Is the US a plutocracy?

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Kevin Phillips

The American money aristocracy

A Political History of Wealth in the United States
Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2003
ISBN 9783593373126
Hardcover, 476 pages, 39.90 EUR


Translated from the English by Andreas Wirthensohn. The American oil magnate Rockefeller was the richest man on earth around 1900. In 1947 his son donated the land for its current headquarters in New York to the UN. The links between the owners of large fortunes and the control centers of power are evident in the USA to this day - the family of the current President George W. Bush also has numerous connections to the richest families in the USA. Kevin Phillips describes how the great fortunes came about. He reveals a subtle form of corruption that is not based on bribery, but on the cultural appreciation of wealth and financial power and a derived political-economic system in the name of free enterprise and national security. Phillips provocatively calls the US a plutocracy, in which the government protects the interests of the rich, and has sparked heated controversy in the US.

Review note on Frankfurter Rundschau, 02/02/2004

The reviewer Julia Hanich read Kevin Philipps' "angry" book about the American plutocracy with mixed feelings. Because on the one hand she sees "sweaty factual work" here, which provides the reader with a lot of "shocking" figures (for example regarding the income development of the poor and rich), but on the other hand, as the reviewer finds, Philipps does not leave the numbers to himself enough speak and indulge in "nerve-wracking repetitions" that make the book "hard to digest" overall. Often, however, Philipps' diagnoses seem to her to fall short, for example when, in his attacks on Wall Street, the "mega-corporations" and the "herbaristocracy", he suppresses the fact that the wealthy in particular are "philanthropic" - often with donations of millions. In addition to the "upper class", Philipps also target the "political caste" and accuse them of "incestuous closeness" to big business. The reviewer finds Philipps' inclination towards the philosophy of history of Spenglerism particularly strange, however, which leads him to conclude from parallels with past epochs that America is "on the verge of extinction". But the sloppiness of the German edition is simply unspeakable and even manages to write the inventor Thomas Alva Edison as "Thomas Anderson".

Review note on Die Zeit, January 15, 2004

Kevin Phillips' portrayal of the permanent interaction between capitalism and social justice in the USA must finally be heard in Europe too, believes Reinhard Blomert. He believes that this will now be easier thanks to Andreas Wirthensohn's translation. Known as the author of political books and commentaries, among others in the "Wall Street Journal" and the "New York Times", Arthur Schlesinger jr. and Fernand Braudel influenced analyst out of the repetitive pattern of "the rise, climax, and decline of previous world powers compared to the United States". From Theodore Roosevelt to the economic boom and the economic crisis of the twenties to an unprecedented degree of democratic equality under Franklin D. Roosevelt, Phillip's historically well-founded account focuses on precisely these "pendulum movements". Blomert writes that anyone who wants to pursue his "unfamiliar view" has to know the difference "between capitalism and democracy". Our reviewer hopes that the opportunities that Phillips sees in an American regime change should mean a surprising reorientation for Europe as well.