What Would Plutocracy Look in the US?

There are a number of dopers that have latched on to the word plutocracy, claiming it’s what we have now in the US.

Today I was looking through the voting slips I get as a stock holder and it got me thinking: what would plutocracy look like if the US formally adopted it at the federal level?

Right now we have a system of one vote per citizen. What if instead we changed to it make the number of votes proportional to wealth or income?

To clean it up a bit, I propose the following: one vote for every $1000 you pay to personal income tax (split evenly and rounded up for married filing jointly). And like the Senate system, I would then allow one vote for everyone that files. And it would be based on the previous 3 years of filing to avoid people pumping up their taxes every four years. So everyone would still get one vote, but those that pay more taxes get more votes. I call this the, “You live under my roof so you follow my rules” style of government.

Obviously this is never going to happen (or already has) so I don’t know that we need to debate whether or not this is a good idea.

What I’m really curious to know is how the political landscape would change, and how the current political environment would alter in response.

I think power will shift towards upper middle class and away from lower income groups, as well as dramatically reducing the power of seniors and students towards the higher earning 40-55 year olds.

My *perception *has always been that low income urban vote [D], low income rural vote [R]. But then I get the sense urban upper middle class tends to be more conservative, and I have no idea what upper middle class rural looks like if it even exists.


Here is some very bad data I scrounged together from the IRS

Tax rate Number of returns" Extra votes in my system
0 percent…10,897,964…0
5 percent…205,858 …1
10 percent…106,892,311…2
10 percent …131,638 …1 (Form 8814 kids)
15 percent…80,264,660…4
15 percent…12,006,157…6 (capital gains)
25 percent…30,355,956…8
25 percent…334,377 …5 (capital gains)
28 percent…6,903,701…13
28 percent…26,390…25 (capital gains)
33 percent…2,641,250…32
35 percent…971,591…225
Form 8615…384,095…0 (people under 14)

Do anyone know how to compare this to voting stats?

From the 2007 tax year (from Page Not Found - Search - National Taxpayers Union and Internal Revenue Service - Wikipedia) (admittedly a partisan site, but partisan in a way I expect to overexaggerate tax paid)

Total Individual Income Tax Collected:  $1,366,241,000,000
Total Individual Returns:  138,893,908
Bracket     Tax Paid (pct)       Tax Paid ($)      Total Votes     Total People
Top 1%         38.02%         $521,904,062,000     521,904,062       1,388,940
Top 2-5%       20.70%         $282,811,887,000     282,811,887       5,555,756
Other 95%       41.28%        $563,984,285,800     563,984,285      131,949,213

So there you have it. In a plutocracy as you describe in the modern day US, with votes tied to income, somewhat less than the top 5% of income earners control the vote.

And this even leaves off the effect of capital gains tax.

The first thing that’s going to happen is that corporations are going to show relatively less profit as corporate “profits” are funneled into higher salaries especially for executives. This is going to be especially pronounced in the middle-range and privately owned companies, as owners/managers convert corporate fiscal power into personal voting power (as corporate profits are “wasted” for voting purposes under your scenario). The effect on publicly traded companies is going to be unpredictable in terms of where that profit is going to go, but I can’t see any but the most short-sighted of Boards of Directors failing to recognize that paying their corporate profits out to the minimum required for continuing new investment is going to get them more friendly votes.

Seems like the power is going to concentrate somewhere well above the upper middle class, just by looking at the numbers above.

You rang? We tend to be all over the map–but there’s a strong tendency to classical liberalism, totally anecdotally. Most rural upper middle class I’ve met are people who are living the “American Dream”; that is, people who’ve measurably improved their economic status over their parents, and they tend to not like that jump up in income tax rates. At the same time, they also tend to know a lot of broke-ass hard-working people who for whatever reason can’t get a break, which tends to cause some progressive tendencies.

I don’t know if upper middle class groups would gain ground, if anything they would lose ground. I assume all but the investor class would start losing ground in a true plutocracy. And the professional class (professors, physicians, pharmacists, lawyers, etc) would probably see their wages cut so more money could be funneled into stock dividends or corporate profits in a more plutocratic system.

Paul Krugman claimed growing income inequality pushed politics to the right in the US. I have no idea how true that is though. I’d assume there’d be more polarization, but I don’t understand why plutocracy would drive politics to the right like Krugman said. Maybe stressful situations just tend to drive people to extremes of both right in left in most countries.

In my limitied experience, the upper middle class rurals tend to be less conservative than the lower class rural dwellers. But that is just what I"ve seen. Part of it is that the lower class rural dwellers are struggling day by day and are more taken in by conservative stories about welfare fraud and unfair redistribution practices (ie medicaid for those who have kids they can’t afford, but no medical assistance for the lower class whites who used birth control) since they can see an actual difference in their standard of living under those scenarios.

Then we would have one of the conditions of The Curious Republic of Gondour.
This, you must understand, was the system put in place after that chain of unanticipated and, perhaps, regrettable events beginning with the crisis of F.A. 15 – the Oath of the Sheepfold, the fall of the House of Elendil, the Reign of Wizardry, the aggressive reign of Emperor Faramir, and that truly nasty period under the Dunedain Rouge.

Bank of America sent a letter a couple years ago extolling the virtues of a plutocracy. They were urging their big depositors and investors to get on board with the new financial reality. It was international in scope .
Looks like that is exactly what is happening.

Sorry it was Shittibank.

That’s essentially what I’ve found. So with that, how would the electoral map shift? How does the top 5% of income earners (ie the highest taxed) currently vote?

I honestly don’t think that’s going to be an accurate predictor for more than one election cycle, to be honest. First of all, at those percentages the aggregates don’t tell you anything–Warren Buffet (9,620 votes) and my former company’s former CEO (35 votes) are both in the top 5%, after all.

Secondly, as soon as everyone comes to terms with the new realities of the situation, the political map will completely redraw. You’ll see political parties forming that are specifically designed to either capture the votes of the local rich guys, or designed to stop cannibalizing each other in the areas where the 95% dominate in votes (still going to be decent numbers of Representative districts where these guys hold sway–at least until you redraw the borders of the districts, right?)

Plutocracy? You’re soaking in it!

Extreme social liberalism: Legalized gay marriage, most drugs (including hard ones), virtually no restrictions on broadcasting or film,

The topic is “plutocracy,” not “Qin Shi Huangdi’s bad dream.”

And the fact is the richer you’re, the more socially permissive you are.

The question is, if socially permissive equals legalizing PCP and Meth.

Good point. So consider this: how would tax policy change? Warren Buffet or Bill Gates seem to now single handedly could raise or lower taxes. The Oracle of Omaha might decide he doesn’t want to pay income tax any more, but that would also mean he’d lose all of his voting power. He could also choose to increase his power, but that would mean more government revenue.

It an alternate scenario, what if the US went back to the system of Lords instead of Senators. Where by the House of Representatives stated the same (popular election), but now Senators represented wealth instead of states.

Indeed are the country-club hallways and locker rooms thick with wicked hempsmoke and sticky with the spillage of hot spontaneous man-love. All of them, actually, not just the ones that let in persons of Hebrew persuasion. And don’t get me started about what goes on in Episcopalian churches.

Why do you suppose that is? What is it about being poor that makes someone socially conservative? Do the rich know something the rest of us don’t?

The Episcopalian Church is the most liberal of the remotely Trinitarian denominations in the United States. And I suppose you haven’t heard about all-male boarding schools. :stuck_out_tongue:

See for instance the vote breakdown on Prop 8 by income.

And the more fiscally conservative you are. It is their financial dealings that are tossing people out of work and foreclosing on their homes.
The wealth gap is getting huge. Who cares if they are more permissive about abortion? The rich are moving jobs abroad and closing factories .

That one’s relatively easy. When you don’t have much going for you, you transfer your self-worth to some degree onto the tribe instead to bolster your self-esteem. The easiest way to determine who’s in the tribe and who’s not are customs that are to some degree objectively painful or irrational to follow. Heck, I’ve heard that bandied about as the original historical rationale for circumcision–you aren’t going to do THAT if you’re just a spy or hanger-on.

My hometown is my cite. 250 broke-ass rednecks who’ve been collectively out of work since the last coal train left the area in 1986 are a pretty good microcosm of eastern US rural poor in general. I’d put a smiley there if it wasn’t heartbreaking.

Anyway, they all basically act on tribal structures in microcosm–it’s a HUGE deal if your Catholic daughter marries a Baptist, and when I say that I mean gunfire-level huge. With my dad as the local general store proprietor and my mom as the Catholic church organist I hear a lot of true gossip, and by and large no one is particularly interested in following any specific church dogma, merely in using that dogma to keep members of their own tribe in line and run down members of the other tribes. Another anecdote: My dad walked out of the annual 4th-of-July ecumenical service last year, very ostentatiously, when one of the preachers started going on about the liberal evils of gays and drugs and drink. When I asked him why, he (again, ostentatiously) came back with “I let him go on after his first DUI conviction, but I’m not gonna listen to a man with two of 'em tell me what I shouldn’t be drinking.”

Long story short, my theory is that the rich don’t necessarily know any more, but they don’t generally have a particular need to draw self-worth from an in-group and so correspondingly don’t have a particular need to enforce in-group/tribal boundaries and mores.