy will stay in America.

The American Dream

What is the American dream? The American dream was built on the middle class. It was a dream that with hard work and dedication anyone could start a family, make a living, receive health care, get retirement security, own a home, and get a better education for their kids. This dream was once a reality for so many of the middle class and America opened the doors to this dream for many more by fighting segregation and discrimination. (Borosage, 2011) Can this dream still be attained? Yes, it can but it is much more difficult now than it has ever been and the government has not made it any easier in recent years. Where has the American dream gone? Some recent statistics about the American dream are shocking. 1 out of every 6 Americans live in poverty. 40 million Americans have no health insurance. (Cardwell, 2011) The heads of the nation’s top companies got a an average raise of 27% in 2010 while the working class got a meager 2.1%. (Yamada, 2011) Nearly a quarter of total income attained in the United States is going to the top 1 percent of Americans. The top 0.01 percent of Americans now earn just as much as the bottom 120 million of us! (Reich, 2010) Why are the wealthy able to be compensated so much better than those that are in desperate need of money? People used to say that America was a land where dreams could come true but it appears that those dreams will not come true for the majority of Americans. In recent years the economy has been horrible; families have struggled to pay their bills and many small businesses have had to close their doors. The most startling statistic I found was that while most families are struggling to save money, luxury stores are doing better than ever. (Yamada, 2011) In 1980, families in the bottom 90 percent averaged about $30,500 in income which was $72 more than what the bottom 90 percent of families averaged in 2006! On top of that, in 1980 the top 0.01 percent average $5.4 million in income compared to an average income of $29.6 million in 2006. (Maynard, 2010) The trend that America is taking is absolutely frightening. At this rate the top 0.01 percent will all be billionaires before the bottom 90 percent will even average more than $40,000. What about tax rates? Wouldn’t a simple solution be to tax wealthy people slightly more so more money flows into the government? With extra money coming in the governement can use it to start program which help lower-income families. A system like this could help to redistribute the wealth in this country to what it used to be. In 1944 the tax rate for the highest tax bracker was 94 percent. At this tax rate taxpayers paid about 65 percent of their total income in tax. In 2005 the tax rate for taxpayers making more than $1 million was 35 percent. This meant that those taxpayers only had to pay about 23 percent of their income in tax. (Maynard, 2010) How does this make sense? The rich are getting richer but the taxes are getting lower. Before Ronald Reagan was president the tax rates for the rich were very high. What changed and why hasn’t it been changed back? Tax rates like these are the reason why America has such a huge disparity between those that are wealthy and those that are not. The wealth of America needs to be redistrubuted for the future of this nation.

Objectivism and Plutocracy

What is objectivism? Objectivism is about pursuing one’s own self-interest. Doing things for yourself because you are more important than anyone else. In a plutocracy, most wealthy people are very similar to this definition. Why would you worry about someone else when you have the money and the power? A quote from page 541 in A Moral Life highlights this point best: “As a basic step of self-esteem, learn to treat as the mark of a cannibal any man’s demand for your help. To demand it is to claim that your life is his property—and loathsome as such claim might be, there’s something still more loathsome: your agreement. Do you ask if it’s ever proper to help another man? No—if he claims it as his right or as a moral duty that you owe him. Yes—if such is your own desire based on your own selfish pleasure in the value of his person and his struggle.” (Pojman & Vaughn, 2011) From an objectivist standpoint the poor people are demanding that the government (the wealthy) help them. Rand’s theory tells us that it is not our duty to help anyone but ourselves. In this way a plutocracy carries many of the same beliefs because money is power and if you have it then why worry about anyone else? From the moral standpoint of an objectivist, everything about a plutocracy is great however it does not serve the greater good.

Utilitarianism and Plutocracy

On page 217 of A Moral Life, utilitarianism is defined as the view that right actions are those that result in the most beneficial balance of good over bad consequences for everyone involved. (Pojman & Vaughn, 2011) When faced with 2 decisions a utilitarian would choose the one that resulted in the greatest amount of happiness. Objectivism tells us to worry about only one’s own self interest while a utilitarian view is about the greater good. So what does this mean? From a utilitarian standpoint, a plutocracy does not result in a greater amount of people being happy. In fact, there is many more people that are unhappy in a plutocracy than those that are happy. The wealthy are few which makes a plutocracy completely wrong in a utilitarian view. Democracy on the other hand is a much more utilitarian-friendly system. It is a system in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy is what the country is supposed to be built on and having a system like this promotes decisions based on what the majority of the people want; those that result in the greatest amount of happiness.

Solutions to Plutocracy

How can we begin to change this system that has been in place for so long? A plutocracy is not something that is going to change overnight. It won’t be easy but it is possible to change this country into the democratic nation that it should be. Unfortunately as a society we are bound to the laws and decisions that the government makes for us. Because of this we must work to change the government and the country from the ground up. So what are our options? Change the presidential campaign. There are two things wrong with the system currently and they both involve wealth. The first thing that we must do is change how someone runs for president. Currently it is much too reliant on someone being wealthy to run for president. People without a great deal of wealth need to have the same opportunity to run for president as someone with millions of dollars. The second thing we must do is change the donations that occur in presidential campaigns. Currently in this system a vast amount of money is donated to presidential candidates from people or corporations. Sometimes these donations are bribes in exchange for high ranking positions in the government. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable and it is a major reason why plutocracy has become so prevalent in this country. Both of these things that must change can be done by setting a spending limit on presidential campaigns. A set amount of money needs to be established that the campaign can not exceed. This will help people that are not wealthy be able to run for president if they can receive enough donations. This will also prevent bribing because the amount of money a campaign can spend is now capped and will be much easier to obtain from donations than ever before. Change the tax rates. As mentioned previously the tax rates are far different from where they were years ago. Wealthy people are getting taxed less even though they are making more while poor people are being taxed more even though they may be making less. While the tax rates may have decreased for wealthy people in an effort to help big business grow it is very apparent that it has not helped our country. Some people view big business as something that is good and that if we put more money into it that money will trickle down and everyone will benefit. However this has not been the case and statistics show that high-ranking employees in large corporations are being increasingly compensated at a much higher level than other workers. These tax rates will be very difficult to change by a large amount because of the reliance the government has on the wealthy. Change the party system. Republicans and democrats are the two main parties in government. They are also the reason why the government and the system is a complete mess. When you ask someone, “Who are you going to vote for?”, ask them why they are going to vote for that person after they tell you. Many of them will say the reason they are voting for someone is because they are republican or because they are a democrat. If these parties were dissolved and people started to act on their morals then the ethics of government would be changed for the better. These days getting a law passed is next to impossible because each party wants something different. Even if a law benefits the entire country a republican may oppose it because the rest of his or her party is going to. Morally they may know that it is wrong to oppose the law but ethically (as far as their party goes) it is the right thing to do. In my eyes, this change would be the most beneficial. In conclusion, plutocracy in America is very apparent and it’s something that I wasn’t really aware of until I began researching for this paper. I thought that democracy reigned supreme in my country but I was completely wrong. A plutocracy is not what this country was built to be and as a society we must change it. Ethically most people in America know that the rich have too much money and the poor don’t have enough but until we change people on a moral level things will not get better. Wealthy people must feel morally obligated to change the system. They must understand that they can still pursue their own self-interest without being compensated with as much money as they currently are. You don’t need billions of dollars to survive; poor people in a plutocracy know that all too well. If we can change people on a moral level then they will stop thinking about money and power and start thinking about what is right and what is wrong.

Glossary of Terms

Ethics - a systematic, rational search for answers to moral questions, often the hardest and most momentous questions we can ask.

Morality - consists mostly of our moral judgments, principles, values, and theories.

Objectivism - pursuing one’s own self-interest.

Plutocracy - a political system where the wealthy rule.

Utilitarianism - the view that right actions are those that result in the most beneficial balance of good over bad consequences for everyone involved.


Borosage, R. (2011, October 3). Save the American Dream by Fighting the Plutocracy. Retrieved November 27, 2011, from Truth Out:

Cardwell, A. (2011, October 30). Justice and the American Plutocracy. Retrieved November 28, 2011, from Napa Valley Register:

Curry, T. (2007, May 17). So you want to run for president... Retrieved November 28, 2011, from MSNBC:

Maynard, M. (2010, April 18). Plutocracy in America. Retrieved November 28, 2011, from Mark Maynard:

Pojman, L. P., & Vaughn, L. (2011). The Moral Life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Reich, R. (2010, October 18). America is becoming a plutocracy. Retrieved November 27, 2011, from Salon:

Shear, M. D. (2011, March 26). How Much Does It Cost to Run for President? Retrieved November 28, 2011, from The Caucus:

Warden, J. G. (2008, September 28). A Brief World History of Plutocracy. Retrieved November 28, 2011, from Daily KOS:

Wikipedia. (2011). Plutocracy. Retrieved November 28, 2011, from Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedi:

Yamada, D. (2011, August 6). Post-meltdown America: An economic recovery for the wealthy. Retrieved November 27, 2011, from Minding the Workplace:

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...Critical Thinking and Ethics Aliya Johnson GEN/201 April 28th, 2015 Critical Thinking and Ethics Critical thinking and ethics are concepts that are very important to use in order to be successful either academically and/or professionally. When it comes to critical thinking and ethics both are very universal; and allow for creative views and ideas to collaborate. In order to get better understandings of how critical thinking and ethics can affect your career both professionally and academically we must first analyze these skills. Critical Thinking One analysis I would like to make is how critical thinking and ethics can impact our lives; which means that we have to first understand the definition of critical thinking. According to D.C. Phillips, “critical thinking is referred to generalized standards and principles of reasoning on which reasons for judgements could be based.” (Norris.S, 2014) In other words, people usually base their judgements on what they believe are generally right. Critical thinking allows us to be able to determine whether or not something is ethically right or wrong or maybe in between. There are six steps one can take towards critical thinking. The first step to critical thinking is being able to remember all events that may have taken place. Then, you have to understand the situation that’s going on around you. For example, you may want to “ask yourself if you can explain the situation in your own word.”......

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