When too much wealth accumulates in too few hands, a small economic elite inevitably forms an oligarchic ruling system and subjugates the majority population of a country. This has always happened and will always happen. Wealth concentration leads directly to oligarchy, giving a small economic elite the power to oppress a nation’s majority.
Corporate officers and colluding government officials have purloined the resources of rural American communities. Due to capital deprivation, lack of investment, and denied access to their own natural and labor resources, these communities now bear the burdens of the highest rates of poverty, suicide, social isolation, depression, drug abuse, and chronic illness in the country.
The middle-class is contracting for the first time in more than half a century, impoverishing increasing proportions of Americans. The US suffers from one of the lowest life expectancy rates among industrialized nations and one of the highest infant mortality rates. Lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality are caused by limited access to basic affordable healthcare due to a profit-motivated healthcare market, degraded environmental conditions, which contribute to chronic illnesses like asthma, cancer, and heart disease, and limited access to healthy food in impoverished areas, which contributes to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Workers in Chinese factories kill themselves due to torturous working conditions, workers in Bangladeshi garment factories burn to death in unsafe buildings, workers in Appalachian coalmines choke even today, in the 21st century, and workers in Nigerian oilfields die by corporation-funded assassination. This is what happens when super wealthy companies are able to exploit cheap and vulnerable labor without a strong regulatory framework to protect citizens from predatory oligarchs.
Unless you count yourself among the top point-one percent of income earners, you have been negatively impacted by the formation of an American oligarchy; you have suffered from some of the following:
Nondischargeable debt; unfair, unlivable wages; usury; inflated rents; precarious employment, under-employment, and unemployment; social immobility; wage theft; inequality of opportunity; inequality of income capture; price fixing; monopoly, oligopoly, and closed markets; state support of market-dominant companies; resource despoliation and depletion; private exploitation of public land; public revenue funding corporate welfare; destructive, unsafe products; corporate fraud; government corruption; corporate tax evasion; economic instability; and perpetual recessions.
These are all tools and consequences of oligarchy.
Despite the ubiquity and depth of this active economic subjugation, Americans do not often discuss oligarchic rule. “Oligarchy” is a term reserved for Russia or China. Too many Americans believe it does not happen here. Part of the reason for this is that there is no dominant narrative that explains this phenomenon, nor a narrative that could reveal a path to positive reform.
Mass media wields incredible power in creating and disseminating dominant narratives, and it has played an active role in suppressing new narratives that could illuminate oligarchy in the US. Super-wealthy individuals and companies own virtually all media outlets; those individuals and companies directly benefit from capital concentration and its subsequent economic subjugation. They therefore actively avoid creating and propagating narratives that would undermine current patterns of capital concentration. Instead, they promote narratives that support existing oligarchic control of the country.
Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS control 90% of media, including regional newspapers, local papers, and television channels. They are run by people who are committing active economic oppression.
These are the five richest media companies and their heads:
And some others worth mentioning:
During the 2016 presidential primary, corporate media outlets gave Trump significant airtime because that was profitable. He is an oligarch like them. An interview with Leslie Moonves, the CEO of CBS, illuminates the attitude of many in the corporate press:
‘It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,’ [Moonves] said of the presidential race….‘Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going,’ said Moonves.
During the primaries, Sanders tried to build a narrative of economic inequality, calling out oligarchy for its ills, and the dominant media outlets ignored and ridiculed him and his supporters. The Sanders narrative antagonists comprised mostly billionaires. It’s not surprising then that billionaire media moguls dismissed and disparaged him. The Washington Post, owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos ($69 billion), famously ran sixteen negative stories about Sanders in sixteen hours. The New York Times, the largest share of which is owned by billionaire Carlos Slim ($74 billion), elevated Clinton and variously ignored or derided Sanders.
In the beginning of Trump’s administration, when it seemed his populist rhetoric might pose a threat to the economic status quo, corporate media outlets relentlessly mocked and undermined his administration. However, after his recent address to Congress, correspondents and pundits on CNN, NBC, and Fox all referred to him as “presidential.” Since he has begun to prove friendly to the economic status quo by appointing oligarchs like Tillerson and DeVos to his cabinet and furthering policies that accelerate wealth concentration, the dominant media narrative has begun to shift to normalize Trump, presenting him as more serious. To media conglomerates, he is no longer a threat to wealth, but a champion. They have crowned him legitimate.
Billionaires like to buy media companies so that they can directly control the dominant narratives in the US. This enables them to influence the nation’s culture, politics, and economy. They control dominant narratives in the US to maintain strict adherence to the existing economic status quo that has made them billionaires.
Wealthy media companies will never work on behalf of those oppressed by economic inequality. Americans, left- and right-wing, who are frustrated with corporate media are right to be. While many reporters write with good, honest intentions, the management teams running the mainstream press have no interest in bolstering democratic institutions or improving the well being of average Americans. Corporate media outlets deliberately and desperately resist narratives of oligarchic oppression. They have no benevolent motivations; they have become an apparatus of oligarchy. Invested solely in the financial interests of their management teams and owners, they will fight any narrative that could risk disrupting the system that has delivered them into extreme wealth.
As long as corporate media serves solely to bolster oligarchic narratives, it is no better for democracy than the state-run media of totalitarian dictatorships.
Oligarchy is the strongest oppressive force in our nation today. Those who believe in democracy – on the right and left – must work together to build a shared narrative that challenges those elites perpetuating this oppression. Mass media has been bought – literally – by the super-wealthy. We must therefore build a dominant narrative that can either infiltrate or overrule the dominant narratives propagated by oligarchic media. A new movement must construct new narratives that utterly oppose extreme wealth inequality and promote a positive vision for an alternative political economy. Only then will we succeed in overthrowing oligarchic rulers.