Who rules the world?

The world is not specifically ruled by anyone—with apologies to Illuminatiphobes—but it is most massively influenced by those at the helm of enormous concentrations of capital.

While democracy may reign in theory, in practice it tends to lose contests of strength against the self-interested influence of large-scale, impersonal capitalist enterprise, the pure aim of which is the maximization of profit for the owners, who are typically not the producers in real terms. (This is not dad’s small plumbing business we’re speaking of, nor the family farm that the cousins still maintain somehow.)

This influence is wielded through various practices, including:

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  • purposeful distortion of the market itself (oligopoly, rent-seeking, artificial demand)

  • lobbying in government—in which some large corporations invest more resources than they spend in taxes (regulatory capture, crony capitalism)

  • particularly in the United States, the promulgation of libertarian conservative, neoconservative, and neoliberal sociopolitical thought, along with the assurance that the public discourse remains in perpetual conflict within these boundaries and does not go searching for clues in the woods beyond the town


Mass media has proven an extraordinarily useful and powerful tool for enabling and justifying these methods of coercion.

In the course of the 20th century, the development of the mass media skyrocketed the potential for social conditioning, containment, and control. Even the entertainment business gets involved now and again.

In the process, it helped to forcibly divert clear, cool currents of participatory democracy from the swift rapids of direct grassroots civic engagement into a stagnant pond of symbolic-tribalist mass ritual.

Cheery stuff!

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The central character in this global drama is the free market.

A free market is defined as a market in which content, prices, and procedures are self-regulated by supply, demand, and competition, and in which state power intervenes only to correct drastic imbalances or to avoid calamities created by failures of the market.

This principle is known as laissez-faire.


Enlightenment-era thought gave rise to an ideology which views the free market as an embodiment of natural order, according to a mechanistic and naturalistic neoclassical conception such as was typical of the period.

It was decided on the basis of moral philosophy, and not on the basis of empirical study of evidence, that a free-market economy is the inevitable natural state of human society at equilibrium, one which provides the maximum freedom and efficiency to its agents. Leave the spheres to themselves and they create heavenly music; leave people to themselves, and everything works out okay!

This is one peak of an iceberg the submarine substance of which is actually monotheistic philosophy: free markets are rational because people are rational; people are rational because they are creations of God, who is rational; Q. E. D., finis.


Certainly this notion is commonsense enough from our perspective. We are now taught as part and parcel of a basic social studies education that an economy based on barter will progress to a market economy based on the exchange of money, because it is eventually discovered that money is a more efficient, free, and equitable means of transaction—provided that one unconditionally accept the foundational assumption of voluntary exchange. Voluntary exchange is the essential stipulation that market transactions:

(a) are necessarily free and willing, and
(b) necessarily benefit both buyer and seller.

Thus participation in the free market came to be seen as an exercise of one’s natural rights, and this in the context of a society which described the function of government as enabling and safeguarding the natural rights of the citizenry.

Perhaps because market economies are indeed capable of generating great wealth and unprecedented convenience for their beneficiaries, the utility of this worldview quickly superseded questions as to its veracity.

For example, English theorists extolled the virtues of free trade as a peacemaker and stabilizer; less explored was the obvious recent (and continuing) history of bloody colonial ventures which powered that trade.


The notion of the free market is not the exclusive property of classical liberalism and libertarianism; various conceptions of genuinely free markets have also been explored and even advocated by socialists throughout history.

The key word is genuinely. That a genuinely free and stable market can exist apart from a powerful state is not actually a given, and this is the worm at the core of libertarian thought. Libertarian economics demands, in effect, that the state keep its hands out of conditions which only the hands of the state can enact and guarantee in the first place. In this light, it is both a paradox and an impossibility.

As the economist and historian Karl Polanyi pointed out in The Great Transformation, a market-based society rests on the artificial commodification of several key factors:

  • labor, which is human activity and not an object
  • land and natural resources, which are not produced by people but must be claimed and seized before they can be commodified
  • money itself, whose value is not effectively produced except through the actions of banking and state finance

These commodifications-to-market have not occurred, historically, absent the direct impetus of some form of broadly coercive and standardizing state apparatus.


Polanyi was keen to show that anthropology and ethnography do not bear out the Enlightenment moral-philosophical assumption that markets spontaneously appear when economies are at long last ready to become perfect.

Now, the market environment has been an integral and indispensable component of various economies throughout history—as a means of paying salaries and taxes, and of standardizing international trade—so there is ample evidence that the economy can and should be facilitated and augmented through the use of markets.

But there is no evidence that market control of society is an optimal natural state. That premise is simply an assumption made in the context of an 18th-century society that was already heavily invested in the trade of securities and was trending toward market control of society, meaning a society in which transactions in goods and services occur practically solely through a market.

Prior to the advent of nationalistic mercantile economies in the Renaissance and Enlightenment, there is surprisingly little evidence that people behaved as rational maximizers of utility—in other words, this is behavior which seems to have been created by market societies, rather than market societies having arisen from such idealized behavior.

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The purposeful creation and maximization of wealth for personal gain, which free market ideologues fictitiously portray as an inalienable human characteristic like basic organismic irritability or periodic sleepiness, was rarely of primary importance in pre-banking, pre-competitive-nationalist economies.

Instead, these economies tended to satisfy the needs of their people by some combination of three principal means:

  • house-holding, in which a closed group of some kind (such as a family domicile, but also extensible to, say, a village) attends to its own needs to the maximum possible extent, including the production of food and tools

  • reciprocity, the principle according to which key transactions are made as barters or as gifts in kind, often with symbolic significance and ceremony

  • redistribution, according to which commodities are first directed to a central authority and are then redistributed from that locus (this was the primary basis for the domestic food economies of Rome and Egypt, for example)

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Crucially, the key common characteristic of all of these means is that they are organically tied to the everyday social codes and interactions of the people who practice them, including kinship bonds, social hierarchy and authority, and religion.

They evidence a trend for people to create self-esteem by means of contribution rather than accumulation—hunting for the village rather than for the self, in a simplistic snapshot—and for people to participate in economies according to chiefly non-economic motives generated and framed within the specific culture. It all looks a little like Jeffersonian democracy.

People are broadly resistant to being treated like commodities by the market society precisely because, in doing so, the market society severs the economic worth of its participants from their social worth—that is, one’s stature and security cease to be defined by one’s social relations except insofar as those relations enable and embody the accumulation of wealth.

Put more simply: only the wealthy are “naturally inclined” to embrace the equation of social capital with monetary capital.


Here, wealthy does not mean oil tycoon—it means the small minority of people globally, running into a few hundreds of millions, who mistakenly view themselves as average while enjoying a standard of living the richness of which many billions of people can scarcely comprehend and will in point of fact never attain.

The system is artificial and forced; the more comfy you are, the less you tend to notice. For everyone else, it looks and feels and smells an awful lot like exploitation.

Polanyi thus observes that the liberalization of markets will always be predictably countered by movements which seek to shield people from market liberalization, typically using the power of the state to create and enforce such changes—just as liberal markets of course rely on the coercive power of the state for their fundamental existence.

We can only conclude, then, that the free-market paradigm is certainly inherently unstable, divisive, and arguably dehumanizing.

In short, free-market capitalism has achieved global dominance by:

  • Expanding the commodification of virtually all aspects of life

  • Accessing and utilizing exponentially more effective means of indoctrinating the society to (a) accept this scheme as the natural order, and to (b) internalize the failures of that scheme as the result of their personal shortcomings and deviance from said order

  • Creating and shaping global markets by forcing market paradigms abroad, first through colonialism and later more often through militarized interventionism

  • Incentivizing wealth by shaping social contracts in the image of the market, rather than allowing the market to remain subservient to social contracts, as has been the case for most of human history

Make no mistake: capitalism is the most powerful economic force in human history. It has produced extraordinary and explosive wealth, liquidity, and advancement, and has in general conditioned the society to adapt to market conditions, “natural” and “free” or not.

It is not going back into the bottle, at least not without some sort of ineffably profound and shattering break in the social-cultural continuum.

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But it is also the case that we are now living in a time in which the many deleterious and spiraling side-effects of modern economic thought must be carefully considered before, for example, we wax eloquent about ideas of rights and liberty without understanding their many possible valid contexts, complex meanings, interpretations, and means of enactment.

In particular, the best places for the market To Be Or Not To Be in the society, as That Is The Question, should be earnestly discussed. At present, this is difficult at best and practically inconceivable for most people.

In order for informed and productive discussion to happen—and before a reliably meaningful democracy can be truly implemented at all, I believe—erroneous ideology must be exposed as a preliminary matter.



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An you can’t blame us for that…[quote=“agbalumo, post:11, topic:3471”]
The system is artificial and forced; the more comfy you are, the less you tend to notice. For everyone else, it looks and feels and smells an awful lot like exploitation.

It is a matter of perception. Given the same opportunities to the immediate many, we would always arrive at :point_up_2: Naturally, Survival of the fittest comes to play, this time not physically but in abilities to coerce the right forces

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from the same source, came across this and it really explains who rules…
“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me – who lives and who dies?”


The soldier.

“Battle is the great redeemer. It is the fiery crucible in which true heroes are forged.”

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Your agreeing with the writer. He’s also saying its a matter of perception. The higher up the social spectrum you go, the more you feel like making it isn’t that hard. “One challenge down, another to go”, that is way the human mind reasons.

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“Power only resides where We think it resides” -Robert Arthurs (May,2017) . I think this guy gives the best answer from my understanding of all the answers given.