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Nothing Brave about America's Caste System (Community Voices)

photo by rahuldlucca

photo by rahuldlucca

This week, Forbes published its annual list of the 400 Richest people in America.


If anyone still doubts that America is essentially a plutocracy or an aristocracy, wherein the wealthiest comprise the “best” who rule, she only needs to glimpse the numbers presented by Forbes.


The combined net worth of the 400 club is $1.7 billion, which represents one-eighth of the entire U. S. economy. [1] This net worth is also an increase from that of the previous year, which was $1.5 trillion. [2]


The average net worth of these plutocrats is $4.2 billion--again an increase from last year’s figure of $3.8 billion and the highest median since 1982, when Forbes began ranking the richest Americans. [3]


Back then, the “price of admission” to the 400 club was $75 million of net worth. [4] This year’s “entry fee” is $1.1 billion. [5] In 1982, there were only 13 billionaires and the total net worth of the 400 club was $93 billion, compared to $1.7 trillion today. [6]


And the 13 percent growth of wealth for the wealthiest did not simply increase this past year, it also “far outpaced that of the U. S. economy overall,” according to Forbes. [7]


Those folks, during this campaign season, who have been frothing at the mouth about how President Obama has destroyed America are not merely bigots, but also dummkopfs about the very nature of “their” country, which has not significantly changed for the worse in the last four years, nor even in the previous twelve. As a matter of fact, the distribution of wealth was “250 percent more concentrated” at last century’s end than at its beginning. [8] The purchasing power--after accounting for inflation--of a working couple in 1995 “was only 8 percent greater than [that] for a single working man in 1905.” [9] The crash of democracy has been unfolding for close to a hundred years.


Though 264 years old, the pronouncements on the forms of government put forth by Montesquieu (i.e., Charles de Secondat, Baron de Monstequieu) in The Spirit of Laws (De l’ esprit des lois) provide a relevant barometer for the condition of our democratic republic.


Whereas monarchies had honor as their object and despotic regimes, fear, republics, according to Montesquieu took virtue as their aim. [10] The virtue of republics was simply the “love of the republic,” which the Baron described as “a sensation that may be felt by the meanest as well as by the highest person in the state.” [11]


Montesquieu warned that the principle of democracy is corrupted “when the spirit of equality is extinct.” [12] He also said that the same principle becomes corrupt when a “spirit of extreme equality” prevails. [13] Needless to say, America does not have to worry about its  vaunted “democracy” being destroyed on account of the latter.


This past July, a Congressional Research Service Report for Congress entitled An Analysis of the Distribution of Wealth Across Household, 1989-2010 revealed that 74.5 percent of the net wealth of U. S. households belonged to the top 10 percent of wealth owners. [14]


With half of the U. S. population possessing a paltry 1.1 percent of the U.S wealth, there is not even the slightest semblance of economic equality in this country. [15] And the very idea that America is still a “democracy” and not an aristocracy or plutocracy represents the height of mass delusion.




[1] Dan Burns, “Richest Americans’ Net Worth Jumps to $1.7 Trillion: Forbes,” Reuters, September 19, 2012, accessed September 21, 2012,


[2] Luisa Kroll, “The Forbes 400: The Richest People in America,” Forbes, September 19, 2012, accessed September 21, 2012,


[3] Ibid.


[4] Ibid.


[5] Ibid.


[6] Ibid.


[7] Ibid.


[8] John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education, accessed September 21, 2012,


[9] Ibid.


[10] Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, De l’ esprit des lois, trans. Thomas Nugent (1752; Kitchener, Ontario: Batoche Books, 2001), accessed September 21, 2012,


[11] Ibid.


[12] Ibid.


[13] Ibid.


[14] Linda Levine, An Analysis of the Distribution of Wealth Across Household, 1989-2010, Congressional Research Service, July 17, 2012, accessed September 21, 2012,


[15] Ibid.



About Corey Olds

Corey Olds is the author of six children's books. He is also the co-founder of the Excelsus Foundation, an educational trust based in Oakland, California. He holds multiple degrees from Oberlin College and Stanford University. A former Latin teacher and professor of history, Olds spends his time between California, Ohio, and the Caribbean.