Oligarchy vs. Plutocracy



By Jim Sullivan

Given the strong tilt of the current House and Senate tax bills toward the wealthy, I began wondering if our government is a democracy or , as some say, an oligarchy or even a plutocracy.

To answer this question I researched measures of wealth for members of Congress.

First some definitions:

  • A democracy is a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of  representation usually involving periodically held free elections.
  •  An oligarchy is a government in which a small group exercises control.
  • A plutocracy is government by the wealthy.  



    1. In 2013, members of Congress had a median net worth of $1.03 million dollars. The median net worth of an American household in that year was $56,355.00. 

    2.  Americans’ median wealth was down 43% since 2007; Congress members’ net worth had jumped 28%. 

    3. The median net worth of Congressional Democrats was $946,000, and that of Congressional Republicans was $1.1 million. 

    4. The median net worth of Senate members in 2013 was $2.8 million; that of a member of the House was $843,500.00.


Keep in mind that the median is a measure of the midpoint over a range of figures ranked from high to low (or low to high).  I would like to see the mean and modal figures for this data, as well as the range and standard deviation for further insights.  And there are some Congressional outliers whose net worth is negative for one reason or another, for example business debt.   Also, the figures above are for 2013.  I don’t know what they are today.



A.  Between the net worth of members of Congress and their donors, and the strong tilt of the House and Senate tax bills toward the wealthy, the data strongly suggest that the political values of Congress in 2013 were, and most likely still are, plutocratic. 

B.  Between President Trump’s favoritism toward the wealthy, the median net worth of members of Congress and their donors in 2013, and the strong influence of money in our elections, it seems clear that our national political system will continue to tilt strongly toward the wealthy until more than one of these factors changes.  This will not happen anytime soon.



Even though Americans can exercise their voting rights, our federal government is a plutocracy, not an oligarchy. It is definitely not a democracy in which members of Congress represent the will of the people (as opposed to primarily representing the will of the wealthy) and forge legislative compromises which all may not like, but which all can at least live with.

Jim Sullivan is a Citizen Journalist and retired  businessman with graduate degrees in political science and business.  He lives in Ventura with his wife Juliette and two family cats.

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2 Responses to Oligarchy vs. Plutocracy

  1. Sheryl December 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    How about ‘Republic’ … representative government …


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