More Than Money
Issue #31

The Everyday Ethics of Wealth

Table of Contents

“Wealth and Democracy A Political History of the American Rich By Kevin Phillips”

Reviewed by Bob Kenny

In Wealth and Democracy (Broadway Books, 2002), author Kevin Phillips chronicles the impact of great wealth on politics and government in the United States, from the country's inception to the present day. Billed as "the first political history of the American rich," the book examines America's great fortunes —who built them, how, why, and to what effect. Phillips' basic premise is that wealth itself is not a problem in a democracy; but it becomes a problem when it is translated into political power. Since, historically in America, personal wealth has provided undue political privilege, wealthy Americans have had inordinate influence over the democratic political process. Phillips argues that this is unfair because that same leverage is inaccessible to those with less money. Aristotle said, "In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme." In theory, yes, but Phillips shows us that, in practice, that is not the case. The author uses international comparisons to demonstrate the consequences of allowing wealth to control politics, while he asserts that, ultimately, allowing those with wealth undue access to power endangers or destroys a democratic system that permits the wealth to grow in the first place. Wealth and Democracy is an important analysis of U.S. history and economics that raises significant ethical questions about politics and money in a democratic and capitalistic system.

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