How Much Power Does the ‘One Percent’ Have?


Wealth isn’t merely the ability to own or buy more. Wealth, whatever its economic form, is a token representing the holder’s share of power. Money is power. If money was simply the symbol of purchasing power, allowing only its exchange for commodities, hoarding it to the extent to which it is accumulated by the rich would be wholly irrational. Certainly, for those barely able to cover the rudimentary expense of living, cash is for basic transactions, but for those with a surplus of money – more than is required to meet the cost of living – it serves the superior purpose of buying power.

In its more modest expressions this power gained by accumulated or inherited excess wealth is benign. In fact, in a fairer world, a modest share of surplus wealth is a good thing. It can only be considered bad when it is within a system where the accumulation of wealth for the purposes of increasing one’s share of power has become a virtue. Such an excess affords its holders a decent quality of life, with sufficient food and shelter, the other necessities of healthcare and education, and some leisure. Rather than power, this share – whatever that may be – is empowering; liberating people from the essential struggle to survive.


Our present global economic system allows for and encourages the accumulation of a super-abundance of wealth; more wealth than would be required to keep a person in luxury for longer than their own lifetime, making a few extraordinarily rich and leaving the majority in varying degrees of poverty. This category of wealth is both empowering and is a stake in real power. This year marks a significant shift in wealth distribution worldwide. For the first time since the mid-1930s the wealthiest 0.1% of the world’s population possesses more than the lowest 90% of the population combined, and this top tenth of the one percent is getting richer. This grotesque inequality is anything but benign.

Wealth of this stupendous magnitude is translated into control. This is the power to control the overwhelming share of the media, financial and lending institutions, a monopoly hold on access to political lobbying, and in many cases – increasingly the norm – the freedom to buy political power even from so-called democracies. In effect this demands that governments act in the interests of wealth and power, and specifically in the interests of those who have the wealth and power. As oligarchies form, as wealth inequality increases, the lines between government and the powerful get blurred to the point that the super wealthy are becoming the government.


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