Plutocracy (from Ancient Greek ploutos, meaning "wealth", and kratos, meaning "power, rule") is rule by the rich. Plutocrats are usually also part of a meritocracy, and both generally come from the middle classes, traders, manufacturers, bankers, industrialists, careerists, and usually self-made-men, etc. They differed from the aristocracy whose traditional interests, concerns and wealth came from their lands.
The term plutocracy is generally used to describe these two distinct concepts: one of a historical nature and one of a modern political nature. The former indicates the political control of the state by an oligarchy of the wealthy. Examples of such plutocracies include the Roman Republic, some city-states in Ancient Greece, the civilization of Carthage, the Italian city-states/merchant republics of Venice, Florence, Genoa, and pre-World War II Empire of Japan zaibatsus.
One modern almost unique example of a small plutocracy is the City of London. The City (not the whole of modern London but the area of the ancient Roman city, which now mainly comprises the financial district) has a unique electoral system. Most of its voters are representatives of businesses and other bodies that occupy premises in the City. Its ancient wards have very unequal numbers of voters. The principal justification for the non-resident vote is that about 450,000 non-residents constitute the city's day-time population and use most of its services, far outnumbering the City's 9000 residents.
Historically and by the nature of their existence, rich minorities have always exerted influence over the political arena. In the modern era, democracies around the world permit fundraising for politicians and/or political parties, who rely heavily on such income for advertising their candidacy or party to the voting public.
Whether through individuals, corporations or advocacy groups, such donations are often believed to engender a cronyist or patronage system via which major contributors are rewarded in one way or another. Ultimately this is a form of corruption. While campaign donations may not directly affect the legislative decisions of elected representatives, the natural expectation of donors is that their needs will be served by the person or party they donated to. If not, it is in their self-interest to fund a different candidate or political organization.
While such agreements are technically illegal in most democracies, they are notoriously difficult to prove short of a well-documented paper trail. A core basis of democracy, being a politician's ability to freely advocate policies which benefit his or her constituents, also makes it difficult to prove that doing so might be a crime. Even the granting of appointed positions to a well-documented contributor may not cross the line of the law, particularly if it happens that the contributor can actually boast a qualified resume.
Some systems even specifically provide for such patronage. The UK, for example, uses a variety of means to reward individuals that hold the same values or interests. These include honours such as medals and honorary titles dating back to the nation's feudal era.
Quite often, wealthy individuals either finance their own political campaigns or leverage their affiliations with other wealthy persons and organizations to do so on their behalf. In the United States, currently, 250 members of Congress both Democrat and Republican are millionaires, with 57 belonging to the top 1% of American wealthy .
Many corporations and special interest groups pay lobbyists to press elected officials for favorable legislation. Mass media outlets, seeking to gain larger advertising profits through increased viewership, may also alter public perception of issues, political groups and candidates by pandering to what they think a given target audience wants to see and hear.
Clearly there is a massive difference between a plutocracy and a system of aristocratic government where it is usually argued that the latter are above corruption, being 'wedded' to the land and their great estates and not to other interests.
Some political movements have come to the fore with an anti-plutocratic worldview, including Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany. During the Second World War, states which had degenerated under plutocracy, but called themselves "democracies", were criticised by them on this point; including the United States, France and the United Kingdom. The Communist International claimed to be against plutocracy, but were in fact a false-front, since the Bolshevik Revolution was funded by Jewish international bankers operating out of New York City; Schiff and Warburg especially, also Karl Marx was a cousin of the Rothschilds. The fact of prominent Jewish involvement in international finance way back into history and their coming to be de facto rulers of much of the world; especially the Rothschilds; was noticed by National Socialists and plutocracy was criticised for serving the interests of a foreign minority sect.
In modern times, the term is sometimes used pejoratively to refer to societies rooted in state-corporate capitalism or which prioritize the accumulation of wealth over other interests. According to Kevin Phillips, author and political strategist to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the United States is a plutocracy in which there is a "fusion of money and government." A similar position was taken by the Fourth International in January 1941, which stated "Roosevelt’s administration, which claims to be democratic, is really the representative of these piratic plutocrats" and that "the twin capitalist parties control all the main avenues for reaching the masses (the press, radio, halls, etcetera... they collect millions from their wealthy masters and spend them to bamboozle the public and buy elections". 
- The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest, Guardian, retrieved 01/11/2011
- (2006) World fascism: a historical encyclopedia, Vol. 1. ABC-CLIO, 522. ISBN 9781576079409. Cite error: Invalid
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- Transcript. Bill Moyers Interviews Kevin Phillips. NOW with Bill Moyers 4.09.04 | PBS]
- Howard, Milford Wriarson (1895). The American plutocracy. New York: Holland Publishing.
- Norwood, Thomas Manson (1888). Plutocracy: or, American white slavery; a politico-social novel. New York: The American News Company.
- Pettigrew, Richard Franklin (1921). Triumphant Plutocracy: The Story of American Public Life from 1870 to 1920. New York: The Academy Press.
- Reed, John Calvin (1903). The New Plutocracy. New York: Abbey Press.