BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Oligarchy is one of those words that Mr. Michaels taught us in our junior high government class. He told us that is a government system where power is controlled by a small, often wealthy, percentage of a country’s population. I assumed from his explanation that oligarchies exist in those countries where citizens are not allowed to vote in their best interest.
Kimberly Amadeo, a respected writer, economist and money manager who also frequently appears on the Fox network, made a number of poignant remarks about oligarchies earlier this year in an article that appeared in the online magazine, The Balance.
Ms. Amadeo pointed out that an oligarchy can occur in any political system. In a democracy, oligarchs are not elected by the people. Instead, they use their relationships and money to influence elected officials. As a result, the advantages gained by oligarchs/elites gives them more influence. Left unchecked the competitive advantages gained foster an organized minority as opposed to an unorganized majority, and any system of government will eventually become an oligarchy.
The article says that the benefit of an oligarchy is that the majority of people are allowed to focus on their careers and their hobbies and their family and not be bothered with the issues that concern society as a whole.
However, according to the author, oligarchies increase income inequality because while the majority of people are working to support their families, oligarchs siphon a nation’s wealth into their pockets leaving less for everyone else. As oligarchs gain power, they seek to keep it.
Oligarchies can form when the elite class takes action to exert greater influence over things like tax policy. That action is normally in the form of financial influence to further the goal of the elite without regard to the harm that it may do to society. Slashing tax rates on high-income earners or on a specific industry would be an example of this; another example is to lower labor costs by suppressing wages or weakening organized labor.
They also form when elected leaders are weak or are weakened by policies that benefit the elite. For instance, legislation such as term limits would arguably weaken the Legislature and shift power to the elite and their lobbyists.
Finally, oligarchies also arise in democracies where the people are uninformed or misinformed. Elites that control wealth, media and information have the power to manipulate perception.
For instance, in Oklahoma, a group called RIED claims to promote economic growth. However, RIED’s Board of Directors is primarily comprised of the same group of business executives who promoted the Step Up Oklahoma Plan [HB1033xx] last fall.
Many, including myself, saw the Step Up Plan as regressive and a way to cap oil and gas gross production tax at the nation’s lowest rate and further shift the tax burden from high wage earners to working Oklahomans. It made sense because many of the Step Up Plan promoters had spent the better part of the last quarter century undermining public education in Oklahoma.
So, it came as no surprise when RIED’s annual legislative grade card placed undue weight on the Step Up Plan vote and totally disregarded the passage of HB1010xx, which was the bill that included a greater increase on oil and gas production taxes and a 50% smaller increase in regressive gasoline taxes and a one-third smaller tax on cigarettes.
The goal and effect of RIED was to negatively impact legislators who voted noon the Step Up Plan and yeson the plan that actually put more money into teacher pay, increased funding for textbooks, support personnel and other educational expenses.
It is no surprise that most Americans feel disenfranchised and helpless in influencing their society. Gallup reports that 76% feel dissatisfied with the way things are going right now. Sixty-seven percent are dissatisfied with income distribution and 43% feel that there is not much opportunity to get ahead.
We shouldn’t be surprised that populist protest groups such as the Tea Party have formed. We all share much of the same frustration. The sooner we unite our efforts toward attaining goals that benefit all Americans the sooner we will overcome the division and discord of the oligarchical society that we have become.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House