New Vocabulary Word: “Plutonomy”

This is heavy reading for a Sunday evening, but I’ve been waiting for a ‘good’ time to post the link all week. From “Welcome to the Plutocracy”, the speech Bill Moyers gave at Boston University on October 29, 2010, as a part of the Howard Zinn Lecture Series:

… When Howard came down to New York last December for what would be my last interview with him, I showed him this document published in the spring of 2005 by the Wall Street giant Citigroup, setting forth an “Equity Strategy” under the title (I’m not making this up) “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.”
Now, most people know what plutocracy is: the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word and wasn’t meant to become an American phenomenon – some of our founders deplored what they called “the veneration of wealth.” But plutocracy is here, and a pumped up Citigroup even boasted of coining a variation on the word— “plutonomy”, which describes an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer and that government helps them do it. Five years ago Citigroup decided the time had come to “bang the drum on plutonomy.”…
“Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper… [and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years.”
“…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the United States — the plutonomists in our parlance – have benefitted disproportionately from the recent productivity surged in the US… [and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.”
“… [and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. Because the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.”

The legendary correspondent Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists that bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. Here is mine: Plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder.
Socrates said to understand a thing, you must first name it. The name for what’s happening to our political system is corruption – a deep, systemic corruption. I urge you to seek out the recent edition of Harper’s Magazine. The former editor Roger D. Hodge brilliantly dissects how democracy has gone on sale in America. Ideally, he writes, our ballots purport to be expressions of political will, which we hope and pray will be translated into legislative and executive action by our pretended representatives. But voting is the beginning of civil virtue, not its end, and the focus of real power is elsewhere. Voters still “matter” of course, but only as raw material to be shaped by the actual form of political influence – money.
What’s promising in all this is that in taking on Big Money we’re talking about something more than a single issue. We’re talking about a broad-based coalition to restore American democracy – one that is trying to be smart about the nuts-and-bolts of building a coalition, remembering that it has a lot to do with human nature. Some will want to march. Some will want to petition. Some will want to engage through the web. Some will want to go door-to-door: many gifts, but the same spirit. A fighting spirit. As Howard Zinn would tell us: No fight, no fun, no results.

Seriously: If you haven’t got time to read the whole Truthout article now, bookmark it and go back later. They have a link to the two-hour video of Moyers’ full speech plus the question-and-answer sesssion that followed.

And remember Joe Hill’s parting words: Don’t mourn, organize!

74 replies
  1. 1
    Moses2317 says:

    Yes, don’t mourn, organize! Let’s start with calling Congress and the White House this week about the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the stimulus tax cuts, and the estate tax phase out. Encourage them to take action before the end of the year to preserve tax relief for the middle class, but not to give even more money away to the wealthy elite.


  2. 2

    I did read it, last week … and was mulling the whole “plutonomy” thing when I happened to watch Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” and saw the whole Citibank/Plutonomy thing in black and white.


    We’re so fucked. Part of me wants to escape, part of me says NO! Infiltrate! We should all get MBAs and jobs and Citigroup and Lehman and Comcast and Coca Cola and take over from the INSIDE.

    Providing we don’t corrupt ourselves in the process, of course …

  3. 3
    BR says:

    I recommend everyone read the original Citigroup Plutonomy report from 2005. It lays it out nicely:

    It specifically cites the US, UK, and Canada as plutonomies.

    Speaking of which, if you are a bankster, you can get away with not just a figurative hit and run, but an actual hit and run:

    A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardize his job, prosecutors said Thursday.

  4. 4
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Wasn’t it Joe Hill who said, “Don’t mourn, organize?”

  5. 5
    BR says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    I’m curious what folks think is the answer to this analogy (like an standardized test analogy):

    P2P File Sharing : RIAA :: ?? : Banks

    Basically, is there something that individuals can do on a widespread scale that will make it unlikely that they will be penalized individually and will hurt the banks? I know there’s the planned “withdraw your money from the bank day” in December planned in Europe. I’m wondering if there’s anything more organized beyond that.

  6. 6

    Sorry. As I am not the base and apparently do not matter, I will sit this round out. kthxbai.

    /lingering resentment.

  7. 7
    General Stuck says:

    “Welcome to the Plutocracy”

    at some point followed by the Pitchforkacy.

  8. 8
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @asiangrrlMN: Quoi?

  9. 9
    IM says:

    Joe Hill, As in “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me”

    Doesn’t make the message wrong, though.

  10. 10
    General Stuck says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Wasn’t it Joe Hill who said, “Don’t mourn, organize?”

    Yes, I learned upon dreaming I was Joe Hill last night

    edit – oh fiddlesticks, was beaten to it and wrong at once.

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @BR: Barter economy.

  12. 12
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @General Stuck: You might need to rethink what you eat or drink before bed. Joe Hill and Key Largo?

  13. 13
    BR says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    That’s sort of what I was thinking might work, but barter has some known downsides. I wonder if bartering plus community-oriented person-to-person microlending would do the trick. (I describe this as the bank-of-craigslist approach.) Local currencies might help, like the Berkshares and such.

  14. 14
    General Stuck says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    You might need to rethink what you eat or drink before bed. Joe Hill and Key Largo?

    That’s nothin” , tonight I plan to visit Wonderland and see Kate Beckinsale through the looking glass

  15. 15
    kdaug says:

    Last comment in moderation hell. FYWP.

  16. 16
    kdaug says:

    @kdaug: And the article is on how to organize a mass movement to shut down a major bank.

  17. 17
    Maody says:

    I love Bill Moyers and have for a long time.

    We, the rest, are just so screwed looking briefly at that Citicorp .pdf

  18. 18
    General Stuck says:


    I think we need more Playboy links to get this place rockin”

  19. 19
    kdaug says:

    @General Stuck: Betting that’s why it’s in moderation hell. Probably not a good idea.

    But an excellent article, nonetheless.

  20. 20
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Thanks for the correction. I’m ashamed of myself for getting that wrong!

  21. 21
    BR says:


    There’s only one positive that comes out of that citigroup report, and they don’t even notice it when they say this:

    Plutonomies have occurred before in sixteenth century Spain, in seventeenth century Holland, the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties in the U.S.

    Each of those situations resulted in a crash in the power of the nation in question so severe that all people – the wealthy included – were left reeling for at least a decade.

    Nicole Foss explains very nicely why our plutonomy’s financial excess combined with energy challenges will lead to some fun times in the near future:

  22. 22

    @Omnes Omnibus: Sorry. Still recovering from the elections and the aftermath. I amend my statement to, goooo Packers!

  23. 23
    IM says:

    Well, it ended tolerable for the Netherlands, but Spain… And the US is looking more like Spain these days, a overexpended empire fighting here and there and everywhere.

  24. 24
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Anne Laurie: Pobody’s nerfect.

  25. 25
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @asiangrrlMN: This is the result of Cowboy hate, right?

  26. 26
    eemom says:

    yes, I linked this excellent article on my FB page too, just on the off-chance that my idiot teatard SIL might be moved to look up “plutocracy” in a dictionary…..and on the even off-er chance that a patient, gently guy like Moyers might persuade her that two and two equals four.

    You may ask, why am I obsessing over my idiot teatard SIL? I’m pretty sure it’s because she’s the only teatard I actually know, so she’s become kind of a poster-tard for my seething contempt for all the too-dumb-to-breathe morons who voted to fuck themselves over last Tuesday.

    I WILL behave myself at Thxgiving though, I promise.

  27. 27
    Dennis SGMM says:

    Citibank’s glowing and laudatory open exposition about plutonomy, and the part that governments play in it, is not only supremely arrogant, it goes to show that these people are confident that absolutely nothing will happen to them for killing the nation so that they can live well.

  28. 28

    @Omnes Omnibus: Partially. It’s also because I don’t want the Vikes to get a new stadium. Yes, it’s complex inside my head–why do you ask?

    @Omnes Omnibus: Minefields to the left of me, quicksand to the right.

  29. 29
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @asiangrrlMN: Complex, yes, I would have guessed that.

  30. 30
    Maody says:

    @BR: I hate to be mean, but I live in the land of Teatards, NC and it’s gonna be rough and yes, we who are already under or unemployed are screwed now – have you seen how expensive food is rapidly becoming? Interesting times sound more like a clusterfuck supreme. Maybe someone should open another fast food restaurant and have this be the replacement name for a happy meal. Serve ’em up! Hey you! – the crumbled masses who were here before the great disaster of ponzi plutonomy fail, here’s your ClusterFuck Sandwich!


  31. 31
    BGinCHI says:

    Until we get a counter-force against Fox News, we’re in for a bumpy fucking ride.

    The ideology machine is running really high and efficient right now, with only minor interference (blogs, liberal mags, some radio, and universities). And most of these are being starved financially and are under attack for daring to say anything.

    Some folks with the means and the savvy need to start a smart lefty cable network. Pronto.

  32. 32
    MattR says:


    A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardize his job, prosecutors said Thursday.

    Words fail me. The victim claims he does not care about restitution, he wants justice. So the prosector says he can’t have justice because it would prevent restitution. I hope there is some path to overturning that decision.

  33. 33
    Maody says:

    I posted the citicorp .pdf on facebook hoping it will be picked up by some more radical pals.

    White collars, whether their crimes are of the financial fraud/theft/corruption or physical violence always sit under a different code of justice. This isn’t new, just horrible.

  34. 34
    goblue72 says:

    @eemom: I stopped behaving myself at family gatherings ages ago. At a certain point, I told them I wasn’t go to sit there and listen to the xenophobic B.S. anymore – that “mexicans” weren’t the reason for their problems, that gays getting married weren’t going to make the sky fall and that they weren’t rich & never were going to *be* rich, so blathering on that liberals were just going to tax everyone was just so much talk radio drivel.

    They screamed back that I was just a snob who thought I was better than them – my answer being that if my going to college, working hard, & getting out of podunk to a bigger world made them feel bad, then it was their inferiority complex problem, not mine.

    Painful yes, but at a certain point, the willfully ignorant just are not going to change unless you beat it out of them. It took a while, but they finally started coming around. They even thought Obama was better than McCain in 2008.

  35. 35
    General Stuck says:

    Before you can have a Plutonomy, you must first destroy everything the evil liberals have wrought. And remember, there are no historic elections, nor mandates from voters for democrats. There is only ACORN and liberal bias to fool republican baby jeevus.

    I give the new wrecking crew

    But they said they hoped to use the power of the purse to challenge main elements of the law, forcing Democrats — especially those in the Senate who will be up for re-election in 2012 — into a series of votes to defend it.

    Republican lawmakers said, for example, that they would propose limiting the money and personnel available to the Internal Revenue Service, so the agency could not aggressively enforce provisions that require people to obtain health insurance and employers to help pay for it. Under the law, individuals and employers who flout the requirements will face tax penalties.

    Moreover, Republican leaders said, they plan to use spending bills to block federal insurance regulations to which they object. And they will try to limit access to government-subsidized private health plans that include coverage of abortion — one of the most contentious issues in Congressional debate over the legislation.

    Because the law is so sweeping with mandated tentacles into about every part of the economy, if the wingnuts place their mean little defunding grenades at a few strategic points, before or as the law is being implemented, the chain reaction will likely turn the US into Iraq in record time. Then you can have your goddamn Plutonomy, and every man woman and child must fend for themselves.

    So thanky you American voter, you likely kilt that motherfucking golden goose dead as a doorknob.

  36. 36
    suzanne says:

    @eemom: Getting along is overrated.

    I have a theory that if we all just stopped fucking trying to be courteous to each other, things would actually improve. I mean, why should we be courteous and civil to people that actively want us to suffer?

  37. 37
    BR says:


    Agreed, things are fucked up and going to get even more fucked up what with the eventual (in the next couple of years) deflation of the derivatives market bubble and the subsequent energy crunch due to peak oil. I’m sure that will put an end to Cheney’s non-negotiable ‘American Way Of Life’.

    I don’t know how teatards will react, but I imagine they will freak out and instead of paying attention to the financial and energy researchers who have seen this coming for years, they’ll instead look for alternative remedies and look to even crazier teatard leaders who will claim that they can conjure oil and prosperity from the now-melted Arctic.

  38. 38
    BR says:


    Yeah. And that guy is absurd. Not only is he a bankster, but he only manages portfolios for wealthy estates.

  39. 39
    Maody says:

    So thanky you American voter, you likely kilt that motherfucking golden goose dead as a doorknob.


  40. 40

    OT – but Lucky went to the Rainbow Bridge last night. Somehow everything else seems well pointless.

  41. 41
    El Cid says:

    @BR: I’m sorry to say that I was surprised and horrified by that article. And here I keep thinking I’m about as cynical as I can maintain.

    Also from the article: here’s the victim, who was riding a bicycle when Mr. Invaluable Investment Advisor slammed into him and sped away.

    Martin Joel Erzinger, 52, faces two misdemeanor traffic charges stemming from a July 3 incident when he allegedly hit bicyclist Dr. Steven Milo from behind then sped away, according to court documents.
    Milo, 34, is a physician living in New York City with his wife and two children, where he is still recovering from his injuries, court records show.
    Milo suffered spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and damage to his knee and scapula, according to court documents. Over the past six weeks he has suffered “disabling” spinal headaches and faces multiple surgeries for a herniated disc and plastic surgery to fix the scars he suffered in the accident.
    “He will have lifetime pain,” Haddon wrote. “His ability to deal with the physical challenges of his profession — liver transplant surgery — has been seriously jeopardized.”…
    …[The asshole hit-and-run rich guy’s] biography on states that Erzinger is “dedicated to ultra high net worth individuals, their families and foundations.”
    Erzinger manages more than $1 billion in assets.

    Good thing the victim doesn’t have a job for which he would be negatively affected. Fucking lazy parasite bum liver transplanter, trying to leech off one of this society’s Producers.

  42. 42
    American Voter says:

    So thanky you American voter, you likely kilt that motherfucking golden goose dead as a doorknob.

    Yeah, but I’ll get to keep my guns!

  43. 43
    Maody says:

    @BR: Just as an FYI, what I noticed this election cycle locally is that the teatards who swept out all our wonderful sciency good smart kind guys from county commish seats tried to play nicey, sort of, for a while, until they won and went on a major NYAH NYAH post campaign “We won, you commie extremists” rant. Art Pope, the John Locke Foundation and NC Homebuilders Association were their funders. How will they act? They own a lot of guns. They hate brown people except, I kid you not, black people who are slave’s descendants who probably worked for great grandpa Ernest T. Bass. Rocks will be thrown.

    I swan. It sucks.

  44. 44
    Shalimar says:

    @Dennis SGMM: Are we sure anything will happen to the bankers and billionaires for killing the nation? They have used propaganda to take the people who should be the rank and file of the mob that destroys them and turned them into foot soldiers protecting their greed.

  45. 45
    Maody says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: So sorry for your loss of Lucky.

  46. 46
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    I think it depends on what kind of plutonomy. Systems based on plutonomy-239 are more unstable I think, but I never was good at math. Er, physics. Political science. Any of those.

    I say plutocracy, you say plutonomy

    …let’s call the whole thing off.

  47. 47

    @Maody: Thanks. I knew it was his time. Nevertheless I would give anything for one more day, just one more day.

  48. 48
    vtr says:

    Let’s see… Hyper-nationalistic and militaristic, a repressive government working hand-in-hand with corporations. This is conservatism? I’m thinking of a word and it begins with the letter “f”.

  49. 49
    Steeplejack says:


    So sorry. My condolences.

  50. 50
    BR says:

    @El Cid:

    Just another reminder that the property of those higher in our society’s hierarchy is worth more than the life of those below, and the system, media, and institutions will protect that with no thought otherwise.

  51. 51
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: He was a cute little bugger. It sounds like he had 15 good years with you and left without much pain. A dog can’t ask for much more out of life. Remember him fondly.

  52. 52
    Ruckus says:

    I noticed a difference between living in OH and CA, which I think falls mostly on the ability of a lot of Ohioans to be overly polite/courteous on one hand and to fuck themselves over with the other. Example. The number of times a car coming the other way would stop on a green light to allow me to make a left turn in front of them, with traffic coming up behind them was just amazing. I have never seen this in CA. A number of them are willing to be rear ended, just to be nice.
    The disconnect totally amazed me.

  53. 53
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @litlebritdiffrent: Ah, Britty, I am so sorry to hear that. Lucky Lucky, what a good life you gave him. It always ends too soon. But he knew to the very end that you loved him, and I’m sure he’s running with his friends on the other end od the bridge. My sympathies on your loss. {{HUGS}}

  54. 54
    jl says:

    I disagree. Citigroup missed it by over 200 years.

    Adam Smith explained the dynamic in The Wealth of Nations, under his discussion of joint stock companies. He also was more realistic than Citigroup, and explained how the dynamic would produce inefficiency and reduce welfare in the home countries of the big joint stock companies, and workers they exploited overseas. Smith also explained how the joint stock companies would not be the wise masters they thought they were, and following their disasters, they would use their influence to change the laws in their home countries to make ordinary people pay for their plunomous mistakes.

    So, don’t give too much credit to the puffed up hacks at Citigroup.

    Wealth of Nations is free on Project Gutenberg. The discussion is in Books four and five.

  55. 55
  56. 56
    Dee Loralei says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: I’m so sorry for your loss. He looks like a great and sweet guy.

  57. 57
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @El Cid:

    A guy who provides something of that’s priceless, in this case it’s extending life, is worth less than a guy who produces nothing but money?

    That is one fucked up prosecutor.

    Great. Now the rich can run us down with impunity and suffer nothing more than a misdemeanor citation/conviction.

    This is one fucked up country. I mean really fucked up. Epic fail fucked up. Our priorities are so skewed because people actually believe that up is left and down is milk.

  58. 58
    J. Michael Neal says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: My sympathies.

  59. 59

    @Litlebritdifrnt: My deepest condolences for your loss. Lucky looks like a sweet and gentle soul. May he play happily on the other side.

    @eemom: I quit going to family get-togethers because I was expected to hold my tongue about–well, everything while everyone else got to say whatever s/he wanted. I am a much happier camper now that I have opted out.

  60. 60


    My sympathy on the loss of Lucky.

    As Jeffrey [JeffW?] says: May he run swiftly to the other side.

  61. 61
    Mnemosyne says:


    I’m so sorry. It’s not much consolation, but it sounds like he just went to sleep and never woke up. Would that all of us could have a peaceful end laying comfortably in our favorite place.

  62. 62
    patrick II says:

    I remember a study I read about years ago. It concerned people’s willingness to move to a new city for a new job. And surprisingly it found that the very poorest people, the ones who needed work the most were the most reluctant to move. The reason being that they had so little that they feared losing what little they had the most.

    It makes me think of what is going on with the poor now, but with political change instead of moving. People are living in fear of economic ruin, working harder and longer for less, and they are more and more susceptible to fear of losing what little they have. A fear the corporate media plays on to persuade the working class to take even less for the fear of losing all.

  63. 63

    Everyone. He went to sleep in his most favorite of places and never woke up. None of us could ever wish for more than that. Judy and Cueball are sort of at a loss right now, where is he? Judy watched me carrying him to the grave and sniffed him as I laid him down, she didn’t quite get it, yet she knew he was gone. She has sat and howled a couple of times today, she knows that her best buddy has gone on. I have been quite calm, considering. But I knew it was coming, so I had prepared myself. I already spoke with him, and he knew he could go without it hurting me. So, he went to sleep and didn;t wake up. It was the best way for him to go. Sorry I am waffling.

  64. 64
    Dr. Squid says:

    I prefer to call that by its correct name, conservatism.

  65. 65
    Jim, Once says:

    @El Cid:

    Fucking lazy parasite bum liver transplanter, trying to leech off one of this society’s Producers.

    I had to send that (along with the story) to my relatives who live in CO.

  66. 66
    El Cid says:

    @patrick II:

    The reason being that they had so little that they feared losing what little they had the most.

    Also, they have much more developed networks of support and information in the poorer communities in which they’ve lived than they would starting in a new location. For a lot of people, this sort of exchange can mean the difference between getting by and getting flattened.

  67. 67
    General Stuck says:


    condolences. :)

  68. 68
    El Cid says:

    @Jim, Once: Yeah! When are these speshallist surgeons going to start doing something valuable for society, like gambling on derivatives based on fake tranches of securitized mortgages?

  69. 69
    TheOtherWa says:

    “Inside Job” is playing in a few theaters around the country. Go see it & prepare to be even more angry. It lays out clearly how the banksters played everyone and made themselves rich.

  70. 70
    Darkrose says:


    I’m so sorry.

  71. 71
    Paris says:

    @TheOtherWa: Saw Inside Job yesterday. It made my wife and me damn crabby for the rest of the day. I’m afraid to forward the news article about the hit and run to her.

  72. 72
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @El Cid: Didn’t the “eat what we kill” guy claim that investment bankers could do everybody else’s job better than they could, anyway, and that’s why they deserve all that money? Obviously, the solution is to have the hit-and-run driver performing liver transplants.

  73. 73
    jayjaybear says:


    I’m thinking of a word and it begins with the letter “f”.

    I can think of several, and none of them are particularly polite.

  74. 74
    dfatty says:


    Silly people, the financial analyst is the victim.

Comments are closed.