'Oligarchy': History of how the super-rich defend their wealth

October 28, 2011

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(AP/Denis Gukov)
When it comes to oligarchs, Russian tycoons like Mikhail Khodorkovsky often come to mind. But the U.S. has its share, too.

The "Occupy" protests make a big point about income disparity in this country. They also say the very rich have too much influence on public and economic policy. But not a lot of Americans think of our very rich as oligarchs. They may believe that oligarchy is something that happens in Russia or the Roman Empire. Today, we spend the hour wrestling with the idea of American oligarchs.

Jeffrey Winters is a professor of political economy at Northwestern University. In his new book Oligarchy, he makes the case that we do indeed have a class of super-rich that defends its wealth as vigorously as princes in the Middle Ages.

 

Some highlights from the interview:

"[In America], wealth is two times as concentrated as imperial Rome, which was a slave and farmer society. That's how huge the gap is." (12:09)

"There have been no [income] gains for the average American household since 1970." (20:55)

"The U.S. Senate ... estimates that the losses to the U.S. Treasury each year just from off-shore placement of resources ... [are] roughly $70 billion ..." (27:21)

"...the wealth gap within the top one percent is actually much bigger than the wealth gap between the one percent and the bottom 99 percent." (9:29)

"The Bush Administration treated the top 400 tax returns to the IRS as a state secret." (10:07)

 

Further reading:

To learn more about the issue of wealth disparity, you can check out Jeffrey's article in The American Interest, "Oligarchy and Democracy" and his piece in the Huffington Post, "America's Income Defense Industry."

 

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Two weeks after this segment aired, Jeffrey returned to Worldview to answer listeners' questions about American oligarchy and discuss policy solutions. You can listen to that show here.