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Basic Information

A Plutocracy is a form of government where wealth directly translates into political power. This may mean that wealthy people automatically get more votes than poor ones, or that it is possible to directly buy votes with money, thus allowing those who are spending the most money on elections will automatically win them. Or perhaps corporations are able to directly take part in the political process as entities of their own, instead of bribing or lobbying officials.

Plutocracy may also be a factor in societies where there is a wealth qualification for public office (the Roman Republic specified financial as well as ancestral qualifications for public office) and/or for franchise (until fairly recently all but the most radical democracies required a would be voter to have a minimum amount of property or income). This may be reasonable (e.g. voters must have freehold or lease of property worth 40 shillings per year (as in the UK 1885-1918)) or onoerous such as the large private incomes required to join the senatorial classes in Rome or Massilia.

It may also be official — as, again, with the Romans and Massilians, who were quite overt about such matters — or unofficial as in many modern democracies where the sheer cost of running for office limits the ability of the less than wealthy to seek power, even where they are not expected to buy their votes.

An interesting form of plutocracy can also be found in gift economies where applicants for (and holders of) high office are expected to give lavishly - usually in the form of feasts and festivals - to get and keep their positions. Again, some of this can be seen in the Roman Republic - and lead to the bread and circuses phenomenon - but it tends to be more common in true gift economies which are normally tribal in character.

Although plutocracy seems a rather dissonant form of government to the modern observer (at least in its more overt forms) it does make a certain amount of sense in societies where citizenship has obligations which require significant expenditure1 and/or in which office holders were expected to spend their own money on the state (shades of the gift economy)2.



Game and Story Use

  • This is, of course, the archetypal form of government for your standard Cyberpunk Dystopia.
  • If the PCs are wealthy enough, they might actually be able to influence the outcome of plutocratic votes all by themselves.
  • Conversely, once rich they could be expected to run for office if they lived in a plutocracy and lose all or most of their 'moral authority' if they did not.
    • Or a suitably cynical society could co-opt them into a role as plutocrats - the "public honour" they receive turns out to be very expensive indeed…
    • And, of course, this is a great way for GMs to divest the party of excess money, in case this is a problem…
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