By definition, an oligarchy is a small group of people who have control over an organization, an institution, or even a country. These people have the power to control everyone else within that specific society. As a government structure, an oligarchy looks like a group of nobles with a royal family. In a business environment, it may look like a family maintaining full control of the Board of Directors.
The benefit of having an oligarchy in place is that it consolidates power to one dominant group. This group can focus on providing the day-to-day needs of the society so that everyone else can focus on their job, their family, or pursuing their goals. The average person has no need to worry about governing because they’ve been excluded from the ruling class.
Because an oligarchy is exclusionary, history has taught us that this structure tends to be tyrannical. It relies on either oppression or public obedience so that it can exist. It is a structure where the minority, not the majority, is able to rule.
Here is a pros and cons list that looks at the other aspects of an oligarchy.
List of the 5 Pros of an Oligarchy
1. It consolidates power with those who have expertise.
In an oligarchy, those who have the skills and experience are given the most power because they are the best at what they do. People are often groomed, usually within family structures, to take over a specific position within an organization or government. They may spend decades learning their craft before being given a position of power. That makes it possible for the organization or government to function properly because of the sheer amount of training involved.
2. It reduces societal pressures.
Within an oligarchy, the general population is free to do whatever they wish, as long as it is a legal action being taken. Teams can focus on completing projects using their creative talents. Families can cultivate relationships with one another. Individuals can pursue specific personal or career goals. When operating correctly, the oligarchy takes care of societal issues while individuals take care of themselves and their loved ones.
3. It encourages creative endeavors.
Because an oligarchy is focused on solving the daily problems which could trouble the government or an organization, the average person can focus on their own creativity instead of worrying about the “what ifs” in life. That means they may have more time to pursue athletics. They could work on innovating new technologies or ideas. They can focus on creative pursuits as well, such as painting or writing.
4. It encourages a conservative approach.
The primary goal of an oligarchy is to maintain the status quo. That means the general population within the oligarchy can have confidence in the direction they are headed. A single leader would struggle under a proper oligarchy to take a business or government toward risky ventures because risk would reduce the status quo for everyone in that society.
5. It still allows anyone to join.
An oligarchy may attempt to consolidate power and limit access to itself, but a true oligarchy also realizes that the people with the best skills should be in charge. That means anyone has the potential to join the ruling class, especially from a business perspective. The idea is this: if you study long enough and work hard enough, you have the chance to experience success. Even when access is restricted, there is still a hope present and that helps society progress forward.
List of the 5 Cons of an Oligarchy
1. It encourages income inequality.
Although the ruling class doesn’t need to be reach for an oligarchy to exist, wealth does tend to go more toward the rulers than the workers. This happens because those in the ruling case are able to funnel wealth toward themselves because they are in control of the structures, legislation, and implementation of policy within the society. That means there are fewer opportunities for others because oligarchs recognize that they can take the first opportunity that comes their way every time.
2. It inhibits growth over time.
An oligarchy maintains the status quo because that is the best way to keep the ruling class in power. That may provide stability, but it also means that few new perspectives ever enter the ruling class. People are groomed to share the same values. Those in the ruling class often share the same experiences. That means there is an extreme lack of diversity within the ruling class and that will eventually inhibit their growth over time.
3. It can disrupt the economy.
People become frustrated with an oligarchy if they feel like they don’t have an opportunity to join it. The ruling class becomes frustrated when they feel like the general population is no longer being obedient. Both perspectives can clash with one another to create an all-out conflict. Should this occur, the economy becomes disrupted as war breaks out. War will always create pain and suffering.
4. It can be restrictive.
An oligarchy that is able to seize a considerable amount of power is able to have high levels of influence on their economy. In some situations, the free market can even be restricted by the actions of the oligarchs that are in charge. The oligarchy could fix prices, provide benefits to certain classes, or limit the number of available supplies to the general populations. This violates the laws of supply and demand, which can create even more harm to the majority while the minority benefits.
5. It creates puppet leaders.
The true power of an oligarchy lies not in the leadership, but in the group of people that surround the leader. In many systems that focus on a structure of oligarchy, a weak leader will consolidate their power to remain in charge. They do this by increasing the power of those they trust. When that leader leaves office, the remainder of the group stays in power. To maintain appearances, a puppet leader is often chosen to represent the group.
In the United States, income inequality has risen dramatically since 1979. The income levels of the top 1% of earners in the U.S. has risen 400% when compared to the other 99% of earners. 67% of this total increase went to the top 0.1% of the earners. Those within this group sit on the same Board of Directors, travel in similar social circles, and have their children attend the same schools.
With this oligarchy pros and cons list, it becomes possible to recognize the times when a minority attempts to take control from the majority. That recognition makes it possible to resist its formation, whether it occurs in business or within the government.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.