Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth. The combination of both plutocracy and oligarchy is called plutarchy.
The word plutocracy (Modern Greek: πλουτοκρατία - ploutokratia) is derived from the ancient Greek root ploutos, meaning wealth and kratos, meaning to rule or to govern.
The term plutocracy is generally used to describe these two distinct concepts: one of a historical nature and one of a modern political nature. The former indicates the political control of the state by an oligarchy of the wealthy. Examples of such plutocracies include the Roman Republic, some city-states in Ancient Greece, the civilization of Carthage, the Italian city-states/merchant republics of Venice, Florence, Genoa, and pre-WWII Empire of Japan zaibatsus.
Before the equal voting rights movement managed to end it in the early 20th century, many countries used a system where rich persons had more votes than poor. A factory owner may for instance have had 2000 votes while a worker had one, or if they were very poor no right to vote at all. Even artificial persons such as companies had voting rights.
One modern, perhaps unique, formalised example of a plutocracy is the City of London. The City (not the whole of modern London but the area of the ancient city, which now mainly comprises the financial district) has a unique electoral system. Most of its voters are representatives of businesses and other bodies that occupy premises in the City. Its ancient wards have very unequal numbers of voters. The principal justification for the non-resident vote is that about 450,000 non-residents constitute the city's day-time population and use most of its services, far outnumbering the City's residents, who are fewer than 10,000.
The second usage of plutocracy is a reference to a disproportionate influence the wealthy have on political process in contemporary society: for example Kevin Phillips, author and political strategist to U.S. President Richard Nixon, argues that the United States is a plutocracy in which there is a "fusion of money and government."
The wealthy minority exerts influence over the political arena via many methods. Most western democracies permit partisan organizations to raise funds for politicians, and political parties frequently accept significant donations from various individuals (either directly or through corporations or advocacy groups). These donations may be part of a cronyist or patronage system, in which major contributors and fund-raisers are rewarded with high-ranking government appointments. While campaign donations need not directly affect the legislative decisions of elected representatives, politicians have a personal interest in serving the needs of their campaign contributors: if they fail to do so, those contributors will likely give their money to candidates who do support their interests in the future. Unless a quid pro quo agreement exists, it is generally legal for politicians to advocate policies favorable to their contributors, or grant appointed government positions to them. In some instances, extremely wealthy individuals have financed their own political campaigns. Many corporations and business interest groups pay lobbyists to maintain constant contact with elected officials, and press them for favorable legislation. Owners of mass media outlets, and the advertisement buyers which financially support them can shape public perception of political issues by controlling the information available to the population and the manner in which it is presented (see also: fourth estate). Within government bureaucracy, there is often the problem of a revolving door: the employees of government regulatory bodies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States, often transition to and from employment with the same companies they are supposed to regulate. This can result in regulations being changed or ignored to suit the needs of business, since the regulators are more likely to later find employment in the private sector if their government work was beneficial to their new potential employer.
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