The Oligarchy of America- Overhyped?

Julius Olavarria | December 15, 2023

There is no doubt that the wealthy have more influence on our democracy and the day-to-day function of American society. The richest men in the world- Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet- “own as much wealth as the bottom half of all US households combined” (Business Insider). A harrowing yet true fact, there is no doubt that they can use their money to make huge impacts on American life. 

It is evident in the constitution that the founding fathers never foresaw such consolidation of wealth. They never foresaw how much socioeconomic influence billionaires would have on our country. Constitutional/American ideals are based on equality and freedom for all. In the government’s eyes, a billionaire is not the same as an individual living wage-to-wage. Would they have limited the wealthy if they knew such unprecedented levels of wealth consolidation would happen in the future? 

The answer to that is yes, for some people. To preserve a true democratic republic and to make sure each citizen has equal votes and equal influence, the founding fathers would have implemented measures against the ultra-rich. No one needs that much money. No one needs that much influence.

At the same time, how can you call the United States a just and fair democracy when you limit another person’s influence based simply on their earnings? After all, billionaires are a product of their hard work and skill, right? 

These questions open up a door of dilemmas. Are billionaires justified in their practice? Some people believe all billionaires are inherently immoral: they gain their wealth at the expense of others, the environment, and the economy. Taxing the rich is an incredibly popular movement especially as of today- but is it fair? Can we really tax the rich more than others and call it a fair representative democracy? 

I believe there are no answers to these questions, but there is no question that America’s democracy is tipped in favor of the rich. What is essentially created is an oligarchy- but how much power do these billionaires actually have? 

According to Jamie Lowe in the New York Times Magazine, billionaires practice “stealth politics,” or they actively work behind the scenes to influence policy and government officials alike. Billionaires don’t take open, public stances on policies because they, well, want to preserve their wealth. A lot of billionaires’ money is dependent on investors in their businesses. What they say in general, what stance they take politically, and their political affiliation can cause key investors to pull out large shares in billionaires’ businesses. These billionaires, of course, have different opinions than 95% of the country. To prevent scrutiny, loss of business, and backlash, they enact influence in secret. 

If billionaires are secretive then how can we measure their political influence? 

It is said in the same article that billionaire’s influence is “driven by lobbying and campaign contributions” using their wealth to support political objectives. We know that politicians are reliant on funds for their campaigns unless they are already multi-millionaires themselves, so it’s easy to piece together that billionaires play a heavy role in campaigns. 

With this in mind, a billionaire could theoretically fill several congressmen’s campaign funds, making the members of Congress completely reliant and subservient to his/her billionaire. This is a scary thought, however, there are limits: congressmen can only receive so much money. In fact, there are regulations and limits on how much a person can give. 

So, all in all, while billionaires have more wealth than God, their influence in the government may not be as powerful as people think. Yes, there might be shady dealings under the table that the public may not know about, but at the end of the day, the government remains distinct from billionaire influence. So, while wealth inequality says one thing about influence, the layout of our government says another. The government should always be separated from the influence of one person’s opinions, no matter how much money one makes. If America was truly a modern billionaire oligarchy, the American sense of democracy would be lost. If true, indisputable evidence of an underground billionaire oligarchy were to surface, corruption, oppression, and lower-class upheaval would likely occur at levels never seen before. As of now, have faith and hope in humanity and our billionaires.