Wealth and Democracy: How Great Fortunes and Government Created America's Aristocracy

by Kevin Phillips

Hardcover, 2002

Call number

305.5 PHI



Broadway Books (2002), Edition: 1, 474 pages


For more than thirty years, Kevin Phillips' insight into American politics and economics has helped to make history as well as record it. His bestselling books, including The Emerging Republican Majority (1969) and The Politics of Rich and Poor (1990), have influenced presidential campaigns and changed the way America sees itself. Widely acknowledging Phillips as one of the nation's most perceptive thinkers, reviewers have called him a latter-day Nostradamus and our "modern Thomas Paine." Now, in the first major book of its kind since the 1930s, he turns his attention to the United States' history of great wealth and power, a sweeping cavalcade from the American Revolution to what he calls "the Second Gilded Age" at the turn of the twenty-first century. The Second Gilded Age has been staggering enough in its concentration of wealth to dwarf the original Gilded Age a hundred years earlier. However, the tech crash and then the horrible events of September 11, 2001, pointed out that great riches are as vulnerable as they have ever been. In Wealth and Democracy, Kevin Phillips charts the ongoing American saga of great wealth–how it has been accumulated, its shifting sources, and its ups and downs over more than two centuries. He explores how the rich and politically powerful have frequently worked together to create or perpetuate privilege, often at the expense of the national interest and usually at the expense of the middle and lower classes. With intriguing chapters on history and bold analysis of present-day America, Phillips illuminates the dangerous politics that go with excessive concentration of wealth. Profiling wealthy Americans–from Astor to Carnegie and Rockefeller to contemporary wealth holders–Phillips provides fascinating details about the peculiarly American ways of becoming and staying a multimillionaire. He exposes the subtle corruption spawned by a money culture and financial power, evident in economic philosophy, tax favoritism, and selective bailouts in the name of free enterprise, economic stimulus, and national security. Finally, Wealth and Democracy turns to the history of Britain and other leading world economic powers to examine the symptoms that signaled their declines–speculative finance, mounting international debt, record wealth, income polarization, and disgruntled politics–signs that we recognize in America at the start of the twenty-first century. In a time of national crisis, Phillips worries that the growing parallels suggest the tide may already be turning for us all. From the Hardcover edition.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member keylawk
In 2002, Kevin Phillips documented the vector of economic disparities, the increasing abuses of corrupt white collar criminals with extreme wealth concentrations, and predicted they would take center stage and threaten the national interests as well as the strength of the middle class and the health of the poor. Reading this in 2011, it is clear that his predictions, based on objective economic projections, were prescient. In the summer of 2008, our country was effectively destroyed. The causes of the collapse were exactly as predicted by Mr. Phillips -- the combination of oil wealth corruptibility, fundamentalist extremism, and unprecedented public and consumer debt.

Phillips was educated in the Bronx, Colgate University, Edinburgh, and Harvard Law School. He practiced law as an Assistant to the US AG, and then became a Republican Party strategist. He served as President of the American Political Research Corp, and Editor of the American Political Reporter. He is respected by academics--historians and economists-- and this work reflects documentation, with an Appendix of Price Indices, 1790-1991, charts of US Income distribution, and detailed "Notes" on sources, as well as an Index.

The volume charts the efforts of the super-rich to use political power to perpetuate their usurpations at the expense of the middle class, the poor, and our national interest. Rich in historical underpinnings, the analysis is a bold description of the present ongoing rush to impoverish what was at one time the largest source of wealth on the planet--the American Middle Class.

The money-culture corrupts not only politics, but the free market as well. Tax policies, national security, and competition, are all threatened by the power of the monopolists.

The author turns to the history of England and other world powers, to examine their declines. With the Reagan-Bush-Cheney-Rove era, we recognize the parallels in America -- unregulated speculations, mounting public and consumer debt, income polarization, and stolen elections.
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LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
This is a pretty dense book about American democracy and politics, but specifically with the rich. It's an interesting topic but the book itself took awhile for me to get through. It is dense and therefore can get tedious from time to time. However, there is a great deal of information in there and the author makes some interesting conclusions so if you are interested in the topic, you should read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member James.Igoe
I found Phillips writing of wealth and democracy illuminating, not because I was unaware of the degree to which wealth controls the government, but how it has changed over the years, and the degree to which war profiteering creates wealth. Reading this book, one can't help but notice that the past is repeating, and what it is repeating is ugly, corrupt, and wrong-headed.

As for others' criticisms that times are better for everyone, and that everyone does better when we all do better, that allowing egregious accumulation of wealth allows society to grow, well that is nonsense. I'm not an economics professional, although a member of an international economics honors society and a regular reader of economics books, but my own research indicates that such ideas, justifying gross inequality and the invisible hand, are false.
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
I can't tell whether his main point is that wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top and that this is bad, or that the concentration of wealth at the top is a sign of ecomic decline -- and that this is bad. He does make a convincing case that the boom times where anythimg but laissez faire and he does show the extent to which the rich control democracy. But his work is also loaded with subjective opinions. He clearly has an agenda that wouldn't be possible in a free democracy. I wonder if he has considered whether "Wealth and Totalitarianism" or "Wealth and Socialism" would be much worse.… (more)




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