Suppose we made the US a plutocracy. We could, for instance, make it very expensive to run for office, thereby ensuring that the Presidency and the Cabinet and the Senate were mostly run by billionaires. Almost everyone would immediately say this was a terrible idea. Give the country to the rich? They’d just make all the laws to favor themselves. They’d cut their taxes and raise ours, introduce special privileges, make things so expensive that only they could afford them, and so on. They’d act in their own self-interest. Isn’t that what people do?
Well, yes, a lot of the time. However, consider this: Today, the United States is almost entirely governed, not by the rich, but by lawyers. The President is a lawyer. Ditto the Vice President. And the Secretary of Defense. And the Secretary of State. And, while we’re at it, the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, a majority of the House and Senate, and of course the Attorney General and all the Supreme Court Justices. Lawyers are the 1%, but they sure hold more than 1% of the power.
Most people, if you ask them, say they dislike lawyers. Yet strangely, no one seems to have a problem with this state of affairs. If the rich vote in their own self-interest, why wouldn’t lawyers? If lawyers were in charge, we might naively expect legal services to be far more expensive than the market-clearing price, and that’s exactly what we do find.
I’m not saying, of course, that plutocracy is the ideal form of government, or even that it’s better than some other one you might think of in ten minutes off the top of your head. But are Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page really such terrible people to have leading things, compared to a bunch of corporate attorneys?
It’s worth noting that the lawyers in office are:
a) disproportionately from “public interest law” backgrounds, as prosecutors, public defenders, civil rights lawyers, lobbyists, etc;
b) when corporate lawyers, not very highly selected for success in making lots of money as corporate lawyers (and often did pretty badly at that)
So a law degree is (among other things) a qualification to enter the field of professional governance? How separate is this from practical practice of law?
And suppose we had voting shares along the lines of any joint stock company? The implications are left for the reader. :p
Ancient Rome was pretty much explicitly a plutocracy. People bought high offices by promising to spend their personal wealth on public works. One person literally bought the Emperorship, but didn’t have enough money to pay out all he promised and was assassinated shortly thereafter.