Is the United States an Oligarchy?

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Here’s something interesting that’s not related to North Korea. Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman have turned their analytical eyes toward Russia. Here’s what income trends look like there:

This is a stunningly fast rise of the oligarchy. Communism fell between 1989 and 1991, and in the ten years after that the rich in Russia increased their income share from 6 percent to 24 percent. Has any oligarchy made that kind of progress that fast in modern history?

But before you get too smug, here’s a second chart:

The Russian oligarchy overshot the US by a little bit, but then lost some ground when oil prices crashed in 2008. For the past decade, their income share has been around 20 percent, exactly the same as the top 1 percent in America.

Bottom line: there are, needless to say, some differences in how income is allocated in Russia vs. the US. That said, if Russia is an oligarchy, then so are we.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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