Cover for Formisano: American Oligarchy: The Permanent Political Class. Click for larger image

American Oligarchy

The Permanent Political Class

The new American Way of bribery, corruption, and self-aggrandizement

A permanent political class has emerged on a scale unprecedented in our nation’s history. Its self-dealing, nepotism, and corruption contribute to rising inequality. Its reach extends from the governing elite throughout nongovernmental institutions. Aside from constituting an oligarchy of prestige and power, it enables the creation of an aristocracy of massive inherited wealth that is accumulating immense political power.

In a muckraking tour de force reminiscent of Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, and C. Wright Mills, American Oligarchy demonstrates the way the corrupt culture of the permanent political class extends down to the state and local level. Ron Formisano breaks down the ways this class creates economic inequality and how its own endemic corruption infects our entire society. Formisano delves into the work of not just politicians but lobbyists, consultants, appointed bureaucrats, pollsters, celebrity journalists, behind-the-scenes billionaires, and others. Their shameless pursuit of wealth and self-aggrandizement, often at taxpayer expense, rewards channeling the flow of income and wealth to elites. That inequality in turn has choked off social mobility and made a joke of meritocracy. As Formisano shows, these forces respond to the oligarchy’s power and compete to bask in the presence of the .01 percent. They also exacerbate the dangerous instability of an American democracy divided between extreme wealth and extreme poverty.

“A desperately needed contribution to political education for those citizens and political pundits seeking to gain a better understanding of the impact of the latest massive shift in economic and political power and struggling to overcome the antidemocratic consequences of the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of so few. In combining sure theoretical and conceptual political and historical analysis with example after example and case study after case study of rising plutocrats and their political minions reshaping our body politic, Formisano strips away the myths and illusions of mainstream apologists of our present state and illuminates the changing face of political-economic power in America that no previous work has managed so far to achieve. While not for the faint of heart, it speaks loudly and boldly to those progressive forces searching for avenues of renewal for our current political plight.”--Ernest J. Yanarella, author of North American Auto Unions in Crisis: Lean Production as Contested Terrain


Ron Formisano is the William T. Bryan Chair of American History and professor emeritus of history at the University of Kentucky. His books include Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor, The Tea Party: A Brief History, and For the People: American Populist Movements from the Revolution to the 1850s.

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