Anthropologists interested in political anthropology and/or economic anthropology need to think in terms of poleconomics. In some of my publications I have used the term poleconomics to indicate that political power and economic clout go hand-in-hand. That is, those with great wealth either attain high office or have greater than average influence over politicos and political processes. On the one hand, being in office can open up opportunities to achieve great wealth if one makes the right connections and pursues post-office work in the political influence trade or the military industrial complex and other such opportunities in and about Washington DC. In history we have many examples of politicos not waiting till they were out of office to enrich themselves. They simply used the power of office to siphon off the flows of wealth coming into the palace-temple complex.
I have also written that this wedding of politics and economics is not limited to the USA. It had existed in every political economy since the Neolithic Revolution. In my Anthropological writings I have provided many historical and ethnographic examples of this, but in this short piece I will focus on the government of the USA where at present the Super Rich are in the process of firming up an oligarchy that is undermining democracy.
In short, they are using their great wealth to influence politicians on the right, the Republicans and Tea Party radicals, in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and curtail government regulation of their industries. To accomplish this they are willing to place undue burdens on the poor and disenfranchised of America. Let me give you an example.
David & Charles Koch, the owners of a conglomerate called Koch Industries, have repeatedly, according to The New Yorker (Mayer 2010), funded stealth attacks on the federal government and on progressive causes, as the Koch brothers are staunch libertarians and support many right-wing causes. Their privately owned company operates oil refineries and controls 4 thousand miles of pipeline. They also own Brawny Paper Towels, Dixie Cups, Georgia-Pacific Lumber, Stainmaster Carpet and Lycra, among other products. It is estimated that their combined fortune is about 35 billion dollars. They want minimal government oversight of business, lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy and less government regulation of industry, especially in the area of environmental regulation, since Koch Industries has been named by a study done by the University of Massachusetts as one of the top 10 air polluters in the USA. Additionally, Greenpeace issued a report that identified Koch Industries as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” Their report indicated that between 2005 & 2008, the Kochs gave large donations to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change. They have also given to PACS and organizations funding opposition to the Obama Administration and especially health care reform and the economic stimulus program. In the jargon of Washington DC their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus because their tentacles reach so widely in the world of political conservatism.
These two men, who grew up rich and inherited the company from the father Fred Koch, are just two men, but they have the unfair advantage of being able to greatly alter the democratic processes set up to govern in the United States. While waving the American flag and touting the glories of the U.S. Constitution, they covertly provide millions of dollars in donations to political causes that seek to alter the established political processes in ways that benefit them and the Super Rich and harm the general public.
Poleconomic shenanigans hurt people but they also undermine established democratic institutions. For instance, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, Charles Lewis, is quoted as saying of the Koch brothers’ effort to influence political processes in Washington DC: they “are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I've been in Washington since Watergate, and I've never seen anything like it” (Mayer 2010).
In my study of political economies in history I have found the same pattern of lawbreaking and the manipulation of established institutions by politicos and powerful men in order to accomplish their private ends at the expense of the general public. The Kochs have lots of counterparts in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Moghul Empire, the Kuba Kingdom of Africa, the Mayan Civilization and many more.
As anthropologists it is not enough to study either economic anthropology or political anthropology, but one needs an understanding of how political power and economic clout intertwine to form a political economy.
I don’t especially like academic jargon but if the term poleconomics reminds us of this interweaving of political power and economic influence it will help us in our analyses of societies in history and in our contemporary world. Furthermore, for those anthropologists interested in the study of globalization it is imperative that they understand this interlacing of political and economic power.
It will also help us understand what is going in our world today. For instance, while many in the Tea Party see themselves as individuals and average citizens, what many don’t realize is that behind the movement are political donations coming from oil billionaires.
Mayer, Jane. 2010 (August 30). Covert operations. The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer