Archive for April 18th, 2011

2011.04.18

American Aristocracy

When we were taking the train to Sevilla for our honeymoon, Rosa had picked up a copy of ¡Hola!, one of the numerous Spanish gossip magazines, to pass the time. Like the junk we have here in the States it covered “the important” people, but one of the main differences I saw was that many pages were devoted to the comings, goings and doings of the Spanish aristocracy. Spain, like England, is a constitutional monarchy (kind of like the many other European countries at the link).

It struck me that there was so much coverage, and gossip, of royalty, a class I personally consider dated and extinct. It’s something we in America hear about but rarely experience directly except our multitude of celebrities and their often disasterous lives. In a sense, from the perspective of the scream sheets, celebrity is the American aristocracy. I had told this to Rosa, even, but lately I’m thinking I am wrong.

America did away with European nobility on our shores and replaced it with something new and publicly secret: the rich, or as most of them should be called, the overclass.

Take any of the old rich (Rockefellers, Du Ponts, Venderbilts, Astors, Hearsts, etc) and you’ll see they are still wealthy. Take any of the newer rich (Koshs, Hiltons, Bushes, Waltons, etc) and you’ll see they are blatantly passing wealth and power to their children, too. They have manipulated the system so that their wealth stays inside their families so that within a generation you have people who have known nothing but excessive money and have only grown more of it because the system as it exists now allows them. This sounds stikingly like noble families, who have also known nothing but their power and influence.

Take, for instance, the debate around inheritence taxes, which conservatives call a “death” tax. Statistically 91% of Americans inherit nothing (except, often, debt). Those that do inherit are already in the top 10% of wealth (which, generally speaking, are millionaires or better). While technically not a “noble” class with titles and “royal” blood, they are an effective oligarchy with the richest 400 families controlling $1.27 trillion, little of which “trickles down” to the rest of the nation. When power and wealth remains concentrated in the few and is handed down generation to generation within the family, then we no longer have anything akin to democracy in a republic; we have a plutarchy.

We do have our own form of aristocracy here in America. The gap between the rich and the rest of us is only increasing. When will we get back to our roots and have a revolution?

Unfortunately, not until we all realize the idea that any one of us could also join that upper class is as likely as any one of us being struck by lightning (~1/750,000) the exact same moment we learn we won the grand lottery (~1/120,000,000): statistically impossible.

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