plu·​toc·​ra·​cy | \ plü-ˈtä-krə-sē How to pronounce plutocracy (audio) \
plural plutocracies

Definition of plutocracy

1 : government by the wealthy
2 : a controlling class of the wealthy

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Other Words from plutocracy

plutocrat \ ˈplü-​tə-​ˌkrat How to pronounce plutocracy (audio) \ noun
plutocratic \ ˌplü-​tə-​ˈkra-​tik How to pronounce plutocracy (audio) \ adjective
plutocratically \ ˌplü-​tə-​ˈkra-​ti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce plutocracy (audio) \ adverb

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Ploutos was Greek for "wealth", and Plouton, or Pluto, was one of the names used for the Greek god of the underworld, where all the earth's mineral wealth was stored. So a plutocracy governs or wields power through its money. The economic growth in the U.S. in the late 19th century produced a group of enormously wealthy plutocrats. Huge companies like John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil gained serious political power, and Rockefeller was able to influence lawmakers in states where his businesses operated. For this reason, it was said in 1905 that Ohio and New Jersey were plutocracies, not democracies.

Examples of plutocracy in a Sentence

If only the wealthy can afford to run for public office, are we more a plutocracy than a democracy? corporate greed and America's growing plutocracy
Recent Examples on the Web In recent decades, as the stock market has soared, the vast fortunes amassed by some members of the plutocracy have largely escaped taxation. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 8 June 2021 Once before, in the aftermath of the Great Depression, similar rhetoric about the dangers of plutocracy helped cement a Democratic majority that endured for decades. Los Angeles Times, 29 Apr. 2021 Inequality is one of the biggest barriers to a functioning democracy: To turn around a slide into plutocracy, Democrats need to address the fact that two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck right now. Clio Chang, The New Republic, 9 Jan. 2021 This odious walled vertical suburb is a civic embarrassment, the embodiment of a runaway plutocracy that places its own interests over the commonweal — and common decency. Mark Lamster, Dallas News, 18 Dec. 2020 Even fiscal policy, or the deficit spending favored by the left, has at least the indirect effect of promoting a plutocracy. Thomas Geoghegan, The New Republic, 18 Nov. 2020 That way lies straightforward plutocracy, as those familiar with European social history will know. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, 4 Aug. 2020 But, almost as if to assist the cause, the plutes seemed this year to put on an extended exhibit of performance art whose plain, if unstated, thesis is that plutocracy is maybe a bad idea. Anand Giridharadas, Time, 21 Nov. 2019 Properly enforced and supported by other measures, such as meaningful campaign-finance reform and an effective antitrust policy, the new tax could help reverse America’s descent into plutocracy. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 12 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'plutocracy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of plutocracy

1631, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for plutocracy

Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth; akin to Greek plein to sail, float — more at flow

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The first known use of plutocracy was in 1631

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Last Updated

14 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Plutocracy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Aug. 2021.

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More Definitions for plutocracy



English Language Learners Definition of plutocracy

: government by the richest people
: a country that is ruled by the richest people
: a group of very rich people who have a lot of power

More from Merriam-Webster on plutocracy

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for plutocracy

Nglish: Translation of plutocracy for Spanish Speakers


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